The popularity of Enphase’s microinverters for solar panels and home batteries is rapidly increasing in Europe. That’s why the company is currently scaling up its European customer service organization. That responsibility lies in the hands of Bernhard Kühner. ‘Installers and end users must be able to count on the best possible support 24/7, during regular working hours in their own language. We also want to excel in this area; the customer is king.’
You started as Director Customer Service EMEA at Enphase at the end of last year. Why?
‘Enphase does not choose to walk the beaten track. With our software-based microinverters and system architecture, we are pushing the boundaries in solar energy technology - in yield, safety, longevity, quality and intelligent functions. But Enphase doesn’t just go for the best products, it also wants to provide the best customer service. This is a great challenge for me.’
Does Enphase also opt for an innovative path concerning customer service?
‘The setup and approach are different from what we are used to in our industry. We want to be available 24/7 for our customers. Whatever question is asked by installers or homeowners, we must give an appropriate answer. In doing so, we strive for very high quality.’
What do you mean exactly when you talk about a high quality?
‘The roll-out of photovoltaic systems is currently going very fast in Europe. In countries such as The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy and the UK, many residential solar energy systems are being installed each day. Installers are swamped in work and can experience a lot of stress. If they have problems - for example during installation, commissioning as a result of a software update – they want to be helped well and quickly. This requires more than technical support. It also necessitates excellent communication skills.’
And the availability of relevant information...
‘We are offering all kinds of information in manuals or on websites, but give support immediately. The cooperation with our marketing department is crucial in this respect. It does a very good job for us by producing and making the right documentation accessible. Thanks to our software base and the unlocking of all kinds of data via our communication gateway, IQ Gateway – the brain of our energy solutions – we also have real-time insight into the status and performance of all PV systems with our microinverters and batteries. This way we can observe what’s happening “live”, also when homeowners call us with questions.’
How does Enphase measure the quality of its customer service?
‘We take a broader view. When determining customer satisfaction, like many large companies, Enphase uses the so-called Net Promoter Score (NPS). That tool is based on asking 1 question: “How likely is it that you will recommend us to a friend or colleague?”. On Wall Street, the scores of companies are closely monitored because they are supposed to say something about the growth of companies.’
It’s a cultural thing….
‘That’s right. For example, a European will be less inclined to appreciate you as ‘great’ in a questionnaire. It is more important that we continuously work on quality and satisfaction, together with our customers. We do this, among other things, in round table discussions that we conduct monthly with installers and within our Enphase University where they gain important knowledge and skills and can certify themselves in various areas. In addition, as a customer service, we create a feedback loop within the global Enphase organization. Our findings are taken into account every week in meetings where we discuss performance in all kinds of areas and adjust activities to achieve our goals. However, all of that does not alter the fact that we simply have to be there for an installer or home owner who calls us with a pressing matter.’
How do you organize that?
‘Enphase is expanding rapidly in Europe. Our customer service must grow accordingly. The central principle is that we always want to be accessible. We follow the sun. During working hours our European organization serves our customers, then our American colleagues take over, after that those in India. We believe that it is very important that we serve our customers in their own language during their regular working hours – because of customer-friendliness and clear communication – and Enphase is already active in 12 European countries. This obviously has major implications for upscaling in Europe.’
Where do you stand at the moment?
‘We have customer service offices in the Netherlands, Germany and France. At this moment our tech support group consists of twenty-two people. It has to grow to 60 people quickly, and many more after that. We are currently hiring people like crazy and of course also train them. Our technology is very advanced. They need to know our microinverter technology and system approach inside out, but for instance also be able to interpret the information from our IQ Gateway network fast and thorough.’
That doesn’t really sound like a standard job in a regular call center...
‘We are talking about high-quality jobs, all the more so because of the communication skills we ask of them. They also have to be able to handle pressure. But it’s fun and very satisfying work. It is also very important for Enphase. You only have one chance to sell to an installer, you keep them with you through good service. That awareness is an integral part of Enphase’s value proposition. Despite the challenges on the labor market, our customer service in Europe will be optimized to our standards by the end of this year.’