The past few years have been a transformational time for support. The turbulence caused by the COVID-19 crisis, the war in Europe, and pressures on the global economy have forced companies to take a closer look at the technology that powers their businesses and figure out how to remain resilient against future stumbling blocks.

“The support industry has been severely disrupted over the past decade, but much, much more in just the last few years since the pandemic started,” stated Mohammed Ajouz, senior vice president and global head of Product Support at SAP. “We have experienced more change in the last two years than we’ve had probably in two decades. We have watched support go from an afterthought to top of mind for CIOs, as they have seen how vulnerable their business could be with unforeseen or unpredicted crises.”

The need to transform is further accelerated by the abundant availability of new technologies – such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, Big Data, in-memory computing, and hyperconnectivity, to name just a few. All these changes also have an impact on customer support. Having an outdated support model is no longer an option. In this interview, Ajouz describes why it’s key to give immediate support, why it’s important to predict potential issues before they could occur, and why an enterprise support organization needs to be more proactive in providing bidirectional support.

Q: Why is Real-Time Support valuable for customers?

A: Let me first provide some context around the disruption in the support industry. Technology is more complex and integrated. In the past, customers used to have a single mission-critical application. Today, most processes are mission critical and everything needs to be made available around the clock. What was once considered a luxury – such as offering 24×7 support – is now an expectation and customers are demanding their vendors take more responsibility for delivering business outcomes.

Customers today have much higher expectations of support, especially when it comes to real-time. Because expectations have changed so dramatically, creating a support case and waiting one or two days for a response is no longer an option. This is why SAP created and fine-tuned Real-Time Support with the basic objective of being available when the customer needs us most. That, in its simplest form, is the premise of what we’re doing with Real-Time Support.

Why is it important to strike the right balance between proactive and preventative versus real-time?

When a customer faces a problem, they expect SAP to be there for them. Whether it’s through Expert Chat or Schedule an Expert, customers are working with the same pool of experts that typically process their cases. But we’re taking this one step further. What if we contacted customers before they even became aware of their problem? We are not only there in real time, but we are also pivoting from reactive support models to predictive and proactive support. The true value of those services lies in our ability to predict and solve customer problems before they cause any business interruption. This is the evolution of our Real-Time Support approach toward delivering better business outcomes.

We can tap into our vast repositories of information to analyze and understand the trends and patterns behind our customers’ system and software usage and drive differentiated customer experiences. The vast amounts of data about customer behavior and preferences previously collected but not effectively utilized is the foundation of our data lake. The power behind the data lake, powered with AI, is our ability to incorporate this information into highly personalized customer experiences and learn from the past to predict the future. With access to this valuable knowledge, we will transform the support experience into one where support prevents an issue from becoming a business-impacting event.

Being proactive and preventative is our ultimate vision with Real-Time Support: not only to be there when you need us, but to be there before you even know you need us.

What will be the long-term impact of investing in real-time channels and in proactive, preventative support?

We expect our investments in Real-Time Support to improve our ability to better support the needs of our customers. Many market and industry studies have shown a direct correlation between customer loyalty and customer effort. As we reduce the amount of effort a customer experiences, the more loyal that customer is going to be. This relates to the customer effort score as described by Gartner. This balance between effort and value becomes more critical with cloud customers. The reason? Cloud customers, unlike traditional IT departments, are business users and end users. We have simplified the interaction and made it easier and simpler for them to interact with support.

In the days of on-premise software, we communicated with IT power users who understood the technology and complications behind it. Those power users knew that a support case could take a few days to resolve. Our cloud customers’ expectations are significantly different and, as a result, our services have evolved to cater for these needs in the cloud. This is why Real-Time Support is so critical. It increases the value of solutions by lowering cloud customer effort to obtain them.

The premise of predictive and preventative support is a reduction in customer effort. And if there isn’t a problem because we resolved it ahead of time, that is the ultimate effortless experience we strive to deliver to our customers. Value and effort are directly correlated: more effort means less value, less effort means more value.

What are some recent enhancements of Real-Time Support?

Adding to the existing portfolio of Real-Time Support channels, we recently introduced Ask an Expert Peer. This service is supported by certified, external peers. This is ideal for asking non-critical questions and getting insights from experts outside of SAP. We initially started with SAP SuccessFactors solutions and recently expanded it to include some of our core enterprise resource planning (ERP) and SAP Business Technology Platform products. We are seeing a lot of momentum building among our customers.

Another enhancement is with Schedule a Manager. It has been expanded to also include medium-priority tickets for those times where customers need to speak with a manager. And finally, with our migration from our SAP ONE Support Launchpad to “SAP for Me,” the new single-entry point to SAP support, the support case creation process can be much easier and powered by cutting-edge technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. This helps reduce the effort of our customers and ultimately provides them with an almost effortless experience.

Can you give us a sneak peek of what we can expect in the future of Real-Time Support?

Let me come back to the point that cloud customers expect a simpler, faster, and effortless experience in interacting with support. One of the key initiatives we’re working on is with Built-In Support. The basis of Built-In Support is to bring the entire support experience customers know from SAP Support Portal or SAP ONE Support Launchpad directly into the product. Rather than going to a portal to log a support case, query an existing case, initiate a chat, or search our knowledge base, we’re putting the power and full functionality of SAP support within the product and at the customers’ fingertips.

Another aspect of our Real-Time Support approach is the move from the traditional unidirectional support – of customers reaching out to us when they need us – to bidirectional support. Not only can we communicate directly with customers, we can give them timely and relevant information about product issues or alerts, upcoming releases, product trainings, or any other information that enhances their experience with support at SAP. All this information would be relevant to the customer’s platform, product, or version and curated specifically to their personas. This is how we see SAP support in the future: bidirectional, predictive, and effortless.

Follow Mohammed Ajouz on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Regina Postman is part of Customer Solution Support and Innovation Communications at SAP.