SAP serves customers in more than 140 countries across multiple industries and lines of business. Every SAP customer experiences unique challenges and requires a solution focused on their needs. How does an organization that big put its customers first?

ASUG News interviews SAP leaders for our series, Meet an SAP Executive, where we share what these individuals contribute to the company and what this means for customers. In our first installment, we interviewed Bertram Schulte, chief digital officer for SAP.

Next, we spoke to Martin Mrugal, global head of Customer First, SAP. He has worked at SAP for more than 20 years in various roles, including chief innovation officer, before heading up the relatively new customer first organization at SAP.

He talked to us about what customer first means to SAP and what it will ultimately mean for SAP customers.

Martin Mrugal, Global Head of Customer First, SAP

Sharon: Can you tell us about your role as global head of Customer First and what that involves?

Martin: Simply put, I lead SAP’s Customer First organization. Our goal is to continue transforming the way SAP engages with and cares for its customers throughout the entire life cycle. The Customer First team is now a formal organization and initiative, and includes representatives from on-premise, cloud, and all line-of-business products SAP offers under one umbrella. At the end of the day, our sole focus is customer success made possible by empowering our employees.

Sharon: What does customer first mean at SAP?

Martin: Customer first for SAP means always putting the customer at the center of everything we do. The goal being that we understand those moments that matter throughout our customer’s journey and that we make sure we meet and exceed their expectations at every juncture.

We try to question everything that we’re doing and make sure it’s aligned to our customer’s needs. We also bring together both our on-premise and cloud portfolios to make sure that the customer has a consistent engagement model across those teams. SAP’s portfolio is very broad and very deep. Making sure that the customer has a harmonized experience across every touch point with SAP is one of our main goals.

Sharon: Have you identified some of the pain points that current SAP customers are experiencing? How will you address them in your current role?

Martin: We spent a lot of time interviewing customers, both in pilot phases and now. What I hear from our customers is they want a unified experience across the entire SAP portfolio. And we’re listening, as that is exactly what my team and I are charged with doing. They also want us to accelerate the pace of integration among our cloud products, and that’s something our development and engineering teams are committed to delivering.

Our customers also want a strategic relationship with SAP. They have made a big investment with SAP, and they want us to show up differently—strategically and not just tactically. So, we created an engagement model that focuses on the type of relationship the customer wants. We perform an assessment of where we’re at with both IT as well as the lines of business, and as a result, we create an outcome success plan to guide us through the relationship.

Sharon: What are some of the initiatives you’ve set in your new role to meet those customer-first expectations?

Martin: One of my first initiatives, as mentioned above, is to harmonize the customer experience across the entire SAP portfolio. We do that by working with our customer engagement executives (CEEs). They are on the front line with our clients, making sure that our customers are adopting and consuming our products and they’re getting the business outcomes that they expect when they purchase these solutions.

Another initiative comes in the way of a newly created function called the customer success executive (CSE). This person is responsible for organizing and orchestrating across a portfolio and all the resources associated with that portfolio that the customer may be implementing, to deliver a harmonized experience. It’s a cross-board initiative and we worked closely with our Digital Business Services group to make this happen. It’s focused on making sure that we meet and exceed our customer’s expectations every time.

We’re also implementing a digital strategy to scale and grow as an organization while reaching as many customers as possible. We’re leveraging our own machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities to understand where our customers are at risk even before they realize it themselves. We’re using our own technology and analytics to steer all our initiatives with a customer focus in mind.

Sharon: Have you rolled out any of these initiatives? What’s been the feedback you’ve received so far?

Martin: We introduced our strategy at the 2019 Field Kickoff Meeting in January. My team led breakout sessions and keynote presentations to get the customer first message out to the field.

We have also spent time in every region training and educating colleagues in sales, professional services, support teams, as well as consultants on the new engagement model that we have with customers moving forward. And we’ll continue communicating the message across the entire organization.

Before we rolled out the customer first initiative in January, we rolled out the approach with about 400 customers last year around the world. And we learned a lot as far as what worked and what didn’t work. We will continue to engage with customers around the world as we roll out Customer First through 2019 and 2020. I view this much more as a journey than a sprint. We’re constantly learning as we go.

Sharon: Why is now the right time for SAP to place a greater focus on the customer experience that it’s delivering?

Martin: SAP has always been focused on and committed to customer success. I remember when I joined in 1998, one of the things that I loved was how SAP would always rally around the customer.

The new Customer First organization within SAP formalizes that company culture with a dedicated team behind the effort.

Sharon: Let’s shift gears and talk about innovation. What do you think are the biggest technology innovations that affect a customer first organization?

Martin: The one I’m most excited about is the ability to bring operational data (O data) and customer sentiment analysis (X data) together. SAP’s recent acquisition of Qualtrics gives us an opportunity, internally, to be the exemplar for SAP and its customers on how we bring O data and X data together to drive our customer first initiative.

We’re working with a cross-functional team to have touch points in product and product data, in customer and customer sentiment, in the brand and brand perception, and with our employees.

Another innovation is the ability to have everything on a single platform. We’ve implemented a solution across all our support organizations so all our customer data from all the touch points goes into this platform. We can keep track of the signature process, onboarding process, provisioning process, go-live, ongoing enablement, and support. All those touch points with the customer are now in one single platform across our cloud solutions, and that’s a game changer.

A third innovation directly affects customers. SAP is providing a portal into its solutions so customers will be able to see all their service tickets and system operations in real time across our entire portfolio of solutions.

Last, but not least, is the innovation of advanced analytics with predictive and machine learning. I believe that we’re getting better and better at using analytics so we can react in real time to customer sentiment. This is going to have a major impact on our processes and programs as an organization focused on customer success, and quite frankly, across all of SAP, where we must be much more nimble and agile to react to this data. It’s one thing for all the data to come in. It’s another to be flexible and able to affect the processes and outcomes for our customers. You have to be ready, willing, and able to do that based on what the data is telling you.

Sharon: Where can an organization that’s looking to start a customer first transformation begin? What are the critical SAP tools that can help with this transformation?

Martin: In my former role at SAP, chief innovation officer of North America, I met with customers on a weekly basis around digital transformation and transformation in general. I learned that you must start with the hearts and minds of the employees. Because to start a transformation journey like this, you really need to think about what’s the change management that needs to occur at every level of the organization, and what are the levers and the barriers at each level that you can work with and orchestrate. I think that’s a critical piece of it. Our employees are the ones who make customer first successful.

Having executive support is equally important, and that is one of the things that helped SAP start its customer first journey. Bringing all these organizations together was not an easy decision or task because they all had their own silos and reporting structures. It took strong executive support from SAP’s Executive Board to begin breaking down those silos.

And then I would say, don’t launch it as one big initiative, but really think about how you can be agile. We started with a pilot program that we learned from, we continued to build and orchestrate the model, and then we rolled it out. And we’re still rolling it out. We worked closely with the Digital Business Services group which was also integral in ensuring success and scale during the pilot. My advice to customers is to think about agility, think about piloting, scale, and then think about the change management aspects.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t say that communication is critical. It needs to be in demonstrable examples to employees and to customers. It has to be ongoing while showcasing best practices and celebrating successes. You have to communicate.

Sharon: We’ve heard from our members through ASUG’s research that they struggle with finding enough time to devote to innovation. What advice would you give to help them figure out what’s most important for them right now?

Martin: I read a statistic that said on average, a company in the S&P 500 is now being replaced once every two weeks and that rate is accelerating. So, how do you continue to innovate and drive the business forward, while at the same time making sure you are focused on running the business? I think the key is to make sure the initiatives that you have going on, whether they involve technology or not, are linked to the business strategy. At the same time, be sure that there’s a feedback loop for the strategy and executive teams, because some innovations may change that strategy and you need to be able to communicate this very fast and responsibly.

Sharon: How do you see your role evolving?

Martin: I will continue to focus on the customer and the customer experience. That won’t change. I think the role will move from not just being the customer first leader, but an evangelist across all of SAP and in front of our customers as well.

As our business model shifts to the cloud, it becomes more crucial that we have a strong focus on all our processes and our customer engagement models. My role will continue to expand and evolve as SAP continues to expand and evolve.

Sharon: What’s the last great customer experience you had and what made it so great?

Martin: So, I’m a big cyclist. It’s something I love doing as often as I can, but I need to make sure that I am not overtraining, which is something a type-A personality such as myself tends to do. So, I need to be able to keep track of my rest schedule as well as my activity in a way that tells me what I can and cannot do.

There is a company called Whoop that offers a wrist wrap and an app that keep track of everything and collects data about my sleep patterns, how much caffeine or alcohol I had before I went to bed, along with other information. The output is an analysis of whether I am prepared for a heavy day of exercise.

It’s simple, but it’s a great experience. It really helped me to be more energetic and attentive not only in cycling, but in other aspects of my life as well. It’s worth noting, I don’t have stock in this company, but I am a huge fan because it meets and exceeds my expectations.

Join us at our national or one of our regional ASUG Executive Exchange events in 2019 to network with other executives looking to get more value from their SAP systems.