IF THERE'S ONE AREA WHERE EVEN GOOD builders blow it with their buyers, it's warranty service. Perfect customer relationships can be damaged in a hurry if their new homes are not delivered defect-free and warranty-service requests are not handled efficiently.

Developed jointly by Illinois-based Kimball Hill Homes and software maker BuildTopia, BTService is a new Web-based warranty-service management application that promises to change how builders close out their jobs and offer follow-up care. The software is available either as a stand-alone application or as part of the larger BTBuilder home builder management package.

The product provides customer/warranty-service managers, warranty technicians, subcontractors, and home buyers with their own screens, accessible from any Web browser.

The users see only information that pertains to them: Service managers use their screen to log service requests and assign items to a specific service technician, and technicians use their screen to manage their open service requests and assign items to subcontractors. The customer's screen can be integrated with the builder's own Web site, creating a secure warranty-service portal for their buyers.

According to Kimball Hill, a Web-based platform offers many advantages over conventional warranty-service applications. Home buyers can attach notes directly to their service request and enter multiple service items in one request from their service portal. The requests flow from the buyer's machine into the service manager's screen, where they can be processed for repair or rejected as non-warranty items. Buyers are notified automatically by e-mail whenever their request is assigned a disposition code, and they can track all of their requests online.

Likewise, when a technician assigns an open item to a subcontractor, the sub is contacted immediately, either through the BuildTopia system if he is a member, or by e-mail if he isn't. The system lets builders track subcontractor performance. Subcontractors who aren't performing can be easily culled out and their items reassigned so that the buyer always receives prompt service.

Customer service reps and technicians can drill into the buyer information and view or make corrections to any information, except the project address. If BTService is used as part of the larger BuildTopia BTBuilder system, notes and incidence logs originating all the way through the sales and construction process will be available as background information to the technician.

To effectively use the system, builders will have to equip their warranty technicians with a laptop, Tablet PC, or PDA with reliable Internet access.

BTService is available as a stand-alone application for $95 per named user per month or as a component of BTBuilder for an additional $30 to $50 per committed building lot, depending on overall volume.

Joe Stoddard is a process/technology consultant to the building industry. Contact him at jstoddard@mountainconsulting.com.