If there’s one thing we have learned the hard way at Ipsun Solar, it’s that customer communication is everything. This is especially true for an industry with so many moving parts, where you’re installing a power plant on someone’s house. It can often require just as much education on the process, time and related customer expectations, as it does to sell solar in the first place.
In this post, we’ll tell you the hard lessons we learned from Ipsun Solar and how we took those lessons to inform our work on Sunvoy.
What definitely doesn’t work: going radio silent for long stretches. In the beginning of Ipsun Solar, we believed that we could have a conveyer belt approach with different job roles for different tasks that would result in a solar install popping out on the other end. However, because in the U.S. it takes a fair amount of time (generally 3-6 months) for a solar project to come to fruition, homeowners are not fond of waiting so long without any meaningful project updates:
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Of course, there are many installers who are lucky to be in markets where they can get projects done in just a few weeks, but in most of the country the permitting and interconnection requirements are still onerous enough that this is just not possible.
Once you realize the need for dedicated project managers, the question is what tasks should they take on. Some installers have project managers that tackle everything from the design to the permitting, interconnection, and scheduling.
When we began with our PMs, we had a very experienced and dedicated solar PV designer who has been with us from the beginning of the company, and a dedicated team for permitting and interconnection. This meant that our PMs would serve more of a “white glove” service for homeowners and hold their hand through the process with consistent updates.
In the very beginning of Ipsun Solar, before we built our full conveyor belt but prior to our white glove PM role, we used to have a company-wide weekly meeting on Wednesday morning (around 10 people at the time), where we would confirm the project status of every single customer and send manual email updates to each of them, every Wednesday morning. Our customers absolutely loved this, but after a while it became unsustainable as we approached over 100 active projects at any given time.
As our PM role evolved, it took on more responsibilities like completing interconnections, assisting with Solar Renewable Energy Credit applications, completing PTO/commissioning calls, and other administrative tasks. So far we have kept permitting and financing separate from the PM role, although eventually it could all be tied into one. Today, we have renamed the role a “Solar Coordinator” since the work has moved from a pure communications role to a more administrative role.
So how do you keep your customer informed about their project without having to manually send updates every week, or without having to hire a cadre of PMs to merely hold their hands through the process? Because obviously, all of this adds time and cost.
The solution is automation. By having a system of automation to update your customers, keep them informed, provide estimated dates of installation, and all of their associated project documents, you essentially outsource the role of a PM to a customer portal. That is exactly what we did at Ipsun Solar.
We now use our in-house customer portal (Sunvoy) to keep all of our homeowners apprised of their project development in real-time - a task that used to be done manually and take an entire day of work, combing through spreadsheets and initiating an update with customers that invariably resulting in a ping pong of back and forth question and answers, sometimes lasting days.
With Sunvoy, our customers receive a login from the minute they sign their contract and live in one platform - that is 100% branded with our logo, colors and hosted on our website - through the entire 30-year life of the system. They never need to login to another platform to view their project development, system performance, project documents, system details, to refer friends and family, to open support tickets and see closed tickets.
They have a single point of truth that they can lean on.
But communication doesn't stop once the project is finished. Instead we lean into the 30 year lifetime of the system, and continue to communicate with customers even after the installation is done.
This starts at the simple step of sending them monthly summary and report emails about how their system has been operating. And ends with personalized, relevant and timely push notifications they get at various points of their customer journey – for example when they have produced their first 1,000 kW of clean energy produced, or their system celebrates it's first "birthday".
This way we stay top of mind even after the system has installed and it has been one of the main drivers behind increasing our referrals 284% for two years in a row.
This is not only how you allow your project managers and solar coordinators to take on more projects, by freeing up more of their time to perform actual project management - this is how we reduce soft costs in the solar industry by generating more referrals and better reviews..
It's a flywheel that continues to feed into itself.
This is how we legitimize and expand the solar movement by keeping our customers informed, automating basic tasks, and providing an exceptional customer experience from Day 1.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can take advantage of all these features of Sunvoy, and many more (like making your service division profitable with active monitoring) make sure to download the in-depth guide we have put together on how to automate your customer communications and earn a 5-Star Review on every job:
We’re learning a lot and so will you.
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