A CEO of a regional solar installer was recounting a recent customer story that really unnerved him. The project was installed and powered up in 2 and half months from contract, even faster than the 3-4 months it usually takes in this particular area. However, the customer was still unsatisfied and provided vague feedback like “It should have been faster” or “I never knew what was going on.” Even though his company almost always gets great customer reviews (5 stars on Google), this particular customer’s response was truly frustrating. It wasn’t like they dropped the ball on a permit or made a mistake on the installation. By industry standards, they did a fantastic job, a type of job that should have garnered a 5 star review and referrals to the customer’s friends and neighbors. So why was this solar customer unhappy? How did the installer fail to meet the high expectations of their customer?
State of the art meets slow and arcane
We can only speculate the true reason for this particular customer, but in our research and conversations with solar homeowners, we found that many times it has to do with unmet expectations. 90% of the solar homeowners we spoke with love their solar system, but 4 of out 5 remembered their installation and commissioning process negatively. If you think of it from the customers’ perspective, when they decide to go solar, in their minds, they’re buying into this new energy transformation, this state of the art technology - two things we’ve promised them. How do you think they feel when that perception is met with the reality of the slow, sometimes arcane experience that is the solar permitting, installation and commissioning process where interactions are still by phone or email or even paper?
The age of Amazon
Added to challenge is the fact that the solar customers of today (and tomorrow) are not the same customers as before. The solar industry is transitioning from highly tolerant early adopters to the mass consumer. Not only is this a new customer segment, these new customers are different from the mass consumer of 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago. The new energy customers of today now live in the Age of Amazon. The tech companies like Amazon, Uber, and Google have changed the buying experience. They have driven customers to have higher expectations, and day in and day out, they reinforce these high expectations.
Consumers now expect information and services to be on-demand, at the tap of their fingers. One example is Amazon’s 1-click ordering where a single click can have an above ground pool at your door and make you a hero to your kids in just 2 days. And with information, we’ve undergone a complete mental shift when a question arises. Just Google it. Or better yet, “Hey Siri” or “Hey Alexa” or “Hey Bodhi.” We have been conditioned to never leave a question unanswered however trivial or important it may be.
Consumers are also expecting hyper-personalization, otherwise they don’t pay attention. Netflix for example spends a billion dollars a year to recommend movies you’re most likely to watch in order to keep your subscription going. And think about your last customer support call. Did you have to dial in your account number in an automated phone support system or did the customer rep already know who you were and everything about your account simply based on your phone number?
The silver lining for solar
Meeting these new customer expectations is not intractable and there is a silver lining. Consumers are now used to finding information online, both for products and services they’re looking to buy but also for products and services they have purchased. And many companies have embraced this trend towards a “zero-touch customer” and leveraged it in their customer service strategy to significantly reduce customer support costs. For example, have you ever spoken to anyone at Netflix? From signing up to paying to troubleshoot to canceling, every interaction is online and self-service. And do we even think twice about that?
We’re not arrogant enough to presume that the sale, installation, and commissioning of solar can be “zero-touch” or “self-service,” at least not yet. This is not an article about automating the human out of the equation. We, the humans, do a great job listening and lending a powerful touch to our customers. The problem is that we are spending 80% of our energy on solving the things that can be automated. If there were time in the day to lavish attention on every customer, we would not be meeting the urgent challenge to transform our energy economy.
And so for the things that can be automated, we should embrace this new paradigm. We should streamline and automate the solar customer experience where we can to meet their basic expectations and reserve our personal efforts towards delivering a truly exceptional experience. COVID-19 has made us realize that remote selling can work, and other companies like SunCommon are developing a fully digital buying experience. The same can be true for the solar installation and commissioning process. Hell, if Domino's can have a pizza tracker, then every company should have a solar project tracker, which is automatically updated by their solar project management software.
If you’re in need of one, we can help.