What solar can learn from the Domino’s pizza tracker and Amazon

7 surprising ways a solar project tracker helps your operations team and business
Author : 
August 3, 2023

“If I can buy $30 worth of pizza, know when it goes in the oven, gets picked up for delivery, and when it’s outside my door, why then when I buy $30,000 worth of solar do I have no idea what’s going on?”

That’s what solar customers around the country have said over and over again when they realize that this state-of-the-art technology they bought doesn’t come with anything close to a state-of-the-art digital experience.  Heck, many solar customers struggle to get even a standard modern-day experience from their installers.  

What’s worse is that this customer anxiety or frustration turns into a huge operational headache for the solar company.  That’s why every installer operations person has probably said, “We need a Domino’s pizza tracker but for solar.”  However, in talking to installers who have voiced this, we realized that, though they have a gut feeling that a “project tracker” would help their jobs and/or business, they couldn’t actually pinpoint how.  

That’s why in this article, we’re going to:

  1. Demystify why customers are obsessed with everything from the Domino’s pizza tracker to their Amazon shipping notifications, and
  2. Explain the 7 surprising ways a project tracker can help your business.  From how it will impact your operations team, to some exact numbers around how much money you can get back to your margins, we’ll get into the nitty gritty. 

1. You don't have to keep answering the same question "What's the status of my project" all the time.

No matter how on-top-of-it your project managers are, chances are they still have customers pinging them about their projects almost daily.  Solar customers often come into the installation process uneducated about realistic solar timelines.  To them a week of no updates seems outrageous, even if we in the industry understand it as commonplace.  

Setting expectations can only go so far.  After all, hasn’t every installer had the solar customer who was told that the project would take 5 months to complete — only to act shocked in month 3 that it wasn’t all finished?

Instead of constantly resetting these expectations and sending out “no update” updates over text, emails, and calls, a project tracker can head off these issues.  A project tracker will show exactly where a homeowner is in the process of going solar, as well as whatever recent updates your team has sent along, helping to set and continually reset expectations. 

Total savings to your business:  One project manager told us they set aside 2 hours every day to address these kinds of repetitive questions.  Multiplied by an average hourly rate of $35 across 50 weeks a year….That’s  $17,500 a year for just one PM’s time.  Don’t you want that back towards your bottom line?

2. You don't have to spend 30 minutes on a customer call that should have only taken 5 minutes.

We had one solar project manager go as far as to say that there’s no such thing as a 5 minute phone call when it comes to homeowners.  While a solar customer may have only called to see if their permit was approved, project managers have told us more often than not, these conversations end up lasting for 30 minutes or more because they learn about everything from the customers’ grandkids to their dogs.

What’s frustrating about these extended calls is that they don’t move the project any closer to completion.  A handful of these calls stacked over the course of a week can mean missed deadlines on the things that actually matter, all because your operations staff had to hear about a solar customer’s new rosebush that needs to be delicately avoided during installation. 

A project tracker helps cut down on these time extraneous calls because the customer has all of the information they need in one place and doesn’t have to call in.

Total savings to your business:  If a project tracker can drive down these phone calls from 10 a week to just 2, that’s another $7,000 saved per year per PM when it comes to saved time. 

3. Your customers can access information when you’re busy (including when you're asleep).

Customers today want to be able to self-serve, and they want all of their information in one place.  This is the philosophy behind things like Amazon’s delivery tracker or even a patient portal at the doctor’s office.  Whether it’s shopping or healthcare, these organizations know that forcing customers to dig through email for contracts or updates creates friction that results in more customer calls and complaints.

Without a solar project management tool or some kind of customer portal, homeowners will either resent you, call you anyway, or both.  We spoke to one frazzled project manager who was desperate to stop customers from calling him while he was putting his daughter to bed every night.  A project tracker would have saved storytime.

Total savings to your business:  If your project managers are constantly getting called on the weekend or pulled away from the project, there’s a high chance that they’re going to look for a new job.  Most estimates put the cost of replacing an employee at double their salary ($60-100k for an experienced project manager) — wouldn’t you like to keep that expense off of your budget sheet?

4. Your customers trust you more (and won’t leave you a 1-star review).

Project trackers make the solar journey feel more transparent to homeowners.  At the very least, they set expectations throughout a project, helping homeowners understand where they are in the process.  More robust project trackers also have all of the project documents, solar FAQs, and more.  Giving access to all of this information helps build trust with a homeowner, who feels like they’re fully informed when it comes to their project. 

As any installer knows, customer trust is priceless.  When a homeowner trusts your business, you’re suddenly on the same side of the table.  Permit delays are frustrating for the both of you, but don’t result in nasty reviews.  The same can be said for supply chain issues, installation rescheduling, and utility stone-walling.  If you have a solid foundation of trust, all of these challenges are just bumps in the road instead of big reputational hits.

Total savings to your business:  With a project tracker, homeowners are more likely to leave a 5-star review and not a 1-star review because they felt in-the-loop for the entire project. A Harvard Business Review study found that a 1 star decrease in a review score resulted in a 9% decrease in sales revenue.

5. You can give customers the tools they need to generate referrals.

Many project trackers aren’t just useful during the project.  Just as they can serve as an information hub during the installation process, they can also turn into a one-stop shop for a homeowner’s system post-install.  When used this way, project trackers give homeowners a way to view their system and monitoring information long-term, which they can show to friends too.

It’s a sad truth that homeowners need this kind of branded, visual prop in order to give their solar installers the kudos they deserve.  But it’s the reality.  We’ve told this story before, but when we asked one homeowner who installed their solar system (which the customer loved!), the homeowner said “Enphase.”  With a company-branded project tracker, there’s no more forgetting system information or the solar company that installed it.

Total savings to your business:  Referrals close at a 50% rate compared to other lead channels, meaning you can net hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a year by making that referral channel stronger.

6. You can stand out from all the other fly-by-night installers. 

With the demand for solar growing every year, there have been a lot more solar companies sprouting up to help meet this rush.  Unfortunately, not all of these businesses have their act together.  We’ve all seen the headlines of shady solar installers overpromising and under-delivering.  These businesses hurt the entire industry because it causes homeowners to lose faith in solar and not trust those who install it.

A project tracker is a great way to show that you’re not like these other in-and-out businesses.  Customers expect a digital experience, but most solar companies are not meeting this expectation.  By offering a company-branded project tracker, you’re proving to your prospects that you’re invested in delivering a great experience.  A project tracker puts you far ahead of the other installers in your area who are still only providing updates via phone or email. (Or not providing updates at all!)

Total savings to your business:  As we touched on above, the average CAC of a solar customer is $4K.  If even 10% of prospects are swayed to go with you over a competitor, you can see how quickly the value of a project tracker adds up.

7. You can command a premium price.

Most solar installers today haven’t invested in any kind of technology to level-up their customer experience.  Their project managers may be on top of calling and emailing customers with project updates, but they’re not getting any of the benefits of a project tracker that we’ve talked about.  There’s no one-stop-shop for project updates; there’s no ability to self-service when a homeowner has a question; and there’s no beautiful monitoring tracker.

What all of this means is that if you DO choose to invest in a project tracker, you can charge a premium price.  After all, you’re delivering a premium experience.  A few of the solar companies that Bodhi works with have told us they actually pass along the price of Bodhi to the solar customer.  The homeowners have never complained — if anything, they’ve left higher reviews because they felt informed throughout the entire installation process.

Total savings to your business: PwC found consumers are willing to pay a 7-16% premium to work with a business that provides a "good customer experience."  That’s around $3-$5k in profit for each system you sell. .

Bringing the tracker to solar

The “tracker” is already table stakes for many industries — from food to ecommerce.  Soon it’ll be the same in solar.  If you don’t want your business to be left behind, it’s time to stop thinking about how you can implement a project tracker and instead take the steps needed to actually bring it into your business.  For example, do you have a CRM already that you can easily integrate with a project tracker to automate some communications with homeowners?  Do you have visual brand guidelines, so you can reap the full benefits of customizing a project tracker to your brand? 

No matter where you are in the process, we’re always happy to chat. As a solar-specific customer experience platform (that yes, offers homeowner-facing project tracking for our customers!), we can share best practices, or even give broader advice about your tech stack. If you’re looking for a partner in your solar journey, feel free to get in touch.

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