How software streamlines the solar customer experience

By: Paul Grana and Canute Haroldson  of Folsom Labs

The solar industry is experiencing explosive growth, but this scaling has made sales and customer engagement a lynchpin of maintaining that growth. At the S3 Solar Software Summit 2016, Julia Pyper, senior editor at Greentech Media, sat down with Katie DeWitt of SolarCity, Eric Reinhardt of Sunrun and Joshua Powell of RevoluSun to discuss how solar software can enable and enhance the solar sales process.

The sales process in solar can be arduous for both customers and developers. Each panelist emphasized that lead times are the single most important driver of success or failure. Customers can be lost in each step of the sales process, so DeWitt and Reinhardt said they have focused on reducing complexity and trimming down project timelines.

Software has already become the solution to many of the bottlenecks the developers on the panel face. Solar City has oriented its sales process around simplifying customer interaction, and DeWitt credited much of its success to internal app development. Items like running credit, automatically assigning sales reps and establishing appointments can all be routed through the app to reduce steps and increase sales and installation. Reinhardt of Sunrun supported this, saying  “It’s critical to figure out upfront everything you possibly can about the home and the customer so that you can kick off the proposal generation process immediately.”

Software doesn’t alleviate all pain points for developers, but its integration is a powerful start to addressing them. Powell of RevoluSun is particularly hopeful for software that maintains customer engagement in Hawaii, a market with an 8 to 14-month interconnection wait. He believes that increasing customer retention will be critical to enhance transparency. “For customers in our specific situation where you have elongated timelines, you need to give them as much info as you can during that experience,” he said.

DeWitt and Reinhardt also look forward to processes that will improve customer engagement to carry them through delays they might not expect. Giving customers the right amount of information at the right time is a central part of retention.

Solar’s complexity can make it difficult to find analogs for improvement, but there are a few lessons learned from other industries. DeWitt exemplified TurboTax as a program that takes an uninteresting and complex process and breaks it down. “TurboTax does a really good job of orienting you and letting you know what you need to do,” she said. “We want to make sure that this is easy for customers in the future.”

Reinhardt thinks the idea of the solar sales process itself would benefit from change. “People often compare it to buying a car because it has the same value, but I think it’s more like buying cable,” he said. “You’re not thinking about the satellite dish on the roof, you’re more concerned about the content and price.”

Ultimately software tools for solar sales will play a major role in enabling the next doubling of the industry. Join us at the S3 Solar Software Summit this May 16 to learn about the latest developments in the co-evolution of solar sales and solar software.

Read more Solar Boot-up articles from Folsom Labs including more on the S3 Summit  here.

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