I’m hitting the road. I am plotting my way around the US, to spend time with contractors of all different shapes and sizes. My car is packed (probably too packed), and I’m headed out. Why, you ask? I am a passionate advocate for the building performance industry. Over the last several years...
But I think there's a better way! My yoga practice this morning was more difficult than usual, largely because I was distracted by the building envelope (It also appears, despite my best efforts, I'm becoming a buildings nerd. Or maybe I'm just coming to terms with it now). This is an unnamed yoga studio in San Francisco. It has a metal roof - it was probably a warehouse before. They're desperately trying to heat the place. Someone - I'm scared to think it was a contractor - thought it a good idea to drill massive holes in the duct work. But, good thing there's a learning thermostat! Except, because different teachers like the room at different temperatures, and the room does not hold heat at all, they turn the thermostat up to 86, down to 67, etc.
Learning/Smart thermostats are not a solution to comfort. I love them, and love that there is some smart technology in the buildings space that people are excited about. However, no one taught the regular users how the constant shifting of the temperature reduces the "intelligence" of the thermostat, and makes it even harder to keep an even temperature. If one is mindlessly using the thermostat, and some contractor thinks the best solution is to drill holes in the duct work, we've got a lot of work to do! What do you think of this?
I have been an AT&T wireless customer for more than 10 years. I have stayed a loyal customer because generally, the service was good, the price was reasonable, and my concerns addressed when they arose.
Lately, I've been having some issues. I work remotely often, which means I rely heavily on my cell phone. In the past several months, my service has gone down significantly, and my frustration level up. So, I called AT&T and expressed my concern. They offered some mild condolences, but no solutions. I went into the store and suggested I am seriously considering changing carriers because my bill is too high and the coverage not sufficient. I was offered a bit of a consolation, but it still didn't solve the problem. And my bill didn't go down - it went up. I finally went to their competitor, who offers things like unlimited data plans and better coverage, and switched carriers. I called AT&T to inform them of it. No one asked me any questions. No one bothered to pull up my account to see I had been a customer for more than 10 years. And no one bothered to try to keep me as a customer.
So what does this have to do with you? I see this kind of thing in the residential contracting world all the time. A customer complains, it gets ignored, and you lose a customer. Or, a customer complains, you mitigate but don't solve the problem, and the customer leaves anyway. And guess what? I'm telling all of my friends - all of you - about my frustration. Perhaps that will make you think twice when considering the service I'm reporting on. Learn from AT&T:
Validate your customer's concern: We know our customers have likely had a bad experience with a contractor. If you acknowledge the concern, the customer is likely to keep listening for solutions, rather than allowing that concern to be the objection to the sale.
When the problem is your fault, solve it: Even if it takes you a couple of trips to the house to solve the problem, it's worth it in the long run. That customer will tell more people about how committed to quality and performance - and her happiness - you are, and you're much more likely to get referrals from her. And referrals are free leads!
If a customer says "no thanks" or stops using your services, ask why: You'll never get a more candid response than from a customer who's leaving you. It's great insight for how to do better next time. And if you're not able to solve the customer's problem, do something for them that leaves a better impression - like a gift card to a local restaurant, or movie tickets. Give them something positive to say about you, rather than walking away and slamming the door.
Keep asking your existing customers what you can do better. Call your long time customers and thank them. Give them cool things like movie tickets too. They're your best ally in the long run.
Bonus: Check out Mike Rogers' blog post on customer service. It's best to address service BEFORE there's a problem!
This past week at HPC in Nashville left me humbled, hopeful, and filled to the brim with gratitude. The biggest HPC/ACI conference to date, and the best one yet in my opinion. I was humbled by the new and innovative ideas, by the momentum behind healthy homes and its connection to home performance, and by the level of dedication and commitment of the leadership in this industry to propel us forward. And the conference would not have been such a huge success without the amazing work of the HPC staff - Nate Natale, Bethany Dittmar, and many others who poured their soul into this. I could write a book about all I'm excited and grateful for from this past week. I'll stick with 5.
My Top 5 Greatness and Gratitude moments:
#5: Getting treasured time with my mentors, and getting to work side by side with you. I am humbled by the opportunity to work closely with Mike Rogers, Keith Aldridge, Steve Cowell, Elizabeth Chant, Dick Kornbluth, John Tooley, and many others. You've done so much of the roadwork, and I'm lucky to know you.
#4: A Growing Conversation about Workforce Development and Diversity: The sponsors of the Women in Building Performance didn't just put their money on the table so we could have free drinks, they shared why they are committed to the cause. And we ran out of drink tickets in 15 minutes (over 200 tickets!). I was honored and humbled by the show of force of this industry to advocate for diversity in all its forms. We had two sessions focused on diversity specifically, and a phenomenal keynote speaker in Paula Glover of the Association of Blacks in Energy. The conversations during and after those sessions bring me so much hope for how we move forward. Special thanks to Kristen Nicole of Women in Solar Energy and Danielle Putnam of Women in HVAC for making a point to travel to Nashville just to be a part of the conversation. We are onto something here!
#3: More Contractors: Efficiency First pulled together 9 sessions for contractors, by contractors that were "Powered by Efficiency First." We got many companies to talk about their successes in HR, financials, marketing, technologies, peer groups, and much more. (If you're interested in peer groups, email me!)
#2: Better, Stronger Industry Collaboration: From an industry-wide survey to better integration into the HPC conference, BPI, Efficiency First, and Home Energy Magazine are getting seats at the table for the growth and direction of the industry, and all four organizations are working toward ways to bring you more value and bang for your buck. Look for more of this in the coming year.
#1: My People. All You People: Every moment of every day (and the days were really really long) I was talking, laughing, and solving the industry problems with some of the kindest, giving, smart, and motivated people I know. I see this conference as a homecoming of sorts - my annual reunion with the soldiers out there on the front lines fixing homes, fixing problems, and making big change in the world. I love all of you.
Well, it's that time again, and I am excited! The National Home Performance Conference is always a homecoming of sorts. It feels a bit like a family reunion, and an opportunity to meet new members of the residential energy industry. And, Women in Building Performance is building steam - some of which you'll see in Nashville next week. Here's a sneak peak:
Sunday Night, March 19 at 5:00: Join us for First Night reception, which we're co-hosting with our friends at Brighter Energy Collective. Drink tickets while they last, and a raffle. And some good conversation about increasing diversity in our industry. Bring a new friend! We'd love to see some new faces. You can find us in the Broadway Prefunction space, across from registration. And if you'd like to donate to the cause please contact me! My blog about it is here.
Emerging Professionals: A Debate on the Future of Home Performance: This session, held on Wednesday morning at 8am (I know, I know! But it's worth it, I promise), will be a lively discussion about workforce development, addressing diversity and adversity, and building toward a more cohesive, diverse (in population and in thinking) industry. As part of the Habitat X track, you know it will be different than most sessions you attend. I'm sitting on this panel, sharing my own experiences and perspectives on how to address the gender gap. With me will be Ed Matos and Michelle Nochisaki of Brighter Energy Collective, Mark Tajima of Energia, and Elizabeth Chant Principal at VEIC.
Diversify Your Workforce: This session is also on Wednesday at 12:00pm. I'm very excited to have some new faces in our midst join me on the panel: Danielle Putnam, President of the New Flat Rate and board member of Women in HVAC, and Kristen Nicole, Account Director at Dividend Solar, and executive director of Women in Solar Energy. We'll talk about workforce issues. We'll talk about the three organizations and what they're doing to address the workforce challenges. And, we'll talk about ways to build bridges between the home performance, HVAC, and solar industries.
More opportunities to come - stay tuned! Hope to see you next week in Nashville.
Last year at ACI in Austin, we held a a great reception supporting Women in Building Performance. This year, we're going big(ger). We've partnered with the Brighter Energy Collective and Habitat X to start a dialogue. To talk about diversity. And to give out free drinks (and maybe some giveaways). You can find us on Sunday night at 5:00 at the Omni. Check out the First Night Event Page, and Come join us!
We're still looking for sponsors - if you're interested in sponsoring, please send me an email (email@example.com). We're looking to raise enough funds to cover the cost of the event. And, if we get more than that, the funds will go into the HPC scholarship fund. It's a win-win! So far we've gotten some generous sponsorship from Mike Rogers, OmStout Consulting, Steve Byers, energyLogic, RetoTech, and Energy Circle. We take donations of all sizes! If your company wants to contribute $500 or $1,000, that's fantastic. If you as an individual want to donate $50 or $100, that's great too!
I hope to see you there!
Last year at ACI Austin, many of us took note. The energy was electric. And It was probably the best ACI I’ve been to. (you can read my perspective here. Mike Rogers had a great analysis too). I’m pretty confident that this year’s National Home Performance Conference will build on that momentum of last year. Contractors will share their best practices and best horror stories, and some of the best and brightest in building science, business, and policy will share their expertise. Here are some highlights of the great content I'm excited about:
Check out the Healthy Homes/IAQ track, which includes a full day on Sunday March 19 by Kevin Kennedy. He’s a renown expert in environmental health, and has been performing research and running programs that link home performance and health for years. This track covers everything from data collection/analysis to tactical applications to your contracting business or program design.
Weatherization Tracks. HPC’s precursor ACI has always had a strong focus on weatherization, and they’re bringing it full force this year. Expect to see some new faces too - for the first time, HPC has partnered with DOE’s Weatherization program to expand the conference to weatherization programs across the country.
Industry Partnership and Diversity. This year, you’ll notice a couple of sessions focused on diversity. I’ll be leading a session with Danielle Putnam, board member of Women in HVAC, and Kristen Nicole, Executive Director of Women in Solar Energy. More on this soon. You’ll also notice that Habitat X is back at it with an innovative session on diversity and the future of home performance.
Business Operations, Sales, and Marketing. You'll see some of the usual heavy hitters, but some new faces too. These sessions are largely focused on contractors, and helping you grow and sustain your businesses. You'll find sessions about managing finances, building sales teams, marketing best practices, and more. For contractors out there looking to learn directly from your peers, look for the sessions that are market "Powered by Efficiency First." Efficiency First partnered with HPC to build out 9 sessions with almost exclusively contractor presenters.
You can find the schedule at a glance here, and the searchable schedule here. If you’re on the fence about coming, check the schedule. And decide to come learn from your peers and the smart thought leaders. Or just come for the beer and good friends. Hope to see you there!
As some of you may know, I started an initiative 4 years ago to help build diversity in the industry, specifically focused on building networking opportunities, education of the industry at large as to how you can all help support women in this space, and to provide mentoring and support. The first couple of years had fits and starts, and were focused on clearly identifying the problem. This year, we’re focused on action. At ACI National in Austin this year, we had a very successful Women in Home Performance reception, sponsored by Tierra Resource Consultants, Energy Circle, Renew Financial, and Ivy Tools. (You can read more about my ACI experience on the Home Energy Blog here). During the reception, and throughout the conference, we had lots of offers to sponsor more activities at future events. We had a working session with a group of dedicated women (and two very gracious men!), and it solidified what needs to be done for me. In the coming months, I’m working on the following activities:
- Collaboration with other women-focused organizations: I’ve been talking with Women in Solar, Women in Energy, and Women in HVAC. We’ve all got strengths and there is a lot of potential to leverage each other’s networks and resources. More to come on this. And, if you know of other organizations I should be talking to, please let me know!
- Create a platform for women to communicate with each other: I established a rudimentary google group for women in home performance. This is a women-only platform for women to share ideas, ask questions, and support each other. If you identify as a women and are interested in joining, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Getting the word out: We’ll be posting to the LinkedIn Group, which anyone can join - and please do!. Go to the Linkedin Group Here. You’ll also see more on Twitter. We’ve created the handle @HP_Women. Please follow us!
- A big splash at ACI National in Nashville. More to come on this.
If you’re interested in helping out, or learning more about how you can get involved, please drop me a line!
Many utilities who’ve invested in energy efficiency are facing more and more pressure to achieve what the energy industry calls, cost effectiveness. There are many other wise souls in this industry who are tackling the very large, complex issue of making cost effectiveness more…well, effective (which you can read about here, here, and here). But I want to talk about the world as it exists today.
Home Performance, HVAC QI, or any programs that require contractor businesses to adjust their business model and invest time and money take time to show impact. A panel discussion at ACI California a couple of years ago showcased some of the “veteran” home performance companies. When asked if they felt like they’d arrived, and fully integrated home performance, all of them said no. Some of them had been at it for 6-10 years. The point is NOT that it doesn’t work. The point is that it takes a lot of time to navigate the maze of adding services, training staff, developing accurate pricing, retooling the sales process, etc. Contractor companies must invest time and resources to make it work. And if you’re designing or running a residential EE program, it’s important to consider this in the design. It’s not about having more, it’s about using the program dollars wisely to help build up the market place. Some data I’ve seen shows that it can take a contractor 6-9 months to submit 1 job to a home performance program after completing the enrollment process. It takes up to 18 months for them to start generating any volume.
Cost effectiveness is an important issue, and it’s some thing that weighs heavily on the back of program administrators when designing and running programs. By adding value to contractor businesses, and helping them navigate the business challenges they face when moving toward changing their business processes, you increase the likelihood of reaching your program goals. And, what I care about, reduce carbon emissions and make homes safer and more comfortable. Whatever your motivation, by providing more than just program participation support and a big penalties for doing some thing out of compliance, consider offering business mentoring, access to training, and other things that add value to their business. If it works for your contractors, it will work for you.
Maybe forever. I’ve worked with home performance and HVAC contractors of all shapes and sizes, from under $1 million to $10 million/year companies, and many of them will readily admit they are missing some elements of the business basics. Maybe they have a business plan, but they haven’t looked at it in 5 years. Maybe they’re bringing in $5 million in revenue, but can tell you where their leads come from. Or maybe they’re bringing in 10-15 leads per sales person per week, and they’re only closing 20% of them. Or they don’t KNOW how many they are closing.
I’m in the midst of building out my own business, after years of supporting many companies under the auspices of utility rebate programs. I’m trying to practice what I preach - and this stuff is not easy. I believe it was Cher who said, "If it was easy, everyone would do it.” (Don’t worry, I won’t make a habit of quoting Cher). From the very basic starting point of filing for a business registration, a license, and figuring out whether or not to use and EIN or SSN as a sole proprietor, there are a lot of decisions that will have long term impacts on the business. Some of those decisions are scary, or the “right” answer is somewhere in the grey area, based on the interpretation of various accounting or tax officials.
But getting the fundamentals right gives you a better chance at success. And programs benefit a great deal from giving their contractors access to training and mentoring that helps them get it right. Or course correct. As you’re thinking about business plans or program design, consider what you want the end result to be. Contractors - you want to make money, right? You HAVE to know how much your spending, and on what, to know if you’re making money. Program administrators and implementers - you want your contractors to sell energy efficient home improvements, right? They need to understand how their current business works, in order to add program offerings into their business model without losing lots of money.
I’m excited to be stepping out on my own, and looking forward to supporting contractors, small business, and programs looking to develop the market for home performance, residential energy efficiency, and renewables. I’ll share my trials and tribulations of building a business based on the principles of some of the most notable leaders in the home performance industry - Mike Rogers, John Tooley, and Peter Troast, to name a few. Time to put my money where my mouth is.
PS - the website is still under construction. We'll be up and running soon! In the meantime, please feel free to follow my blog.