Being a certified B Corporation brings the value of customer service into laser focus. Using business as a force for good and treating customers honestly, ethically and respectfully go hand-in-hand.
Gary Skulnik is the founder of Neighborhood Sun, a B Corp in the community solar energy sector located in Montgomery County, Maryland. We sat down with Gary to talk about his views on customer service, transparency, and how being a certified B Corp brings these values into sharp focus.
For the Love of Green Energy
“I started Neighborhood Sun because I was excited to bring the promise of solar to everyone, not just the select few. With community solar in places like Maryland, renters, low or moderate income people, and anyone with an electric bill can get the benefits of solar without having to install anything. We want to use this great new program as a way to build stronger, more interconnected and equitable communities.” —Gary Skulnik
But first, let’s take a step back. Gary’s been committed to the B Corp, customer service and green energy worlds for over a decade. At Clean Currents, the wind power B Corp Gary ran from 2006-2014, they had a process and a culture in place that led to unprecedented levels of customer happiness – especially for an energy company (think about it. When have you ever heard a positive customer service story from an energy company??). And it all started with how the customer was acquired.
Serving the Customer… Before They Come a Customer
The way you invite a customer into your business paves the way for all their interactions with you going forward. To Gary’s dismay, “I see a lot of terrible customer service practices in the community solar industry.”
For example, solar energy companies that acquire customers without clearly spelling out important terms of the contract are setting themselves up for future problems. Companies might be tempted to gloss over “sticky” parts of the contract – the terms that bring up lots of questions, confusion or hesitation from potential customers. Don’t do it! Gary says. There must be total transparency and no overpromising or other misleading sales tactics.
Candid Communication, No Exceptions
And once the prospect becomes an actual customer, it’s vital to keep in constant communication with them. It’s not just a matter of giving them a customer support email address – make sure customers have several easy ways to reach you so that if anything comes up they feel supported and heard.
It’s also vital to stay the course on transparency – even (or especially!) when your customers have complaints. Neighborhood Sun has a customer feedback page on their website and a policy to print all comments, whether positive or negative (of course with the exception of vulgar, racist, etc. language). Their customers know that Neighborhood Sun won’t sweep anything under the rug – they will take care of any issues with openness and transparency.
It’s Worth Being Reachable
Gary says there should also be procedures in place that allow customers to escalate their issues to upper management. It’s not as hard as it sounds. At Clean Currents, they had more than 5,000 residential customers and their procedure was for major issues to be elevated to Gary, the president. No, he was not stuck taking hundreds of calls a day! The truth is 99.9% of customer problems can be solved by well-trained customer service staff. But with Gary’s ability to make quick decisions for the customer on behalf of the company, the several dozen calls he took over the years paid off in spades. It’s like the old maxim says – one happy customer will tell ten people, but one unhappy customer will tell 100 people.
Finally, to keep the “customer happiness” philosophy going strong, the company must infuse this value into its culture. It takes devotion to excellence, over-delivering, accountability, and the old (but not outdated) saying, “the customer’s always right.” Combining these priorities with other B Corp values of transparency, and commitment to community and employees ensures that customers – and employees – stay happy.
Brands have to stand for something and not just stand around in the crowd. That’s why being a B Corp is so important to Gary and the Neighborhood Sun team. Their customers are making an important decision when they choose Neighborhood Sun for community solar – it’s a choice that is grounded in their values, their lifestyle, and their commitment to the earth. Gary wants to offer no less than the best experience possible when customers choose Neighborhood Sun for their energy needs and environmental integrity.