7 tactics to mitigate the impact of the challenging customer
We recently heard an unfortunate story from a highly reputable solar company. A customer contracted the company to install solar on a new construction project right as bank financing was expiring and at the beginning of a local COVID-19 shutdown. The company pushed its schedule, adapted to the COVID policies, and installed the equipment within a week of the contract (unheard of, right?) thus keeping the customer’s financing intact. Because the project was installed ahead of the normal workflow, completing the other required steps took time due to COVID related delays with the AHJ. The house was finished, and the customer’s General Contractor became anxious to complete the solar project and then belligerent owing to the perceived delays. The company managed to use its political capital to expedite an approval from the utility and was able to ultimately deliver the project ahead of schedule- and ahead of other customers. Despite exceeding the contract terms, the customer was dissatisfied and left a 2-star review citing a vague complaint about "project delays."
What we learn from this evokes the perils of the White Glove service and the unfortunate realization that even when a company goes above and beyond, there is no guarantee that the customer will be satisfied. A recent survey shows that “while 80% of companies believe they deliver ‘super experiences,’ only 8% of customers agree." (Attribute Shep Hyken)
As an industry that is maturing, this is not something solar companies can afford to avoid. “89% of businesses today compete on the basis of customer experience, up from 36% in 2010.”
Two key questions arise. Is it possible to deliver a service that meets every customer’s expectations all the time? Moreover, is it wise to make this an explicit goal?
Solar is a transformational technology, and with it, comes the high consumer expectations of purchasing a future-forward product. These high expectations, when combined with the megaphone of social media, cause today’s solar businesses to operate with an understanding not that “the customer is king,” but that “Each customer is a king.”
The successful support of customers whose entitlements cause us to compare them to kings, requires a level of service fit for a king. White glove service is characterized by convenience, speed, emotional fulfillment, and a tailored treatment for each individual customer - just what a busy king needs. A prolific solar serf may be able to support several kings, but, at a point, the growing demands of personalization and the increasing complexity of customer expectations make this difficult to accomplish at scale, and that’s when the heads start to roll.
What is a company to do? Double down on being perfect? Lower their standards when faced with a challenge? Or perhaps they can deploy a number of tactics to support the highest standards, remain efficient in customer service and build customer trust all the while.
Pareto’s Rule, or the 80/20 rule, posits that 80% of the outcomes come from 20% of the inputs. In this context, consider that 80% of complaints likely come from only 20% of your customers. It is a measure of how much time is spent on addressing the concerns, anxieties, questions, missed expectations of a small group of customers. Don’t sacrifice your ability to serve the 80% of your satisfied customers in a time and labor-intensive attempt to appease the challenging 20%.
Not every customer demands a tome in response when asking simple questions. It is perfectly acceptable to provide automated, accessible communication for routine issues, but provide rich, personal content when required. This is available through data-driven CRM functionalities coupled with AI message trees, or simply reserving the complex transactions to the skilled personnel in a solar company.
It is not sufficient to simply get the job done. A process should be designed with the customer experience at the center. Staff must be reminded that delivering a solar system to a customer is the narrative of that experience, but filling in the steps along the way is what your staff is required to do. Something as simple as creating a step in the process that requires a follow-up confirmation after addressing a customer question will demonstrate that it is the customer’s satisfaction that is more important than the simple delivery of the answer.
When a complaint or issue requires escalation, a company should have a protocol in place that is swift, seamless, and attentive. That customer is not the enemy and should never be called out as such. A company culture at all levels should support a graceful treatment of the myriad customer personalities. This can minimize inconsistent customer experiences.
A white glove service can reduce the need to call, lower costs, increase revenue and build customer trust and loyalty. One or all of these can be measured. A powerful metric is the Net Promoter Score which reflects collective customer satisfaction with a company. It can remind the staff and communicate back to customers that the company is genuinely and measurably focused on customer experience. Interestingly, some solar manufacturers now provide more favorable pricing and perks based on a solar company’s NPS rather than their buying volume alone.
Part of handling problems is to anticipate them before they happen. Provide opportunities for feedback or reviews during the installation process to monitor customer satisfaction, thus avoiding unexpected negative reviews upon completion. If left to the end, the customer will measure the entire experience with a singular detail that neglects all the successes and hard work along the way. Customers whose concerns are satisfactorily addressed early on tend to become your loudest cheerleaders long term.
Not all sales are good sales. Your sales team should be equipped and empowered to qualify customers that may demonstrate behavior that is a red flag. For example, a customer who leaves a 1-star review on social media because the salesperson did not call them 15 minutes after receiving a web inquiry, may not be a good candidate to go through a process of getting solar at this time.
Solar is in the mainstream, but the technology and processes are still new and complex. As consumers demand new levels of attention and new dimensions of experience, not every customer will be equally satisfied. This situation is not solved automatically. Solar companies need a strategy- and tactics that support and enable this throughout their cultural, operational and fiscal disciplines to be successful.
If you're interested in delivering better customer experiences with less time and energy, or you just want to know more about our work with solar companies, contact us.