They are the unsung heroes of energy efficiency — the kind that makes buildings more efficient. These are the trade allies, whether they’re residential contractors or commercial energy service companies. Often, they are the face of utility and state energy efficiency programs.
They Deserve More
Many of these businesses face tight margins and cash flows. But too often, they contend with the silos and 20th-century approaches to energy efficiency that sprung up more than thirty years ago. Faced with expensive overhead, there’s often an incentive to simply cut a discount for customers and work around the utility program. Last year, Greentech Media reported on how California’s energy efficiency program might be improved by focusing on lower transaction costs for contractors, reducing administrative overhead, and focusing on tangible observed savings.
This issue isn’t limited to California. A contractor we know in the Southwest, for example, used to spend three to four hours sitting in front of the computer to do multiple data uploads in clunky Excel templates just for test-in data on a project. And another East Coast contractor was saddled with outdated software that took hours to start up before data entry even could begin. They would start the application and then literally walk away for 30-40 minutes before they could begin entering data. That’s not business-friendly.
It’s 2015! No More Excuses
Although streamlining and silo busting can help trade allies interact in a more business-friendly way with programs, it can cut the other way, too, in enabling utility programs to measure trade ally performance. For example, a single contractor in one statewide energy efficiency program was responsible for 90 percent of all the air-sealing jobs in the state but was underperforming. Twentieth-century evaluation and planning practices meant this wasn’t addressed until the third year of program execution — far too late to take meaningful action.
Just like consumers can read contractor reviews and performance ratings on Yelp, so too should utility programs be able to measure and benchmark trade ally performance with a click. It’s 2015 after all.
As the face of many energy efficiency programs, trade allies are essential to program success. Not only do they carry out most of the audit, retrofit, and quality assurance (QA) tasks, but for many programs they also generate the majority of the program leads and carry out the in-field selling process of EE measures. Yet many programs struggle to keep trade allies working happily and effectively for their programs.
Trade allies are smart, and they will work around poor-quality software by skipping tasks or entering bad data. Some may avoid the program altogether, instead offering a discount in place of the utility rebate, just to avoid the hassle. On the other hand, if treated well and provided with tools that make their jobs easy and help them close deals, trade allies are invaluable assets.
The 5 Do’s and Don’ts to Show You Love Them
1. Don’t make them wait to get paid
Much like the rest of us, trade allies don’t like waiting to get paid. So how can you fix this? Start with automatically assigning QA tasks, automating notifications to both trade allies and customers to complete each task, and reminders when things are past-due.
→ EnergySavvy Optix Manage keeps things moving by automating program workflow, saving time and expense. And since life is imperfect, Manage notifies the responsible party when a task isn’t done on time. In one statewide program, Optix helped reduce average time between audit and test-out by 40 days.
2. Do make technology work for them, not against them
All software is not created equal. Some is so poorly designed and architected that it causes more problems than it fixes. Some DSM “solutions” are simply Customer Relationship Management software (CRM) with custom objects built to track projects like contacts and accounts. Trade allies have felt this pain and have figured out ways to avoid the software or avoid the program altogether.
→ DSM software needs to be intuitive, fast, and simple. Make it easy for trade allies to complete a task, close out a project stage, and move on with the work they’d rather be doing – making homes and buildings more efficient. EnergySavvy is built for DSM with portals for each trade ally and each customer. It is architected to automate program delivery, not customized software designed for another purpose.
3. Don’t make them enter data twice
Seems so logical, yet today many contractors are collecting building performance data in one system and then re-entering that data into the utility’s program management system. Wasted time and effort and data that’s prone to error makes this a fundamentally untenable approach.
→ EnergySavvy has embraced and advanced standards like HPXML, or Home Performance XML, enabling trade allies to collect data once – in their audit tool of choice – and seamlessly transmit that data to the utility. No double entry, no extra time, and no data errors. Trade allies working with Arizona Public Service reported 31% time savings in just the first couple of months after Optix Manage went live.
4. Do help them help your shared customers
Customers don’t want to call to know the status of their project. Nor do you want them to. The average customer service phone call costs the utility several dollars. And your trade allies field many status calls too. Why in today’s day and age can’t customers access their project status, documentation, and next steps with a click of a button? Enable your trade allies to serve your customers better and increase customer satisfaction at the same time by providing them with the modern online experience they expect and deserve.
→ Optix Manage keeps customers informed with their own “My Project” portal. The utility, its trade allies, AND customers will all have the same project data at their fingertips. No more expensive, frustrating phone calls about straightforward questions like rebate status. Make the experience more like Amazon.com and less like the IRS.
5. Don’t forget: their satisfaction matters
Managing your trade ally network is vital to the immediate and long-term success of your DSM programs.
→ Trade Ally management is so important to EnergySavvy and our customers, that we dedicate a significant portion of our time and resources to making them happier and more productive for utility programs. Trade allies can use Optix to rapidly complete project tasks, communicate with program administrators, and track projects as they move through a program. Trade allies can manage all their projects, read program news, complete trainings, and review reports that provide insight into their own performance.
In fact, after working with EnergySavvy Optix, satisfaction among trade allies serving Utah’s HPwES program increased by 6 times. And at Arizona Public Service (APS), 50 percent of Trade Allies said they were more likely to submit a job through the program after APS switched to Optix from the previous program software platform.
Trade Ally satisfaction and productivity at APS rose significantly after implementing Optix.
Additional client success stories, white papers and results are available in our Resource Library.