Operations and maintenance (O&M) can read like dirty words for solar installers – visions of customer complaints, truck rolls, etc. – but for the good of the solar industry that needs to change. And the good news is, changing the way you approach the post-install customer relationship can be a value-add instead of profit drain.
In a recent series of Suncast podcasts, Beyond O&M: The Future of Solar, Omnidian and several of its installer partners explored this evolution of post-sales beyond mere fix-it-when-it-is-broken O&M.
If you’re unfamiliar, Omnidian provides comprehensive protection plans for commercial, industrial (C&I) and residential solar plants. So, it is constantly monitoring systems and diagnosing issues while also backing up its service with a Performance Guarantee. All in, the idea is to deliver what Chief Operating Officer Dave Kenny describes as retail-inspired excellence in customer experience (CX).
“Imagine a world where the phone rings, you answer, and the person on the other end of the phone tells you your asset had a recent performance problem associated with a particular root cause,” Kenny says in episode one. “The caller offers to help you troubleshoot and resolve the issue live on the phone, schedule a time at your convenience to have that call, or have somebody come out to your facility, home or site to fix the problem. That’s the experience we’re looking for.”
On its end, Omnidian monitors and remotely diagnoses PV performance while keeping an eye on actuarial data – thinking in terms of expected kWh vs. actual kWh based on the system and the weather conditions. Over time, pattern recognition improves the modeling and issue diagnosis at each site.
That all might be obvious to you, and if it is, good. But just as important is integrating this advanced approach with advanced customer service.
To nail that CX piece and build loyalty, Kenny says companies must make customers feel valued and solve issues quickly and proactively.
“At the end of the day, we’re selling trust,” he said. The key is ensuring customers trust their solar technologies will generate a return on investment, unlock flexibility in energy procurement, and help drive progress on climate change.
Trevor Sumner, co-founder and president of Milwaukee-based Sun Badger Solar, explains how such a proactive approach helped them grow from four employees to 112 in five years.
“Rather than say ‘don’t worry about it,’ we say, ‘Here’s what will happen when something breaks, or there are issues. These are the steps Sun Badger will take’ or ‘This is the process to make things right,'” he explained.
And part of that is sticking to what they are good at – installs – and leaving the advanced analysis to experts like Omnidian that, again, provide peace of mind to all parties with a Performance Guarantee.
Sumner shared: “From a process business standpoint, Omnidian provides a buffer between Sun Badger and its customers post-install. What that buffer from Omnidian does is allow us to set ourselves off to the side, give ourselves some breathing room or some leverage that if a service issue comes up… the customer is first going to call Omnidian.”
For Julie King, CEO of Harmon Electric, aligning with businesses with the same values and culture is a big key here too. “The service department wants to make the customer happy and do the right thing for everybody involved, and that’s not always the easiest or the cheapest thing,” she said.
As system size scales up, the stakes get even higher. This is where the CX approach really comes into play.
At Distributed Solar Development (DSD), Chris Larkin, Asset Management Director, refers to himself as a “promise keeper,” in their relationship with C&I clients.
“They’re looking for an energy hedge into the future, where energy prices are only going one way — up every year, with more and more demand for kilowatt hours,” Larkin said.
Kevin Schulte, CEO of GreenSpark Solar, the largest residential, community and commercial solar provider in Rochester, Central and Western New York, credits their success to a customer-centric approach. This is the future of solar.
“We have to figure out how to delight and surprise the customer like retail did a long time ago and to accelerate consumer movement,” he said in episode three.
The whole six-part series is worth checking out, to gain various perspectives from around the industry on the evolution (and growing value) of O&M and CX.