By Scott Maskin, CEO and co-founder, SUNation Solar
When COVID-19 hit and quarantine began on Long Island, the residential solar business, like many others, had to pivot and come up with a new approach to sales.
Home visits were not on the table any longer, and while the world started to Zoom, FaceTime and Hangout, we had to adapt rapidly to digital selling to support our customers and reach out to prospects.
The past few months of virtual appointments have taught our company some important lessons and a new, improved approach to selling that will continue even once COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror.
Here are some of the ways digital selling can improve your connection to customers and streamline the solar sales process from start to finish.
Our solar specialists have become incredibly efficient by moving the sales process online. Prior to COVID-19, they spent a tremendous amount of time driving from appointment to appointment for in-person meetings. By going online we’ve cut the “windshield time” out of the equation and can just focus on back-to-back appointments and customer follow-up. As one of our specialists, Gary Roffman mentioned, “If a customer couldn’t make an appointment at the last minute, I had to turn around and drive all the way back and lose all of that valuable time for work. Now if they miss a video call, within five minutes, I’m on to my next assignment.” By completely eliminating drive time, we can book more appointments per day.
With so many people staying at home now working, homeowners can also book appointments at any time of the day or evening that is convenient for them. Before, most of our specialists were booking evening appointments and dealing with rush hour commuter traffic. Now our customers are booking their appointments all throughout the day, because they have much more flexible schedules.
We also invested in an online booking tool that has made it easier for our customers and our solar specialists to coordinate. Homeowners can now easily book appointments online, and this tool will be something we’ll continue to use long after the COVID-19 crisis.
Improved information sharing
By doing video calls with homeowners, our solar specialists have the opportunity to load a lot of useful information on their computer tabs, including videos, photos and articles to share and walk through. They can also look for hot button issues from homeowners and have relevant material on hand to share. One associate said he knew his customer had expressed concerns about warranties, so he had a tab already loaded on the screen about solar panel warranties to guide him through.
During in-person briefings before COVID, we’d bring flipbooks and hard copy materials, which really isn’t what customers are looking for anymore. Being able to look at everything online and share well-produced videos of solar panels and installations gives homeowners all of the information they need, and is easily accessible for them to revisit after our appointment is over.
We’ve also found online follow-up calls to be helpful after the initial site evaluation for solar installation. After measurements are taken and the roof and electrical panel are inspected, we read the reports and go through them with the customer. Pre-COVID, we’d need to do that by phone to explain, for instance, if the roof wasn’t in good shape, or if the electrical panel was not up to code or needed an electrical upgrade. Now, with everyone comfortable with online video tools, we can hop on Zoom and show the homeowner photos of the roof or electrical panel to explain why it needs to be upgraded. Then we can move forward on next steps with the project.
We found that the vast majority of homeowners were very receptive to moving appointments online. To be honest, even before COVID-19 hit, some homeowners were wary of having strangers in their homes. They would feel pressure to clean up the house, put pets away or offer refreshments.
Now homeowners can simply sign on to a video call with no effort on their end and without the inconvenience of bringing others into their homes.
I think virtual appointments will become a permanent change to our industry because of its improved efficiency and comfort level for homeowners. Even after COVID-19 is behind us, initial introductions will take place virtually with only the installations happening in-person.
Why solar is more relevant than before
The fact is that in quarantine this summer and extending into the months ahead, families are at home using more devices for longer periods of time. More lights are on, more TVs and electronics are running and this summer the AC was working nonstop due to heat waves across the country. There is no longer the six-hour window where everyone is away at work, school or camps, giving your home energy use a break. In fact, according to our home energy monitor partner Sense, the average home electrical usage increased 22% in April compared to 2019, a reflection of people using more electricity while they stayed home.
COVID has made consumers more interested in lowering their electricity bills, running their home energy more efficiently and dedicating time to projects that increase the value of their homes. Solar installation fits into all those criteria.
Using digital tools to strengthen customer service
With all the lifestyle and business changes going on, customers and prospects are looking for a solar partner who is reliable, stable and can provide excellent service. Since most homeowners don’t want us showing up in person, we rely on digital tools to connect with customers. After installation, we give every customer a link to their monitoring app that tracks solar panel production, and they are able to reach out if one of their panels isn’t working optimally. Then we simply fix things in person or virtually.
SUNation installs home energy monitoring from Sense in many homes because it helps set customer expectations. In addition to solar production, the Sense app shows real-time energy usage and how much of the solar production is being used in the home or going back to the grid. With those kinds of insights, customers start to understand how their choices have a big impact on their utility bill. Simple steps like doing your laundry during peak solar hours can move homeowners closer to their goal of living primarily off of their solar power.
While the COVID-19 virus certainly shifted the way our business and many others operate, we were able to improve efficiency and the customer experience, and we plan to carry these lessons forward even after the public health crisis is behind us. There’s a saying that adversity makes you stronger. By responding creatively to these unprecedented times, solar installers can emerge stronger than before.