The Death of the Product

It is a controversial title, I know. But let’s dig deeper. In the days before social media and heightened customer expectations, a traditional product was an item that a customer purchased from a company, and used independently. Many came with warranties, instructions, or help center contact information. Otherwise, the customer and brand’s relationship would start and end at the point of sale.

In the experience economy, companies are held to far higher standards. Customers expect more than a physical product; they expect services around that product that support them both before and after the point of sale, leading to an entire customer lifecycle management continuum.

From the iPhone to ERP

Take, for example, the iPhone. When first introduced, it appeared simple next to competitors like the sophisticated-looking Nokia Communicator. However, the iPhone has been able to withstand the test of time because it provides more than just a product. It also provides an end-to-end customer experience through its ecosystem of services like apps, camera features, and connectivity. The idea behind a product may draw the consumer in, but it is the services that are layered into the product experience that earn customer loyalty.

This paradigm is especially true in the enterprise technology world. New technologies like the cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning have not only pushed customers to pursue digital transformation, but also led vendors to make the transition from solely offering products to providing end-to-end services that deliver customer success. However, in order to fully move from selling tools to providing outcomes, vendors must keep a few key factors in mind.

Innovating Through Integration

While providing customer service is an integral part of any company’s success, the channels through which those services are delivered can make or break the customer experience. For example, if a consumer must download one app to track the billing cycle for their smartphone plan and another for a connection to support services for their smartphone, they will likely be annoyed that they have to toggle between the two and enter repetitive information.

The same is true for customer services in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) world. With cloud-based technology consolidating the kinds of software on which today’s companies operate, these same customers expect services and support that they can access through one application that connects the multiple areas of their entire solution environment.

SAP enables this experience through the SAP ONE Support Launchpad, a personalized, one-stop shop for customer support. Each customer’s launchpad is unique to their activity and software – providing access to task-driven resources such as SAP Knowledge Base Article documents, Expert Chat, and Schedule an Expert, among other support services.

At an even more tailored level, full application lifecycle management in cloud, hybrid, and on-premise environments are also available to SAP customers as well as scalable premium support engagements like SAP MaxAttention and SAP ActiveAttention.

Finding the Right Design

Beyond delivery channels, the design of a vendor’s services and support offering greatly determines customer loyalty. After a physical product has been designed, its static form is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to mold to the customer’s changing needs post-purchase. Thankfully, with resources like AI and machine learning, today’s services and support solutions can take on more flexible designs to meet a heightened demand for personalization.

With AI and machine learning running in the back-end, the Next-Generation Support approach from SAP is constantly readjusting to adapt to the customer at hand. For example, intelligent support tickets pre-fill with customer information to streamline the incident filing process. SAP is also working to bring built-in support to each of its solutions through its intelligent digital assistant. This assistant helps offer an even more integrated, seamless experience. Not only does the tool provide an instant response, it also considers past requests and unique solution data to analyze the current situation and provide a customized solution. Products, help, knowledge, and services and support melt into one experience.

As the integration of AI and machine learning becomes more sophisticated, these services will mold to provide proactive and predictive support by flagging issues before the customer even has to ask a question.

A Service State of Mind

As Generation Z continues to enter the workforce, and the demand for personalized, convenient, and always-on business-to-business (B2B) experience continues to grow, the idea of a simple “product” will be long forgotten. The organization of the future will be service-driven and supported. With experience data from hundreds of thousands of customers globally, SAP is well equipped to help make sure its services are always delighting customers.


Wieland Schreiner is the senior vice president and head of Customer Experience and Solutions Development within Customer Success Services at SAP Digital.