Last year was full of upheaval for businesses across the globe: the pandemic continued to disrupt global commerce while also spurring incredible technological innovation and rapid adoption. Indeed, consulting firm McKinsey now predicts that we will see more technological progress in the coming decade than we saw in the last century combined.

As digital transformation became ever more critical to enterprises around the world, SAP Services and Support took a leading role in helping clients to avoid disruption and maintain critical functions and infrastructure. This steady hand through troubled times did not go unnoticed. “I’m hearing from customers that they are a combination of relieved and impressed that we didn’t let them down and really upheld our operations,” said Andreas Heckmann, executive vice president and head of Customer Solution Support and Innovation at SAP. “There was no disruption whatsoever, quite the opposite since we reached historical highs in customer satisfaction in recent quarters.”

Here, Heckmann discusses the lessons learned last year and his goals for customer support in 2022 and beyond, including everything from the future of Built-In Support to new breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) to why this is the “biggest moment of transformation” that support has ever seen.

Q: What are you most excited about for support in the year ahead?

A: I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say the biggest transformation in support’s history will commence in 2022. For one thing, we will further harmonize our acquisitions, working on infrastructure and joint “next practices” so that our customers have an even more streamlined experience. It will truly be one SAP. Machine learning has advanced substantially, and we are now set to provide some of the greatest innovations imaginable. Also, support will become much more prescriptive. Along the entire solution life cycle, we want to answer the question, ‘What’s the client’s best option here?’

We’ve been super successful in 2021 with advancing SAP Cloud ALM. It’s evolved wonderfully and ahead of schedule, so now we want to start offering it to customers as a default – right from the very first project. Then they’ll continue with data migration, handing over to operations, doing optimization, monitoring, and things like that.

I’m very excited that in 2022 we will start moving all these pieces of the puzzle together to create a fully integrated, end-to-end experience. During the entire customer life cycle, we will be able to take customers by the hand better than we’ve ever done before and offer a lot of technology on top of our already great customer service.

Why are these changes happening now?

It’s definitely driven by customer insights. We are focusing on the things that we know customers are struggling with most, and we are thinking of the different personas we are now interacting with through support. Years ago, we mostly dealt with IT departments – with SAP competence centers. And while they are still there, the mix is changing fast. We see a lot more business users. They have very different expectations on how they want to interact. They’re not very technical. They don’t want clumsy user interfaces (UI).

We want to provide them with the best possible, consumer-grade experience – a really delightful experience. And yes, evolving technology helps us with that, for sure. It’s a lot easier for us to do it now than it was five years ago. But the impetus comes from meeting customer needs, not using technology for its own sake.

We’re entering a fundamentally different game now. In the past, it was a finite game. Now, with the cloud, we are finding ourselves in an infinite game. We have to win our customers time and again, and their life cycle keeps repeating itself. So mainly what we’re trying to do now is meet all these customer requirements by anticipating the needs that we encounter ourselves.

Can you share a little bit about why you’re excited about Built-In Support in 2022?

I’m very excited about this service right now. In the past, if a user had a question or ran into a problem, they would have to leave the space they work in completely and open a different portal. Then they would need to authenticate, choose the type of problem they’re experiencing, and work their way through the process.

This process was good for us. But it wasn’t necessarily providing the best customer experience. I would say that the most intuitive experience would be if you’re experiencing a problem, you shouldn’t have to tell us where the problem is, right? If you are right there working, then we can take the context of your working environment with no effort from you. It should be an integrated UI and it should support you seamlessly, starting a meaningful dialogue right there on the spot. That is the vision we had for Built-In Support. It took several attempts to optimize it, but today it is an absolutely beautiful, lightweight UI. It’s like a little helper that flies in over your software.

And another good thing is that it’s technically not part of the product code. We created it this way because we wanted to provide a unified experience – the exact same thing should happen no matter what solution you use. So, we developed a tool outside of the products and made it very easy for our development units to integrate this support tool with local integration. That way, they can focus 100% on developing the actual product, and we can focus 100% on developing all the supporting functions. I think that’s quite revolutionary. I’m not aware anyone else is doing that. I think we get the best of all worlds.

How have AI and machine learning become more integral to support processes?

We now have a very potent data lake with a lot of detailed information and with that, we are able to do a lot more complex AI and machine learning. And we are also technologically capable of responding in a split second to things that are happening. The use cases we are working on right now are to help us become truly predictive. I’ll give you an example. If we see a customer encounter a problem, and we see a second customer sending a problem that pretty much sounds the same, and then another, and another, we automatically detect the pattern. Then we can easily identify what other customers have the same criteria and will encounter the same problem, thereby stopping it before it occurs. Once we identify them, we can be truly proactive by going to the customer before they come to us.

If the problem is within our control, we could enter into a world that is typically described as self-healing. In other words, we could make all the corrections as soon as we detect the pattern, so that the customer will never even know that they were about to experience a problem.

What’s your greatest hope for 2022?

My number one priority for the year is getting this vision on the road. And it’s going to take us a few years to complete all of these ambitious goals. But this year, I want to have the groundwork done. I want to have early successes; I want to make it tangible for our first customers. That’s by far my number one wish.

Martin Gwisdalla is part of Global Public Relations at SAP.