Fluctuating buying patterns are not a new phenomenon for business. But when they spike and peak wildly without the advanced warning of any predictive signal, the entire value chain enters uncharted territory, requiring an intelligent enterprise resource planning (ERP), such as SAP S/4HANA, to avoid interruptions in an already fragile customer experience.

During turbulent times, a clear understanding of how consumer behaviors and impending events affect demand and the ability to fulfill them is more important than ever before. According to a recent Oxford Economic study of 1,000 supply chain executives, “Creating a customer-centric organization in 2020 is a lesson in managing complexity while maintaining resilience.”

How can organizations demonstrate customer centricity? It depends on their ability to rethink fundamental elements of their operations with an intelligent ERP, such as SAP S/4HANA.

Delivering on the Promises of Customer-Centric Resilience

Customer-centric companies operate with an empathetic mindset toward their customers and consumers. But first, they need the mechanisms and data-driven insights to sense why and when customers need to buy products in different channels, delivery processes, quantities, with varying frequency, and through new payment models. When they adapt quickly to those insights during unexpectedly challenging times, businesses inevitably emerge stronger and see better times as customers put a premium on reliability and trust that their unique needs will be met.

With SAP S/4HANA, this level of excellence in planning and coordination can be achieved by enabling six fundamental practices.

1. Listen to data and applied intelligence

Trading patterns and seasonal flows may hold less relevance when an economic shock occurs. Instead, leaders must “listen” for new pockets of opportunity and seize them immediately. By capturing, processing, mining, and managing data in real time with machine learning and artificial intelligence with SAP S/4HANA, businesses can focus on the main elements of an excellent, short-term customer experience:

  • Amplify core strengths
  • Increase delivery reliability
  • Open new routes to market to innovate the buying experience
  • Develop new trading models based on usage, subscription, and service

For example, an electronic motor company may see a new demand surge in a particular industry, customer persona, or use case that may not have gained much attention in the past. Once those areas are highlighted through more intelligent sensors and machine learning, the business knows how to quickly take advantage of the opportunity, diverting support from sectors of weaker demand to those that help ensure longer-term resilience.

2. Speak to customers and understand their needs

All too often, business systems are too internally focused so organizations cannot see past the next bend in the road. What’s missing is direct feedback from customers, which goes beyond the insights provided by operational data and transactional interactions.

With questionnaires and machine listening, SAP S/4HANA empowers businesses to systematically “hear” how future trends are shaping up. Consider this capability the organization’s night-vision goggles, enabling it to visualize every dark twist and turn that leads to each new opportunity.

3. Consider new product designs and use cases

Companies that adapt their products and services to use cases that customers want are the ones that will gain a definitive competitive advantage. SAP S/4HANA supports this capability by providing scenarios including product personalization, streamlined designs that are more affordable in lean times, and more durable offerings with a longer life span.

Whatever the specific need, companies that can adapt today are less likely to become a commoditized tomorrow. And in most cases, customers will consider the brand as their preferred vendor or partner of choice.

4. Develop novel buying alternatives

A focus on helping customers overcome their challenges and buying with greater ease can open the door to new business models and promotional offers, such as paying for a product based on usage.

Similar to a vending machine at a convenience store, capital-intensive equipment is purchased and retained based on a fee for each item dispensed. This model simplifies the transaction experience for both the seller and the buyer. Other buying alternatives may include more detailed contractual arrangements such as vendor-managed inventory or annual contracts.

This flexibility on the customer-facing side of business operations also benefits the supply chain. Internet of Things (IoT) sensors capture critical data on product usage and is consolidated into SAP S/4HANA so decision-makers can derive deep insight into a customer’s behavior and service and maintenance needs. Furthermore, this intelligence can detect when a customer may be ready for a future cross-sell or up-sell opportunity.

5. Stand apart on service

As software components – including SAP S/4HANA and mobile apps or IoT-based listening devices – become a typical feature in many offerings, businesses can opt to increase customer service. This strategic move often requires a portfolio of complementary products and services aimed at targeted customer needs.

For example, a bank offering mortgages may provide seamless insurance that may be provided by another company in an integrated model. But for a product-based brand, it could create an opportunity for a smooth transition from a sales transaction to aftermarket service and maintenance.

6. Differentiate with speed

Faster services or sales experiences can bring a significant advantage, especially when product cost is unencumbered by high volumes of production switchovers or expedited deliveries. A synchronized and orchestrated supply chain system enables businesses to provide accurate available-to-promise dates to customers. Furthermore, planning cycles are accelerated, which helps ensure optimal customer service levels.

The backbone of this capability is an intelligent software system that is deeply connected and collaborative. Unfortunately, internal-focused ERP systems cannot keep up with the massive volumes of data that need to be captured and processed and the fast pace of changes happening in the marketplace. Instead, a more powerful alternative built on an intelligent platform, such as SAP S/4HANA, is needed to unlock new business models, plan dynamically, and support seamless operations across the value chain.

The Value of Customer Centricity: Trust and Partnerships

A customer-centric organization is not just a matter of setting a company strategy or being generally aware of rising demand for certain kinds of products. It’s also about using intelligent technology, such as SAP S/4HANA, to access real-time data into what customers want and act on those insights as soon as possible.

When you consider that consumers are placing a higher value on buying local and supporting their communities, the marketplace is ready for more trusted, resilient partners that are customer centric. Your customers and partners will appreciate your genuine interest in their success. More importantly, your business will form stronger bonds with consumers that will last for years to come.

Discover how your business can find resilience in customer centricity to navigate through turbulent times and plan for whatever comes next. Explore the intelligent ERP SAP S/4HANA.

David Sweetman is senior director of Cloud Global Marketing at SAP.