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Why Businesses Should Put the Power in the Customer’s Hands

From GreenBiz, Published 3 December 2014

You’ve probably noticed we’ve been undergoing a revolution. Americans increasingly want companies to do the heavy lifting for them (make products so they’re inherently sustainable, build homes so they’re already efficient – make it so I don’t actually have to do a lot), and when they do want to engage and make an effort, they want technology to make their work as simple and painless as possible. Enter smart thermostats, smart appliances and lighting controls – devices that learn your desires and behaviors so you don’t have to actually manage your own energy consumption; it happens automatically.

Technology also has emerged that goes the next step in the “do it for me” trend by allowing consumers to be in charge of their buying experiences. At a macro level, apps that let us order and pay for our Taco Bell meals from our phones before we ever step through the door, or that let us see the wait time at any Outback Steakhouse in America and save a place in line, put us in control. And we like that.

So I was thrilled to see a tool emerge in the renewables space that’s of this ilk. Solar System, developed by MIT and licensed to Mapdwell, allows homeowners to not just see if their rooftops are right for solar (based on the direction, size, shading from trees, etc.), it also allows them to figure out what their investment and monthly savings would be. In fact, they can design their own system and see the cost and savings associated with it, or they can enter the amount they’re willing to invest and how much they want to save, and the tool will design the system for them. The tool prints all that out with suggestions on next steps. So now a homeowner is armed and ready when he/she reaches out to a solar dealer. Or that homeowner can decide the economics don’t work and bow out before investing any time.

Although this does take some power out of the hands of manufacturers and dealers, it should save a tremendous amount of time in the selling process. (Today, customer acquisition costs are just about the most expensive part of the selling process for the solar industry.) Imagine, as someone selling solar, being able to walk a prospective customer through a tool like this on the phone before ever going to visit with them. Both the seller and buyer can decide if it’s a good fit before they spend the time to sit down and go through the exhaustive process of a home visit, thus reserving those home visits for highly qualified prospects.

The takeaway here is for us all to get on board with the reality that Americans want the power in their hands. Whether that be apps that allow them to delegate control or tools that allow them to take control, they want to be in charge. Our pivot as people serving those Americans is to meet them where they are, arm them with those tools and then leverage them to make our marketing and selling process more effective and cost effective. That actually puts a little power back in our hands.

Suggested additional reading about sustainable brands and companies:

Why is it Important to Continuously Improve Your Environmental Performance?
How Leading Financial Firms Make it Into the World’s 100 Most Sustainable Companies
FCS and CDP Review New Supplier Climate Performance Leadership Index