Trade allies can have a profound impact on a utility. Not only do they help you improve your cost effectiveness and customer service, but depending on how well they perform, they can make or break your brand.
That’s why it’s important to give serious thought to structuring or refining your trade ally network. E Source, which has been conducting trade utility ally network research for almost a decade, has developed five key factors for evaluating your own trade allies.
Define your goals. “I haven’t come across many trade ally–specific goals in my research, which is somewhat surprising. Most of the goals related to trade allies are centered around program-specific objectives, such as energy savings,” writes Adam Maxwell of E Source. But developing a set of goals specifically for your trade allies helps you assess how your network is performing. Goals to consider include quality, customer satisfaction, cost reductions, alternative energy, sustainability measures and more.
Decide how you want to structure your network. The trick is to find a balance between being too restrictive and not restrictive enough. If you have rigorous benchmarks for achieving your goals, Maxwell states, you’ll likely get quality work from your trade allies, but fewer may want to join your network. On the other hand, less stringent requirements will likely give your customers more allies to choose from, but contractors will likely be less invested in helping your utility achieve its goals.
Help your allies. Think of your trade allies as your customers. What would improve their satisfaction and thus their desire to work with and please you? Examples include reducing paperwork and communicating clearly and effectively. Provide support to your allies through educational communications, blog posts, e-newsletters, or video tutorials that cover program updates, industry changes and relevant feedback.
Always consider your brand. Every decision you make as a utility should reflect positively on your brand. And that’s no different when it comes to your relationships with your trade allies. Maxwell sums it up: “Does having quality-control triggers in place enhance your brand? Yes! Does unlimited trade ally use of your logo enhance your brand? No! Does streamlining the trade ally application process create a positive experience and enhance your brand? Yes!”
Figure out how to measure success. Customer surveys or customer-service software can gather feedback on trade allies’ performance. But that’s only half the job. You then need to evaluate and share that data within your utility and potentially with your trade ally. Communicate those successes with your trade allies and pass on winning tips, suggestions and support to your Trade Ally Network. Data tracking options include low-tech solutions like charting your success metrics on a spreadsheet and tracking your trade allies’ performance for each metric. Or, if you want to save employee time and effort, consider using performance metric or design structure matrix–analytics software, which is offered by a variety of companies.