COVID-19 Impacts, Innovations, and Adaptations
Mar 11, 2021
When the pandemic began a little over a year ago, we made quick decisions to ensure the safety of our client’s customers as well as our networks of Trade Allies and Service Providers that we manage. With a little innovation and good planning, we were able to maintain our energy savings pipelines and keep projects moving with very little disruption by transitioning to virtual audits, remote inspections, adapted messaging, and easier workflows.
Virtual Call Center and Business Processing
At the beginning of the pandemic, Nexant put together plans allowing our Call Center representatives to work from home. This option was made possible thanks to our cloud-based call center software (Five9) and reliance on our proprietary web-based application processing systems, iEnergy. The plan, which was expected to take 6 weeks, was accomplished in 5 business days, as Nexant's Customer Care team went from 5% virtual to 95%. Now, after a year of working remotely, Brad Pierce, VP of Business Processing, sees the remote opportunities as an asset. “We gained a level of system and outage resilience that we’d never had before,” he said. With the potential outage of centralized internet and electricity at the office no longer a concern, it was possible to ensure 100% uninterrupted service. Additionally, “the flexibility made it easier to coordinate staffing to cover absences or increases in call volume and it cut down on attendance issues and staff turnover,” Brad said.
The performance of the Customer Care team has been stellar---they haven’t missed a single call or had any processing or batching delays, even during the quick virtual transition paired with a 5.2 earthquake in the Salt Lake Valley last year (where most Customer Care team members live). Service levels have never been better with 98% of calls answered within 30 seconds, and a consistently quick residency period from application receipt to checks processed and mailed. The pandemic did make some changes to the content of their calls because it changed the way customers thought about safety, energy audits, and energy-related purchases. There were new safety precautions and guidelines to relay and customers were more hesitant to participate in energy programs that couldn’t be done virtually. The Customer Care team now sees this as the new normal and they are proud of how they adapted quickly and maintained their high quality service for our utility clients.
Energy Efficiency Program Adaptations
We adapted our commercial energy efficiency programs in record time, even though some required a pause on accepting new applications. Today, with many states phasing into more open status, program marketing has begun to resume and our programs are working hard to meet our savings targets. Many customers are inquiring about small business rebates as an investment in their business to reduce costs.
On our blog, Nexant Principal Jim Giordano shared a case study on how we developed our virtual inspection process during the pandemic. Once developed, this process helped us quickly pivot to safer inspections while maintaining our continuous improvement cycle and high standards. Stay tuned for a future blog that will focus on some of our most successful programs and adaptations during the pandemic.
Trade Ally and Service Provider Impacts from Coronavirus
The state and county shutdowns were very difficult for any Trade Allies or Service Providers not designated as “essential services”. Many depend heavily on work generated from energy programs and these reductions in work resulted in painful actions such as furloughed or laid off workers. To counter these negative impacts on our Trade Allies, one program we run in the Western U.S. made several changes to make doing business for them easier. Some things we've implemented include the following:
- We enabled remote project inspections (via phone video/photo) and remote project assessments.
- We offered promotions for Allies and Providers to complete online training videos during downtime.
- We made several program changes to make their process easier including direct deposit, extensions for projects, some new invoicing policies, some relaxation around signed documents.
- We've made the path to becoming a "Premium" status Trade Ally easier and with more benefits. Instead of adding or removing Trade Allies from the Premium vendor list on a quarterly basis we shifted to doing enrollment twice a year and once a trade ally is a Premium vendor they remain so for a full year. We also introduced co-branded golf shirts for the Premium vendors to wear.
We have also been communicating with Trade Allies as much as possible regarding immediate process changes, educating them about social distancing with customers and the business rules around that, reminding them to submit projects, providing financing options, and giving verbal support that we would be doing everything we could to help them through this time.
Marketing Adaptations for Coronavirus
When the pandemic was starting out, we crafted our communications to utility customers with extra care, taking into account the new pandemic reality. We offered information like low- to no-cost tips and tricks to save energy and water while spending time at home, rather than hard sells. Some customer postcard communications were suspended early on, but started up again eventually with COVID-appropriate language to help them feel more comfortable engaging with energy programs. Some programs adjusted their incentive levels, or rules to participate in certain incentives, temporarily so that customers who did adopt energy efficient projects could save more money. Over all, Nexant has adopted a rapid-response marketing approach to continually improve our communications and offerings during the pandemic.
Onward and Upward
To keep up our spirits as a company, Nexant invited staff to participate in activities to stay connected and show solidarity. We made the most of virtual work by creating a “Price is Right” game show for some levity during a leadership meeting. Some teams had “waffle check-ins” for early meetings or happy hours with video chat. We encouraged people to connect by sharing pictures of themselves enjoying the outdoors with hiking, biking, and winter activities. We also shared pictures of Halloween and “coworkers” (i.e., pets). Since baking and cooking got more popular with people being home so much, we created both the Nexant Recipe Exchange Cookbook and a Holiday Cookbook with our staff’s favorite recipes. Getting to work with each other is one of the many reasons our teams succeed and we are #inthistogether while working virtually.
Safety is our highest priority and we look forward to the future as vaccines become more widely available in 2021. We strive to be a strategic and supportive partner to utilities from grid management to customer engagement. While this pandemic has been an extremely challenging time, we are grateful to have so many ways to work virtually and still help our clients achieve their goals. Nexant is in this together with our clients and their customers.