Energy Trust of Oregon’s online Find A Contractor tool connects residential and business customers with pre-approved Energy Trust trade allies. The tool allows users to search for a service provider by several criteria including zip code, service or specialty, name, and more. Research Into Action assessed the tool to better understand its primary users and identify opportunities for improvement.
What we did
We used a web-based intercept survey to explore users’ general demographic characteristics, the services they sought, and their experience using the search tool. Eighty-six people completed the survey: 79 residential homeowners, one commercial building representative, and six contractors. We then conducted follow-up interviews with 14 residential survey respondents and one trade ally contractor. These interviews included screen sharing, which enabled respondents to show us how they interacted with the tool and navigated through the results.
What we learned
The most notable findings from these interviews included:
- The tool’s primary users were single-family homeowners who are 45 years or older, college educated, white, and located in urban areas. Follow-up interviewees said they had prior experience hiring contractors and were pursuing planned projects, rather than emergency replacements. Most were in the initial stages of those projects and had yet to hire a contractor.
- Interviewees said that referrals, reputation, and bid price were important considerations when hiring contractors. They also said rating systems were very helpful when making decisions, but they did not find the search tool’s three-star rating system intuitive.
- Respondents were more concerned about whether contractors served their area than they were about the business’s proximity to their home.
- Interview respondents had a positive association with Energy Trust as an organization and trusted that the site recommended quality contractors. They were, however, highly uncertain about what qualified a contractor to be a trade ally or how Energy Trust had vetted the contractors listed on the site.
This research unveiled several insights that may help program administrators as they develop online resources to connect their customers with contractors and other service providers:
- Tools such as this may be an effective means of connecting residential customers to trade allies who promote energy efficient options; however, business customers may be less likely to use online tools to locate trade professionals, relying instead on existing relationships. Other methods of engagement, such as direct outreach, may be more successful in connecting them with utility trade allies.
- Rating systems may influence customer decisions to contact a service provider. Customers are most familiar with five-star rating systems and find them to be the most intuitive. It is, however, important to clearly list the criteria on which the ratings are based.
- Customers want to know if trade allies provide services in their area, rather than their physical proximity—an important distinction when considering what details to include in a search tool.
- The success of online tools ultimately relies on their ability to drive users to the right landing pages. As utilities and other program administrators seek to design or optimize their online platforms, it is important to develop strategies to drive online traffic and engagement.