CLEAR Solar found customer numbers rose after a raft of incentives such as premium feed-in tariffs and renewable energy certificates.
The Melbourne-based sustainable energy company saw a surge of solar panel orders just before the government ended the solar-panel rebate in June 2009. Its residential customer base grew tenfold in 12 months.
"With that influx of clients that signed up, we didn't really have any business process because it was a 25-person company," Clear Solar chief information officer George Oosthuizen said.
"We hired people as fast as we could to cope with the growth, help manage customer details and all the areas around getting the systems on to the roofs."
Clear Solar, a provider of solar and sustainable energy products for homes and businesses Australia-wide, now has 200 to 300 staff, with its main office in Mitcham, Victoria. It also has offices in Queensland, NSW, ACT, South Australia and Western Australia.
The company's problem was because there was no process and no systems, Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet program was used. There was an old legacy customer relationship management (CRM) system, but not everybody had access because of licence restrictions, Mr Oosthuizen said.
"The client data was everywhere and when a client called it was 'where do you put them through?' because somebody will have some details on the client but not all the details were consolidated."
Clear Solar, which has 10,000 customers nationally, investigated six CRM solutions and quickly shortlisted three — NetSuite, Oracle and SAP.
It opted for Oracle because of the timeframe in which it could deliver.
"They (Oracle) could consolidate all of the data into one central repository where, it doesn't matter who looks at it, they have a single view of a client and will see the complete history," Mr Oosthuizen said.
Clear Solar implemented Oracle CRM On Demand.
It was selected because it could be implemented rapidly, was easy to use and offered a cost-effective subscriber-based model.
The system was purchased last November and was live within three weeks. The implementation cost was about $30,000 to $40,000, with ongoing licensing costs for 200 to 300 staff per quarter. "We are now six months in and we know exactly what customers were quoted," Mr Oosthuizen said.
Oracle CRM On Demand is integrated with Google Maps, providing Clear Solar energy consultants with the ability to enter a customer address into the system and see an aerial photo of their rooftop. The view allows the consultant to ascertain installation requirements and reduces the need for an on-site installation assessment visit.
Clear Solar is working on a system internally to overlay that with a view of solar panels on the roof.
"So we can see that this is approximately the size of the roof and six panels will fit on the eastern side or southern side and then we can design a system around that," Mr Oosthuizen said.
The new system led to a 50 per cent reduction in customer service calls, as customer services can immediately deal with inquiries. Processing a customer's order from inquiry to installation has been reduced, in most instances, from several phone calls to a single call. Consultants can build a quote and secure a deposit within a single customer interaction. "We had the ability to move some of our customer service people into different areas of the business because the customer service calls came down," Mr Oosthuizen said.
Oracle CRM On Demand's calendaring capabilities also allow energy consultants to book the order details and an installation date. The administration team can build a bill of materials for the customer's order and reserve the installation team's time to do the job.
A report can then be generated on how many installations are planned and scheduled and how much inventory is required, and when. Clear Solar is also able to keep its on-hand stock to a minimum.