Ritu Bhargava is one technology leader example of the adage you can go home again. Yet in her case, this second professional path at SAP is very different from the first.

Bhargava began her career as a developer at SAP. She’s now President & Chief Product Officer, leading SAP product, engineering, strategy, user experience, and operations for the Customer Experience/Customer Relationship Management (CX/CRM) portfolio. In between she spent a decade each at Salesforce and at Oracle, experiences she said contribute to her optimism and confidence “about the direction SAP CX is headed.”

Bhargava took time out from a hectic schedule—a calendar that recently included an ASUG Executive Exchange session—to answer questions about that direction, SAP CX/CRM technologies and solutions, and customer priorities and challenges.

This is an edited version of an e-mail interview.

Question: How do you define customer experience in 2022? Is there an official SAP definition and position?

Answer: The last few years of the pandemic completely shifted our way of life, and we all had to adapt to new ways of operating. Now that we are slowly returning to in-person experiences, expectations continue to evolve.

To me, the customer experience (CX) is based on the sum of every interaction and connection we have with brands. It might be considering products or services, buying, using, returning, reusing or even many of those stages at the same time. The CX is the sum of every brand connection; it’s one that delights customers.

At SAP, we help businesses power those interactions in end-to-end business processes across channels. This allows those companies to deeply understand and interact with each customer with the most impact and relevance while offering a tailored engagement.

Q: What are the key characteristics of excellence in customer experience, from SAP’s point of view? From the customers?

A: We want to treat the customer not just as a number, but as an individual with all their specific needs in mind. We believe that each company should center their strategies, processes, and technology to be deeply customer-centric so we can offer relevance and personalization across all channels.

To do this, we must understand each customer across the entirety of their lifecycle, using all of the signals that a company knows about them - from their engagement channels to the back-office business processes.

Each customer deserves to be in control of the relationship and treated with respect which builds trust with the company, and businesses need to share their aspirations for a more sustainable future with the choices of the customer.

Q: How has SAP seen CX evolve in recent years in its NA/America’s customer base? Where are they on their journeys? What have been the challenges?

A: In the recent years, we witnessed an unprecedented acceleration into digital first organizations. This acceleration highlighted operational, organizational, and technological silos. No matter the industry, these silos hinder the experience, since customers don’t care about how you organize internally, but their priority is about the outcome of each interaction.

To us, the elusive customer-360 is a goal where the goalposts continuously move, and organizations can’t leverage the data they have or collect more.

This isn't just true for consumers, but also customers in a business-to-business relationship. Those buyers are doing more of the discovery and research themselves and buying through self-service channels like ecommerce stores. However, at the right time they need support and strategic advice from the sales team. This is a shift from purely being sold to and requires another level of understanding, but ultimately will grow customer lifetime value and customer loyalty.

Organizations that are willing to transform into more sustainable and intelligent enterprises and support the sustainable choices of the customer will be more resilient in the future.

CX is a continuous evolution, thinking that each journey has a start and end is fundamentally wrong. If you’re not moving forward, you’re losing the infinite race to a loyal customer base.

Q: What CX technologies, services and capabilities has SAP unveiled in the last year to advance CX among its customers?

A: Customer Data Platform is one of our most recent technologies that will help break operational silos and deliver consistent contextual experiences. It leverages the rich Consent and Identity features and technology that came with the Gigya acquisition. We showcased this at Sapphire earlier this year and it will only get more feature rich from here on.

We modernized the SAP Service Cloud that provides our customers with agility to adapt to evolving business processes. The technology is modern, API first, cloud native, with snappy user experience. It provides the foundation to build robust out-of-the-box integrations within SAP and externally with our partner ecosystem. We are also focusing more on business processes than on features and functions, so our CX portfolio is offered with the industry’s best practices.

Q: What has adoption of these technologies and services looked like?

A: The constantly changing landscape during the pandemic forced everyone to adopt, and quickly. Customers were forced, and not incentivized into the rise of quick commerce, and become experts overnight.

New megatrends emerged in in the pandemic, like convenience, value proposition, and renewed marketing efforts. For the first time ever, the offerings were following the customer, and not the other way around. For this type of high level of adoption, businesses had to be relevant, convenient, available, and flexible.

To us, adoption looks like increased agility, availability, customer understanding, and proactive and contextual interactions.

Q: What is new/fresh/innovative in CX—specific examples?

A: There are so many new and fresh innovations happening here at SAP. For example, we are currently bringing the sustainability investments of the company and aligning the customer choice with the front end. This is going to come with the announcement of investment in circular economy in our Commerce Cloud Solution.

We are also looking to extend engagement channels to another dimension with web 3.0 investments in NFTs and Metaverse pilots. SAP is going beyond the typical earn and burn strategies to experiential loyalty strategies as part of our investment in next generation loyalty solutions.

These are parts of how we will continue the evolution of the CX portfolio to cloud native, composable solutions that connect the front and back office into a single suite.

Q: How should a customer assess the ROI of CX solutions?

A: This is a very interesting question because it has several answers based on the industry you look at. For retailers, you can assess the customer retention, churn risk, and conversion from single transaction to subscribers. From the product perspective it would be the longevity of the product, sales, and service experience, and saving on the trade promotions. Waste can be reduced, and therefore save on revenue.

Q: Who “buys” CX, and who “leads” CX at organizations? How has that changed?

A: The CX portfolio offers solutions for Commerce, Customer Data, Marketing, Sales, and Service organizations. Each solution tends to have a buying center and lead within the organizations. For example, for Sales Cloud it might be the chief revenue officer (CRO) and the revenue operations team that runs the solution.

The ideal person would be the chief experience officer (CXO)--early-stage development of position--in addition to chief information officers (CIOs), probably chief marketing officers (CMOs) and chief data officers (CDOs), as they tend to have a broader, non-siloed view of the world for holistic end-to-end experiences.

Q: Is CX science, art, or both?

A: CX is a science that requires art and finesse to make it valuable. The art of CX comes from empathy and the rest of the journey is technology. The customer experience is a continuous evolution where you constantly have to iterate, listen, learn and predict how you can improve every interaction with a customer.

Q: What do organizations need to consider in project plans to improve CX?

A: To have a successful project implementation you must have cross departmental alignment in the company. CX cannot be siloed -- technology is fundamental support but if you have no alignment, it will not go anywhere. In addition, if you have an implementation partner, you need to ensure that there is a common understanding of success criteria.

Q: How does SAP support CX improvement, change management, and skill/knowledge evolution for customers?

A: SAP supports this by offering cloud solutions -- our core is getting constantly updated as is the business technology platform to adjust to the customer’s needs. We have been open about our roadmap and provide regular updates.

We also have partnered with customers on three primary sources: customer feedback, marketing trends and thought leadership. These primary sources have been innovative, deeply relevant to the current trends, and far exceeding our competition.

Q: What are your best pieces of advice for ASUG members considering CX solutions?

A: We can’t look at the CX solutions as a bucket of functions. Instead, we should look at them as business processes to address. Also, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to the individual functions of an application because this can create silos that will need additional effort for integration to the rest of the ecosystem.

Q: ASUG has a mission: help organizations and individuals achieve the best value from their technology investments? How does your organization do that in CX?

A: Our vision at SAP is to use intelligent data driven insights as the foundation of every engagement, and to empower the transformation to customer centric, growth companies built on trust and exceptional loyalty. And this also aligns with ASUG’s mission: we help companies meet their business objectives by building more loyal customers with increased lifetime value.

Q: What else would you like to convey to the ASUG membership?

A: I want to briefly touch on future proofing. A typical mistake is that people look at today’s demands and trends, but they forget how dynamic they are. Silos used to be the way organizations were structured, but in light of the shifting landscape of microeconomics and geo-political instability, you have to be forward thinking in order to stay relevant. Business processes need to be adjusted accordingly but it needs to be a compromise and adjust your technology and processes to go hand in hand.

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