With a background in operations and finance, I’ve always viewed business decisions through the lens of data and rigorous analysis. Emotion seldom enters into the calculations when the equation involves enterprise software. After all, isn’t operations management an extension of engineering?
That’s what I thought until COVID-19 changed everything.
In March 2020, the pandemic reshaped all our lives. It also happens to be when I began leading SAP’s global customer satisfaction efforts. Suddenly, for many businesses, digital infrastructure meant the difference between continuity and calamity. The pandemic thrust our SAP customer teams into helping to resolve some of the toughest challenges any of us had ever encountered. But how well suited are quantitative-oriented business leaders to respond with the empathy needed to match the moment?
What I’ve learned over the past 18 months is that empathy and data can be mutually reinforcing. If anything, leaders informed by data are precisely who a business should call upon when empathy matters most. That’s because empathy without the data-driven insights to shape corresponding action rings hollow. The visibility made possible by increasingly integrated business networks marshals the analytics and the vital context to instill the resilience that organizations need to counter disruption and extend competitive advantage in uncertain times. Aided by a 360-degree view of the interconnected operations of its buyers, suppliers, logistics partners, and managed service providers of contingent labor, a business can adjust rapidly to volatile shifts in supply and demand. Deprived of this expansive view across the value chain, organizations lie captive to disruption and vulnerable to falling short on promises made to customers.
As unified digital business networks replace fragmented supply chains and siloed business processes, visibility illuminates the path to customer satisfaction. In this way, a business sheds light on a customer’s pain points, enabling prompt remedy. Just as importantly, when a business connects its core operational systems with those of its trading partners via cloud-based applications, it can often anticipate those points of concern even before the hurt becomes noticeable. Consider, for example, the bottlenecks, stockouts, labor shortages, and backed-up transportation hubs we’ve seen mount as the pandemic recedes in some parts of the world while surging forward in others. These have contributed to an uneven recovery in which regions and industries grapple with seesawing supply with demand. Amid these shifts, digital business networks have become a decisive competitive differentiator not only by lending visibility to businesses seeking alternatives for procurement, logistics, and contingent labor, but by instilling confidence across the entire value chain in the successful mitigation of shared operational risk.
Digital transformation holds the promise of creating stronger, more transparent bonds between businesses and their trading partners as they methodically and responsibly navigate their way toward a post-COVID-19 future. Yet the implications for redefining customer engagement and experience across all types of industries may be even more profound in the preventive sense: what if, thanks to the visibility made possible by increasingly integrated cloud-based commercial platforms, businesses can pinpoint operational weaknesses, whether inside their four walls or within those of their trading partners, and rectify them with alacrity – before a customer gets the opportunity to discern a problem in the first place?
As the future of digital business takes shape around integrated, cloud-based networks and collaborative operational processes, we can strengthen not only the creation of newfound value but also the quality of the experience at every touchpoint between enterprises and their customers.
Thomas Bamberger is president of SAP Customer Experience and Engagement.