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Customer Service in Manufacturing: Order Management Support

Welcome to part 1 of what will be an ongoing blog series covering different aspects of how manufacturers can leverage Salesforce to provide better customer service for their customers. Customer service in manufacturing is a pretty broad subject – on top of that, manufacturing as a whole is a pretty broad industry. When an industry ranges from making small gears or ball bearings all the way to creating sophisticated internet connected machinery, you’re going to see a wide range of customer service needs. However, across that broad industry is an unfortunate theme – a lack of investment in technology to help service their customers. Salesforce ran a great survey of manufacturing executives along with the Harris Group, and one of the most telling questions was this:

State of Service in Manufacturing

Spreadsheets are still the top technology being leveraged by manufacturing companies for customer service. Followed closely by on-premise (meaning old technology) systems. A whopping 37% are still using paper to do this. From our own work with manufacturing companies we see the same trend. Often when asked how you track service requests we receive the answer of “we have a complaints spreadsheet”. It’s not often I cringe when hearing something during a discovery, but that one always gets me. Not only is it a siloed spreadsheet that no one else in the organization (like the Sales people trying to sell to the customers) but the fact that it’s just perceived as a way to track complaints means they truly aren’t bought into providing great customer service. Fortunately, this seems like it is changing. In the same survey 69% of manufacturers (80% when looking at the top-performing manufacturers) plan to increase their service budgets over the next two years. It’s getting harder and harder to differentiate yourself just with your product and providing terrific and proactive service along with your product is a way to do that.

Salesforce offers a wide range of products that manufacturers can leverage in order to provide that great service. Service Cloud is obviously the backbone of this, but there are many ways to leverage Service Cloud and also other products that can work with it to enhance the process. In our Customer Service in Manufacturing blog series we’re going to focus on specific challenges or topics within manufacturing service and go into details about how aspects of Salesforce can be used to address them. Along with the blogs, we had a free webinar where we covered a range of these topics and showed a live demonstration of how Salesforce can help manufacturers address their service needs.

Date/Time: June 14th at 1EST / 10PST
Register here:

Let’s get into our first topic – Order Management Support.

For many manufacturers, inquiries about orders is the primary interaction with customer service. If you sell ball bearings, no one is calling your service team to say they don’t work or asking how to use them. They are calling to figure out where their order is, or to provide feedback on the order itself – wrong part, wrong quantity, wrong shipping location, etc. Even manufacturers of heavy equipment are dealing with inquiries around parts orders. In addition to inquiries about orders, a lot of time is spent in actually placing orders and customer service is heavily involved in this. These could be re-orders, inventory inquiries, orders with slight variations to the part or even parts orders. Finally – in particular with order management – your service team is also most likely supporting your sales team as well as your customers. Here’s how you can leverage Salesforce to improve this experience for both you and your customers.


The first step to providing powerful customer service around order management is getting the order details themselves out of your ERP system and into the hands of your agents, customers and sales people. The old swivel-chair works for your agents that are planted at your office, but this isn’t going to help get that information directly to your customers or Sales team. Integration between Salesforce and your ERP system is needed to achieve this. There are multiple ways to build your integration and a lot depends on your use cases as well as your ERP system. For example, if you’re on an old AS/400, your options may be limited but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You just might need to get a little creative. If you’re on a newer ERP, you’ll have multiple options. At the end of the day, Salesforce is completely flexible in how it can be integrated with, so typically the ERP is dictating the approach. At a high level, there are three main approaches to getting your order data from your ERP and I’ve detailed them below. We see customers using one or multiple of these approaches depending on the use case. Please note though, that in almost all cases, you’re going to want to sync your Account data in Salesforce to the ERP so the Order integrations are more seamless and to improve your agent experience.

  1. Classic Batch Integrations – When you think integration, this is what most people think of. With this approach you map an object in Salesforce to an object in your ERP, line up the fields, set your logic of what integrates and the data flows. These can be one direction or bi-directional. When it comes to Order Data, typically it’s one direction from the ERP to Salesforce objects that you create to hold the Order and Order Lines information. You can use custom web services to do this, but we usually recommend using an ETL tool like Dell Boomi to handle these type of integrations as it is much easier to modify and comes with pre-built error handling and scheduling logic. With batch integrations you are literally moving the data into Salesforce. For example, you would leverage Salesforce’s Order and Order Lines objects and feed the order data over from your ERP. The benefit here is the data is right in Salesforce so any Salesforce user can access that information without logging into your ERP – including when they’re on the road via Salesforce1. In addition, with it being in Salesforce, you can leverage Salesforce Reports & Dashboards against it, log records against them – like Cases, automate workflow, email alerts, or even Chatter against it. The downside is if you have a high volume of orders, you’re potentially paying for a lot of storage to hold all of this in Salesforce. Another downside is the concept of batches imply that the data is not real time. If your order data doesn’t change regularly, batches every hour or even daily would be fine, but there is still always the risk your users are seeing stale data that just changed in the ERP system and they are unaware of that. Typically, for Order data, unless it’s a super high volume, we see this methodology being used. However, for something like Inventory – where it is changing potentially every minute – and the volume is really high, we wouldn’t bring that data directly to Salesforce.

    Example Orders Integration with Dell Boomi

  2. Real Time API Calls – Real Time APIs are a way to present the data to your users, but without necessarily storing that data in Salesforce. Basically, something triggers the API – this could be an action from a user, or just the user opening up a record – the API fetches the data from the ERP and then presents or sends it to the user. The big benefit here is this ensures the data is real time. There’s no chance of stale data here (unless your source data is stale for some reason). The negative is, this is really for presentation only. Your users will not be able to transact against that data – like log a Case against it. In addition, depending on the volume, you may stress your ERP with a high volume of calls. As I mentioned above, queries about inventory or situations where you have very high volume order data are great use cases for this.
  3. Salesforce ConnectSalesforce Connect is an integration product that allows you to pull data into your Salesforce virtually. This means users within Salesforce can see the data – like Order Headers and Lines, as if it’s in Salesforce, but the data is not physically stored there. This is a great way to avoid the storage costs if you have a high volume of data, but still make it seem like you have the data within Salesforce. The negative is, being a pretty new technology, it does require your ERP to be fairly modern in order to connect the objects virtually. In addition, while you can run Salesforce reports on this data – as if they are in Salesforce – you can’t trigger workflow or link Cases to it. Finally, this is an add-on product, so there is an additional cost.

Now that we have all of your order information connected to Salesforce, let’s talk about the ways this will help you and your customers.

Case Management

Case Management is the backbone of customer service and Salesforce’s Service Cloud. It all starts with tracking any issues or interactions that your customer service teams have within Salesforce – typically Cases is where this starts. Here are few of the uses and benefits of leveraging this around order management:

  • 360 Degree View – Just the act of tracking these issues and interactions within Salesforce begins to improve customer service. It allows you to begin to think proactively instead of having your data siloed. First immediate benefit is to the team that manages your customers – either Account Managers or Sales Representatives (or both). If a customer complains about an order being the wrong part, or being late, and that information is put into a spreadsheet, chances are your customer facing team is walking into an ambush the next time they call on that customer. Instead of having a proactive call apologizing for the delay or the issue with the order, they will be demonstrating how they were unaware there was even an issue in the first place – which will just further aggravate your customer. Log everything so that anyone visiting or calling on the customer can see if anything has happened – or is still unresolved – prior to that visit and then leverage workflow if something was high priority or a major issue to ensure a call is made to the customer. Don’t forget the mobile aspect here. Having this data in your Sales Rep’s hands even when they are on the road is a massive advantage for your Sales team. Keeping track will also help your Customer Service team. If a customer has called multiple times for the same issue, that will be tracked on the Case record and your team will be able to quickly see what happened previously instead of driving your customer nuts by having to make them explain it all again.
  • Customer Service Productivity – Leveraging all of the tools of Service Cloud, you can make your agents more productive when handling order management issues. With the Service Console, as soon as you open an Account record or a Case record belonging to an Account, you can immediately show your customer service agent a list of recent orders the customer has made (remember you connected your ERP to Salesforce!). Show proactive flags for orders that might have an issue – like orders they are already past due on their expected delivery date or ones where the delivery date was recently adjusted so you already know they will be late. Chances are the customer is calling about these already, so give your agents that intelligence right from the start of the call instead of forcing them to go log into the ERP and hunt for the issue. If your ERP supports it, have a link right from the Order record to allow your agent to click it and be brought to that Order in the ERP system – again saves them the time of having to do this manually while the customer is on the phone. If you get even more sophisticated with your integration, agents could even change order information – like the ship to address – right in Salesforce and have that fed to your ERP. Knowledge is typically for product customer service but even in order management service it could play a role. Maybe there is a known issue with one of your products and you have a Product Advisory for it. As soon as the agent pulls up an Order record that has that product, you could display that advisory within the console. Why make the agent research to find the problem? If a customer is calling about an order with a product with known issues, there’s a great chance this is why they are calling. Arm your agent with that data – and the resolution path. These are just a couple of ways to make your agent more effective. We’ll cover even more on the other blog posts.

    Orders view from Service Console

  • Timely Response – Service Cloud has multiple features that allow you to track your SLAs – contractual or internal – to ensure that you are responding to your customer’s inquiries in a timely manner. As soon as the Case is entered, the clock starts counting against your SLA. You can keep this very simple and just have an internal SLA that tracks for your first response and resolution or get sophisticated where different customers, case types or even products have different SLAs that need to be achieved. Escalation rules can be used to send off flares as a Case is getting close to violating an SLA. All of this is meant to make sure no Cases slip through the cracks and that your customers are responded to in a timely manner.

    Milestone Tracker in Service Console

  • Proactive Analysis – Your Orders are now located within Salesforce and your customer service team is logging Cases against the Orders as your customers reach out. These Cases will have a Case Type where you can track whether it was a delivery issue, packaging issue, product issue, customer mistake, etc. You now have all of the problems at your fingertips to analyze. How come most of the late deliveries are from one fulfillment company? Or why is there a spike in reports of damaged products coming from just one plant? And is it just you or are there suddenly a lot of cases about one particular product over the past two months – and that was exactly when you switched to a different supplier for a key part? You can’t easily get this intelligence from a spreadsheet that is just tracking a complaint. This is the type of analysis that will let you see that your fulfillment company is having quality issues or your new parts supplier has a defect earlier. Without this kind of tracking you will figure it out – eventually – but it will all be based on gut feel and overwhelming volume.
  • Proactive Alerts – Salesforce has a powerful workflow engine that allows you to send alerts to your users and customers when events occur. With your order data connected to Salesforce, you can now use this to communicate with your customers and users about key events around their orders. When an order is placed, if you can’t immediately tell your customer the expected delivery date, have Salesforce send it out automatically once you know it. Send it by email or even better by SMS with LiveMessage (we’ll get into that more below). More importantly, there is a delay in your order. You originally thought it would be delivered on 6/15 but now it won’t be until 6/25. Fire out that alert to your customer – and if this is an important enough order – to the Account Manager / Sales Rep too. Maybe there is an alternate product they could purchase to still get this on time. If so, include that call to action in your notification. Get ahead of the problem instead of waiting for the customer to complain to you that it is late. Finally, once your product ships, send out that tracking number. There’s a long list of proactive alerts you can send – all of these are meant to arm your customers with timely information instead of having to force them to call you to find out what is going on. Even if the alert is sending negative information, your customers would prefer to be aware than surprised. Not only will this help lower the volume of inquiries coming in, but they will improve customer satisfaction. This goes hand in hand with Self Service which is next.

Self Service

At the end of the day, your customers would prefer to not have to call in to place orders, change orders or see what is happening with their orders. They would much rather have this information at their fingertips or have a way to find it. We discussed the proactive alerts above which is really a push to your customers. Most people think of Self Service as Knowledge and letting customers find out on their own how to solve an issue. While that is terrific for some use cases, with order management service, it’s more about getting information to your customers without them having to call you. Leveraging Salesforce, we can also give your customers a way to get at this data anytime they want.

  • Communities – Salesforce Communities allows you to create a way for your customers to log into a secure environment and see their own data. In this use case, we can have a Community where your customers will be able to see their orders and all of the relevant information around those orders that you want to expose. Most commonly the key dates for the order will be exposed and details like what was ordered, where it’s shipping and tracking information. Through the Community you can allow customers to log Cases directly against the order for issues, add comments / questions to the order or even change information about the order, like the shipping address. All of these activities they would normally need to call in to your customer service team to do typically. In addition, you can leverage reports and dashboards to allow your customers to track their history of what they’ve ordered and over what time. Again, normally this would be a request they would call your team for and then your agent would need to run the report and send it to them. Empower your customers to do this on their own. Through the Community, you can also create ways for your customers to order or re-order your products. It might be as simple as a request they make and your customer service team then processes it, but if your business can support it, you can allow your customers to create an order that feeds directly to your ERP to be fulfilled. Sometimes you may need something like CPQ to allow for more advanced ordering, but that can be exposed in the Community too (that will be a future blog post). Finally, leverage alerts! If your customer is in your Community, make sure they see important information. Give them a component right on their homepage about their upcoming shipments, or put an alert on any order issue right on the homepage. If you have access to their consumption rates, you could even have proactive alerts notifying your customer they need to order more. The Community is another way to send those proactive alerts.
  • Messaging – We wrote a blog post on how you can add messaging into your customer service mix and order management was one of the use cases we highlighted. More than ever, it’s a mobile world and your customers are looking for information immediately. They might not be in front of their computer when they want that data but everyone has a smartphone. The could log into your Community (Communities with Lightning are all mobile responsive) or they could interact with you via texting. With LiveMessage, you can setup a number for your customers to text into. Leveraging messaging bots, you can fully automate the delivery of information to them without ever having to have an agent involved. A simple use case is an order shipment alert. Instead of sending an email that might not be read, send a text to your customer and make sure they receive it (an insane 98% of all texts are read).

    SMS Order Notification with LiveMessage

    You can get even more sophisticated with bots. You can setup a service that allows your customer to text their order number in. From that order number you retrieve all of the status information about it (this gets back to the integration – this could be a real time API call to your ERP or the data is already in Salesforce and you leverage that) and text it back to your customer. From there you can even give them options to change or cancel the order. If needed you can give them a way to speak to a customer service agent as well. With LiveMessage you’re able to have a SMS conversation with an agent directly from the Service Console while your customer is just using their phone. This is a terrific way to give the power of information into your customer’s hands instead of forcing them to call you to get that information.

    Order Status Automation with LiveMessage

That’s just a taste of some of the ways you can leverage Salesforce to handle your customer service for order management. We’ll be covering more Customer Service in Manufacturing use cases in upcoming blogs including: CPQ with Service Cloud to manage Service Contracts and Parts Orders, Customer Service for Heavy Equipment and Complex Manufacturing, and Field Service Lightning. You’ll be able to see some of this in our Service in Manufacturing webinar on 6/14 at 1 EST / 10 PST. Exciting stuff for an exciting industry – and we’re looking forward to writing the next one!

Harry Radenberg

Harry is the President and founder of GearsCRM, with more than 15 years of experience working with the Salesforce platform. Outside of Gears, Harry enjoys debating Star Wars and Marvel with his son and sharing music and videos with his daughter. He is an avid racquetball player, bleeds Dodger blue, cries Jets green and always tries to find spare time to read a good fiction novel.

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