When SolarCity launched in 2006, it was with a simple but ambitious goal: the company would provide clean energy to consumers, businesses and non-profits at a lower cost than energy generated through the burning of fossil fuels. Today, SolarCity is the number one full-service solar energy provider in the U.S., but it didn’t get there without clearing a few customer experience hurdles first.

In the beginning, SolarCity’s contact center was a siloed patchwork of disparate solutions. Its SMS system didn’t integrate with its voice call system, which didn’t integrate with its email system, which was basically just Outlook, and so on and so forth.

As SolarCity continued to scale, it became evident that user experience and customer engagement systems required upgrading, so the company brought in Genesys to deliver an omnichannel customer experience.

We spoke with Howard Wright, director of customer engagement systems at SolarCity, about that transition and what business has been like using the Genesys Customer Experience Platform.

When SolarCity first launched, your contact center solutions were all siloed and not interacting with each other. What were some of the deficiencies to that approach?

Howard WrightHoward Wright: The prior contact center phone system itself was quite buggy. It went down a lot. There were data integrity issues when trying to analyze call volume, and then reconciling call volume with either sales data or customer service data. It was difficult to get true reporting, a true picture of what was actually going on in the moments that mattered most. This really hampered supervisor and manager decision-making and our decision support mechanisms were quite poor as a result.

Then, because other customer communication channels were all siloed systems, it was very, very difficult, if not impossible, to understand the customer journey. Mapping that was an exercise that would take a team of analysts days, if not weeks, to put together. And that’s just for one case.

This stack of siloed solutions, did it just come together as a response to specific needs at the time? Or was there some sort of overarching plan in place?

Wright: Yes, they were definitely point solutions, and one of the reasons I was brought in was to help go through a more rigorous and RFP-driven process, so they could arrive at the best possible solution given the requirements.

We had to respond to growth, and we didn’t have a lot of time to spend analyzing all the different unified communication platforms, or even contact center platforms, let alone make a decision on whether to go with a managed service versus on-premise.

They say the first step to solving a problem is recognizing it exists. Was there a watershed moment when SolarCity realized, “We really need to go out and see what else is out there?”

Wright: I think it was right before I came aboard. The existing vendor was separate from the third-party reseller, who owned the support contract. We’d open up a ticket with the TPR who would simply pass it off to the vendor. They’d point fingers at each other and cause delays or in the worst case they would just say, “We don’t have a fix, and are not going to be working on one.”

It felt like the relationship had reached a stage where the vendor thought, “Hey, we got you locked into a contract.” I think collectively, all those things of data integrity, a system that crashed a lot, especially at peak volume, paired with the finger pointing between the reseller and the software vendor—all that came to a head.

What was your selection process like?

Wright: We had a very competitive RFP process and Genesys was one of the finalists. We decided at that point it was time to now go and have deep-dive demos to understand the technology better, both from an end-user standpoint, but also a technology standpoint, because we knew we wanted to integrate. We were very keen on understanding the capabilities from an API standpoint.

How would we integrate the communication systems with other apps that were both third-party and bespoke, custom apps that we had developed on our own? Then we also looked at customer references. That was a big deal for us as well. Customers who had been through what we were about to go through. Fairly early on, it became quite clear that Genesys had their act together more than competitors. The user interface just seemed to flow, and from one module to the next, regardless of end user. The user interface seemed to be quite congealed and mature, and more intuitive than that of the competitors. The competitors would bring out the different modules, and they were clearly modules that were brought into the platform through acquisition, and they did not have a common look or feel. We thought that the learning curve would be quite steep there. The other vendors were also pushing third-party integrators towards us and based upon our experiences, that was not appealing. Genesys, the system and company, was one full-service company.

What are some of the major ways the Genesys deployment has improved your customer engagement strategy?

Wright: First and foremost, having a system that stays up. The first phase of our implementation is really just to replace the core voice channel that we had with the prior vendor. We’re just about wrapping up that phase, and then we’re quickly going to go into some of the other channels, such as chat and SMS. We’re also looking into our first-ever outbound dialer. We’ve never deployed a dialer, and we have tremendous volume of outbound calls dialed manually. We didn’t want to put a dialer into the old system because we felt like it couldn’t handle the load. Now that Genesys is in, and we’ve actually done a pilot with the Genesys outbound dialer, we’re excited to get that going because it’s going to make us more efficient, and we’ll be able to reach out more proactively to more customers.

What are some of the metrics that you guys are going to be looking at six months down the line to judge the success of the system?

Wright: I would say first and foremost, downtime, or to be more positive, uptime. We want to make sure that Genesys is meeting the SLA. From a sales standpoint, we really want to see an increase in contact rate and occupancy rates. Finally, our hope is that by offering customers more options to communicate with us, our conversion rates and NPS score will go up as well.

From a customer account management side, it’s mostly about workforce management, so being able to only allocate customer support resources when we have a live customer on the line through outbound. Through inbound, we’re hoping that we make the IVR selection process irrelevant. As a customer calls in, we have plenty of information in our CRM system that tells us what state that customer is in, and whether or not they’re dealing with an issue, or have an outstanding balance or whatever. We should be able to very quickly decide on their behalf when they call in who is the best possible team member to route that call to, rather than have them press 1 for customer service, press 2 for billing, etc. We have many departments that can help customers and addressing them all in an IVR can make for a poor customer experience.

How have employees generally reacted to the new system?

Wright: It’s been positive. The challenges have been relatively small. We started with the sales division as they tend to be a good proving ground to try out new technology. They really dig it, because they feel like they’re using a more modern platform and because the other phone system was just so bad. Now, the CRM integration is tighter, and there’s much more data integrity. Team members have a little report right there on the softphone that shows them their call activity statistics. We’ve just done a 180 on that whole data integrity issue.

What about on the customer side? I guess the best thing you can hope for is that it just works and clients don’t notice it at all.

Wright: Yeah, it’s a little early to tell but I’ve heard some comments that since we’ve gone onto our new system that the call quality has improved, our reporting capabilities are better, and people are genuinely excited for future phases that will bring about more value-added features for our customers and team members alike.

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