Evolving Customer Solution Support: Meeting Customers Where They Are and Where They Want to Be


Andreas Heckmann is executive vice president and part of the global leadership team at SAP, as well as the head of Customer Solution Support and Innovation. In this interview, Heckmann shares insight into his team’s plans to further leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities.

His goal is to flip the engagement model with customers to provide end-to-end solution support and a superior customer experience.

Q: Customer centricity is influencing how organizations operate. What is your organization doing to provide a superior customer experience?

A: The customer has always been at the center of what we do here at SAP, whether it involves customizing a product or service to meet their needs or delivering support in a way that accommodates their evolving business models.

And while providing superior customer experience has always been our focus, we are constantly looking at ways in which we can enhance this – both in the way we’re internally organized and in how we’re integrating emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning into our Next-Generation Support services and real-time support channels.

In the past, our organization was focused on delivering product support for the various products and services within our portfolio.

Now, as we evolve, we strive to deliver solution support to provide our customers with end-to-end coverage of their solutions and an end-to-end experience across their business.

While our approach has always been holistic, we are now looking at our solutions the same ways in which our customers are looking at their own business processes and solutions. With this lens, we are able to deliver all the tools they need to be successful, and also those that will help drive their transformation. In some cases, customers might not even be aware of what they need yet.

By bringing our support and engineering teams together under one umbrella, we are working together behind the scenes to help and support our customers’ mission-critical business processes. These are the processes that are truly critical on several counts. They need to be leading-edge to differentiate their business model and they need to be constantly available to protect their business. By integrating innovation services, we can also provide all our customers with specific innovations tailored to their business and industry. This approach is allowing us to truly meet our customers where they are and where they want to be in the future.

You have previously spoken about flipping the engagement model to drive customer experience. What does that mean? What are some of the developments in this area and what do you envision for the future?

In the support and services industry, engagement is typically initiated by the customer. But nowadays, customers expect to hear from us first and rely on a constant stream of communication to help address any issues they may have – and even those they don’t anticipate having. This involves flipping the engagement model and reaching out to our customers proactively before they even face a problem.

We’ve already seen great success in this by leveraging AI and machine learning technologies across functionalities and solutions within Product Support. While many of our processes are already automated, we’ve added a lot of intelligence to accelerate these and make them more accurate. This intelligence kicks in from the moment our customers first interact with us, whereby we’ve created algorithms that automatically triage our support tickets.

By examining the technical context, analyzing the sentiment, and evaluating the potential business impact of an incident, we are currently exploring the ability to identify the priority of incidents with great accuracy and pass them along to an expert in that particular area. Automating such manual processes will, more and more, free up time of our engineers who can then focus on the important work of alleviating our customers’ issues.

And while automation has played a huge role in customer support, it’s no longer just about automation but now about avoidance and prediction. We want to move toward a world that is self-healing. Our vision here is to shield our customers from facing any issues and to minimize the frequency of which they have to reach out to us. To do this, we need to take a lot more data into account. This will be in compliance with all respective laws and data privacy standards and anonymizing data where necessary or requested. With these data analytics, we’ll be able to anticipate questions, predict when our customers might face issues, and proactively engage them.

How have you integrated machine learning and AI-based technologies to enhance customers’ experience?

While many of our support solutions already leverage AI and machine learning technologies, over the past year we’ve focused on integrating new, automated, and interactive features that provide our customers with the tailored solutions they need. We want to simplify and enhance the customer support experience so they can receive the answers they need faster.

With Incident Solution Matching, customers will be able to refine the results by reviewing the key elements suggested, driving them to relevant answers to their technical questions faster. The models continue to improve by collecting this interaction data and integrating machine learning capabilities. We will also make this service available to our SAP Ariba customers, which will continue to allow the platform to improve as it collects more data on various incidents.

Our real-time support channels – Expert Chat and Schedule an Expert – are also based on a foundation of AI and machine learning capabilities, which help equip our engineers with the relevant information they need to provide our customers with targeted recommendations. We’ve recently introduced Schedule a Manager, which allows customers with high-priority incidents that meet certain business requirements to speak directly to a relevant Product Support manager.

As we look toward our customers’ evolving needs and the future of their businesses, we want to make sure we’re one step ahead and can engage them in a way that is both meaningful and inspiring. I’m excited for the opportunities these enhancements will bring to both our customers and our employees.

Sophia Stolze is the integrated communications manager for Customer Solution Support & Innovation at SAP.