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Making Service Contracts Profitable by Optimizing Field Support With ERP

Jun 03, 2019
By: Reed Klinkhammer

Making Service Contracts Profitable by Optimizing Field Support With ERP 

Manufacturers both big and small put a major emphasis on R&D, quality, improving cycle times, maximizing inventory controls, minimizing scrap, managing supply chains and getting products into the hands of customers on time and on budget. And rightly so. 

There’s a long list of key factors that impact overall company performance. However, there are major opportunities for improving financial performance and customer satisfaction that often aren’t given the same attention. 

Leading organizations understand the importance of providing field service and support in their retention efforts, and so they leverage post-production services as a differentiator during the sales process. This article will show how supporting your field service reps and customers with the right enterprise resource planning (ERP) technology can also support your bottom line.

The Need for Streamlining Field Service Support 

How much is your company spending on field service support? Most companies have very little clue because of the inability to accurately track costs, field service time, parts, open cases and other factors. 

That’s because no two customer issues are alike. Whereas one service call may only take an hour to clean or repair an assembly, another could require replacing that assembly altogether. The latter may require multiple service reps on the call who spend hours troubleshooting, or the need to order parts that may take several days to come in. Once those parts arrive, even more time and labor will be required to complete the work. 

Minimizing the time required on each service call not only makes for a happier customer but also saves on labor costs. When a field rep is working on a complex issue and doesn’t have quick access to service information, it prolongs resolution time. When answers aren’t available at your fingertips, it’s not unusual to send an email or call other service technicians who may have dealt with a similar situation in the past to gain insights. If a solution is uncovered, chances are the knowledge doesn’t get documented for future reference. When a similar issue arises, the inefficient cycle to uncover answers starts all over again.

All these factors can lead to excess labor, inaccurate billing, extended downtime and dissatisfied customers.

How ERP Improves Time Tracking and Billing

A key to improving profitability is to manage labor costs. Traditionally, field service reps report their time manually or submit a completed time card at the end of the day. Others send information through email to get re-entered by an internal service rep or have HR software that allows employees to log their time.

Unfortunately, these outdated methods are subject to human error and delays. Additionally, the information often isn’t integrated with a company’s other department data such as finance, scheduling and sales, making it difficult to run reports or extract valuable data.

Without a consistent system for documenting time, materials, parts and more, variances occur that make it impossible to determine accurate costs and whether your support services are profitable. In the end, management isn’t able to determine accurate pricing or profitability. 

With NetSuite’s ERP platform, service reps can track time and materials in real time through a mobile device or laptop while in the field. Because it’s integrated with a customer’s entire history and links to other department data, you can run reports to determine profitability. You can also integrate service expenses with data based on what was sold to the customer in the past so you can see what’s being spent on support as soon as it’s entered into the system. Sales can even be alerted when service issues arise to help sales reps nurture client relationships and stay informed.

ERP data can also be used as a performance tool to see how individual service reps are meeting standards. Such visibility into human capital not only creates accountability but also helps management acknowledge star performers. Managers can run reports to show the average response time, how many visits are required to resolve issues, how long it takes an employee to close a case and more. This information can be tied to individual customers to analyze how they’re being served compared to others. 

Access an Integrated Knowledge Base

Having the entire service history for a customer in one easily accessible location can help field reps quickly diagnose and resolve issues. NetSuite takes it a step further, however.

When you resolve a case, you can save that as a solution by documenting what was done, what worked and what didn’t, and how the issue was finally resolved. In the future, when another user or field rep runs into a similar issue, there’s a searchable database showing solutions that worked based on certain scenarios. 

The Knowledge Base is located all in one suite and tied to customer information, but it can also provide insights for other cases. The more issues and solutions that get documented, the more your Knowledge Base is built out for the future. Engineers and R&D can also leverage data to provide insights into potential product improvements.

Customer Transparency and Visibility

NetSuite’s ERP software allows increased visibility for field reps, management and even customers, giving them more control.

Customers can create their own case or service ticket through an online form to request service. When submitted, the form automatically integrates with the ERP system and sends alerts to designated field reps to start the issue resolution process quicker. Relevant form fields help ensure that all the information you need is provided.

An advanced feature of NetSuite ERP is the ability to create a customer portal where they can log in to see their service history, the status of an open case and how an issue was resolved in the past; view invoices; make payments; and access relevant documents in the Knowledge Base to potentially find their own solution. The Knowledge Base can feature only those resources that are relevant to their product’s model number so that a customer doesn’t have to search through a vast repository of irrelevant information.

More visibility among service reps and their customers allows everyone to make more informed decisions and validate next steps. To learn more about how NetSuite ERP can streamline your customer service processes and help make your field service more profitable, contact a Wipfli ERP consultant today.


Reed Klinkhammer
Senior Consultant
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