The best solar businesses know when to automate and when to turn to the human talents of their teammates
As solar professionals, we like to believe that we know everything there is to know about our customers, and for good reason. With the continued growth of the solar industry — this year even hitting the 1 terawatt of solar capacity installed milestone! — many customer patterns and archetypes have become obvious, even predictable.
For example, we know there’s a prescribed solar customer journey. We know there are four buyer personas for solar customers. We know how much a customer is going to cost to acquire — even if we hate how high that number is. Still, for all predictability in the industry, there are always going to be customers who throw us for a loop.
One solar company told us about a customer they had who became increasingly agitated as the end of the year approached. The installer knew that this customer was relying on the solar ITC credit to make their system financially work for them, so the solar business worked hard to ensure that the project timeline had them wrapping up before the end of the year.
However, even as things steadily moved forward towards the end of the year, the customer’s anxiety continued to climb and climb. Finally, the project manager (PM) reached out to better understand their concern. It was only then that the PM discovered that the customer had been advised by their accountant that, because the homeowner was an artist, they were more likely to be audited by the IRS. This audit could in turn apply greater scrutiny to their solar project and the application of the ITC deduction.
Knowing the context for why the customer wanted to accelerate their project helped the project manager appropriately adjust the production schedule, including expediting the inspection. Thanks to these efforts, the artist homeowner was able to achieve PTO in the nick of time.
This story serves as a valuable reminder: When a homeowner starts to veer off the known solar customer journey or starts to act like an outlier to solar customer archetypes, that’s when it's time to turn to our human talents. After all, if the project manager hadn’t taken the time to figure out the root concern for this customer, it is likely that the customer would have reported a negative experience — even though the project was proceeding on schedule and along the automated steps of a typical customer journey.
Here at Bodhi, we’re big believers in the power of automation, but we believe in automation for a purpose. The best automation allows your employees to focus on what matters most and frees them up to work on high-impact, high-volatility projects like the artist homeowner.
Solar companies that automate away their managers, professionals, designers and technicians run the risk of missing out on the high-value, human touch they bring to challenging projects. Below, we explain how you can know when it’s time to automate — as well as the risks to not engaging your humans.
Whether it’s for marketing, sales, or customer relationship management, automation offers an incredible amount of value to solar businesses. If you’ve done the same thing more than twice, then it likely can be automated. Within it, you can achieve greater precision and speed, all the while removing any headaches associated with those tasks.
Automating parts of the customer journey also helps a business organize around their goals. Our customer Lighthouse Solar knew that they wanted to encourage their employees to focus on more high-value tasks, but low-level customer demands sucked up too much time. Lighthouse’s owner told us that before they started using Bodhi, project managers were spending up to 50% of their time on customer communications, and their sales teams were spending 15% of their time chasing after status updates for their old customers. Bodhi was able to automate the majority of these tasks, allowing each project manager to reclaim 10 hours per week and enabling sales teams to focus on other tasks.
Automation also helps an organization scale. This is incredibly important, as solar adoption soars. Installers need to be able to capitalize on this interest around solar without necessarily needing to grow their headcount of project managers. Bodhi customer Arch Solar reported that after implementing Bodhi, they were able to do 20% more in sales without adding anyone to the operations staff.
Of course, there will also be times when you need one of the humans on your team to step in. Humans are remarkable. We are adaptable, with the ability to recognize and solve dynamic, unusual challenges. As the artist homeowner example illustrates, we also bring to the table an irreplaceable human touch. We also have the ability to work in harmony with automation, reinforcing the things that work and tweaking the things that don’t.
So what happens when you over-automate and stop engaging your human workforce? We’ve identified three of the biggest overlooked costs.
Whether something should be handled by automation or by one of your team members follows the Pareto principle. This principle states that “for many outcomes, roughly 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes.”
The Pareto principle applies to solar in all kinds of ways. For example, roughly 80% of your referrals will come from 20% of your customers. When it comes to automation, the same numbers hold true. Roughly 80% of routine tasks can be automated, 20% should not. When this rule is not followed we also see another example of Pareto: 80% of automation fails come from just 20% of customers — who should be recognized as outliers and unenrolled from automated workflows.
However, many businesses are forced to continue to engage these customers through solely automated channels because their employees don’t feel comfortable identifying and engaging with these customers. This is a huge loss, as if you continue to try and engage with the outliers through automated sequences and drips, you’re going to lose them as champions. You may even lose them as customers.
To counter this, you need to ensure your employees feel empowered to halt automations and identify homeowners as outliers that need extra attention. There are many ways to do this, but sharing previous examples of high-touch customers with your team allows them to begin to build up an understanding of when they need to step in. Beyond anecdotes, it can also be useful to develop a scoring rubric so that each employee can also take a challenging customer through a series of questions in order to determine their next best step.
From supply chain delays to increasing anti-solar regulation, solar installers are plagued by unfortunate, external threats to their business. While the majority of solar professionals can have conversations with homeowners about these challenges in their sleep, these kinds of external events can stress an automated workflow. That’s why it’s crucial that your team knows they have your support to step in and address these setbacks.
Often, this is as simple as a project manager feeling empowered to update an automation to better reflect new site survey or shipping timelines. Other times, your staff will need to pick up the phone and offer personal reassurances to the homeowner. Regardless, proper training on how to interact with automation software, as well as when to elevate, should quash this cost.
Solar is an incredibly relational business. You’re working on your customers’ homes, and often helping them achieve a dream to be more sustainable or autonomous — or both. The bottom line is that it’s all very personal, and your customers expect a certain human touch.
For every solar business, it’s important to strategically balance a functional level of automation with this tactical use of the human touch. As we discussed, if your humans no longer feel empowered to form connections with homeowners, 20% of your business is going to suffer as a result. At the same time, if you try to deploy your team too frequently, they’re going to become burnt out and won’t be able to deliver on the expectations of the homeowner.
That’s why it’s important to make sure your team understands where they can be most high-impact. This comes from the top. Owners need to find how to find a balance of automation and employee that enables scale, but doesn't compromise the core service.
One of the best ways to identify these opportunities is to speak with your top-performing sales and project managers about the tactics they use and where they need support from automation. Then throw every resource needed at supporting them through technology, as well as training.
The best automation allows your employees to focus on what matters. Smart solar businesses know that the best way to provide a relational, meaningful customer experience is by relieving their employees of the time consuming activities that monopolize their energies.
While the time a human spends with a customer will often have more impact, your employees need to be deployed strategically. A company that relies only on the personal touch will have trouble scaling or lowering costs, while a company that relies on automation exclusively will forgo the value that their employees can generate inside the customer experience.
We hope that we’ve been able to show you how it’s possible to balance the power of your humans with the capabilities of automation. If you’d like to learn how Bodhi can help you scale customer experience through an employee-friendly platform, we’d love to get in touch.