Few executives at SAP are as critical to safeguarding customers throughout their transformation journeys as Stefan Steinle.

As Executive Vice President and Head of Customer Support at SAP SE, Steinle is responsible for managing SAP’s Customer Support organization, which guides customers through their individual digital transformations while providing the platform for end-to-end application lifecycle management. With approximately 6,000 experts, Customer Support provides a unified support experience across all SAP applications worldwide, also collaborating with engineering units to support development and quality improvement.

Steinle, who assumed this role in 2023, first joined SAP in 2000. Before heading Customer Support, he was COO & Head of Strategy of the SAP Product Engineering board unit. Prior to that, he held roles as Head of SAP Globalization Services and COO of SAP’s Global Business Operations board area; Steinle also served former executive board member Gerhard Oswald as Executive Board Assistant, Chief of Staff, and Head of Operations. In his first ten years at SAP, Steinle worked as a consultant, overseeing large implementation projects at multinational companies.

In conversation with ASUG, Steinle discussed the importance of self-service for SAP customers, AI integration to support the world of business, and his vision for the future of support.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

ASUG: In 2023, you moved into a new role heading SAP’s Customer Support. One year later, what are the top highlights you can share with our user group?

Stefan Steinle: That’s correct – it is 15 months to be exact.

Support at SAP, I would say, has evolved further this last year in distinguishing itself as a competitive differentiator in advancing SAP’s customer success story. SAP’s Customer Support is so much more than bug fixes. There is significant investment in customer requirements beyond ‘classic support.’ We are talking about transforming customer solutions in the cloud, proactive prevention of issues, AI-powered fast-tracking of solutions, and options for self-service and bi-directional support.

We have grown these capabilities, and the outcomes are very encouraging. We have a Cloud Health & Reliability track to ensure that our cloud services remain up and running.

And then, of course, with the application of AI, we have achieved significant breakthroughs in bringing tangible benefits to customers as well as to our support engineers. We already have over 40 productive AI scenarios in place for Customer Support – and this is just the beginning. For example, AI-powered swarming brings significant impact in the smooth resolution of complex cases.

We have been able to expand the definition of ‘Support’ beyond reactive ticket resolutions by keeping our ears to the ground, listening to our customers, and immersing ourselves in their unique business contexts. So that is one major highlight for me personally: being close to the customer by engaging with them at key touch points across the value chain.

As of April 1, 2024, we got a significant boost: Customer Support is now part of Customer Services & Delivery – SAP’s new Board area dedicated to supporting customers in their cloud transformation journeys, accelerating innovation adoption, and further increasing customer satisfaction.

ASUG: When you say, “Customer Support is much more than bug fixes,” what are you offering customers additionally?

Before we look at what we provide our customers, I would like to go back a few steps and look at what customers want.

It is obvious that they expect high levels of service-level agreement (SLA) adherence, fast resolutions, and high-quality solutions. But it doesn’t stop there – they want more than that.

Our customers want our guidance. They acknowledge our experience and expertise, especially with respect to running their business and IT transformation.

They want us to be proactive. They want to know about existing solutions covering their specific issues, so they can help themselves. They want to be informed proactively of an issue and its potential resolution.

And finally – this is also my favorite because of its complexity: customers want us to use the massive feedback we get through our support channels to improve our products, product quality, supportability, and usability.

And now to answer your question – what do we offer?

To address the first requirement of meeting SLAs and providing quick, high-quality solutions, we provide what you might call ‘classic support,’ which covers issues solved by the Support team, infused by our innovations in AI, to give an enhanced experience that ultimately allows us to respond to and solve issues even faster.

We offer guidance and resources in the area of application lifecycle management, using SAP Cloud ALM (CALM), to help customers refine their IT landscape and processes. This enables transformation to the cloud and the operation of hybrid environments, thus maximizing efficiency, scalability, and flexibility of all resources.

There is a lot of convenience in self-service. All of us know this and take advantage of this in our daily lives to avoid long queues or waiting times. Along the same lines, we ensure that our customers have self-service options, wherever applicable. We provide knowledge about the use and implementation of our products, with which customers can find solutions themselves. We provide them with best practices to help them avoid unnecessary bottlenecks.

Did you know that, with our investments into our knowledge base and state-of-the-art search knowledge technologies, our customers are able to successfully use self-service in 90% of cases when they direct an issue to us?

And, coming to our commitment to proactively improve SAP’s products beyond customer requests, we have established a feedback loop among our development, product, engineering, and cloud operations teams to ensure that improvement ideas are implemented in our products before the next customer request reaches Support. Approximately 1000 such improvements, identified by support engineers, have been delivered in the last 12 months alone.

ASUG: How is SAP's Customer Support helping customers execute successful business transformation within their organizations?

With the help of SAP Cloud ALM, we offer guided transformation and operations centered around application lifecycle and transformation management.

How does it work? To begin with, customers benefit from an out-of-the-box, native cloud solution, designed as the central entry point to manage their SAP landscape with content-driven guided implementation and highly automated operations.

Moreover, SAP Cloud ALM is an essential element of helping our customers transform their business, together with SAP Signavio, SAP LeanIX, and SAP Enable Now.

Additionally, SAP Cloud ALM is the project platform to enable clean core in RISE with SAP projects. The platform provides a set-up that is as close to standard as possible, while running cloud-compliant extensions and integrations. It allows you to adapt your system to changing business requirements and to adopt new capabilities.

You would ask how this helps the customer? Here, I would highlight four big wins for the customer: business transformation, innovation adoption, service collaboration, and business continuity.

Also note that SAP Cloud ALM embeds AI and learning models across the entire lifecycle.

ASUG: Speaking of AI, how is AI integrated into SAP’s Customer Support?

As mentioned, we already have more than 40 productive AI scenarios in place. With the deep integration of AI into SAP's Customer Support infrastructure, we are able to streamline processes, enhance responsiveness, and deliver more personalized and efficient support to users.

We can take a look at a few examples that are making the headlines.

When the customer creates a simple ticket, either via SAP for Me or via Built-In Support, a bunch of AI and machine-learning-based algorithms run through the ticketing process. This allows the customer to benefit from features like Channel Recommenders and Incident Solution Matching.

This is just at the ticket creation stage. We also use AI across the support process, for issue prevention, improved search, intelligent swarming, self-service, outbreak detection, and support efficiency.

We also have important AI use cases in data center operations. Take the example of the AI-based tool called Customer-Centric Observability, which monitors the experience of an individual end-user. The system monitors the runtime of a certain transaction, and if there are deviations, the support team receives an alert allowing us to resolve the issue, probably even before the end-user realizes that an issue had occurred.

ASUG: What do you envision as the future of support?

The term ‘self-healing’ used to be associated with science fiction and superheroes. Not anymore – not with AI. AI-powered, self-healing systems is an achievable vision that will rule the future of IT. Self-healing systems are designed to detect and resolve issues even before end users Encounter them.

AI opens up an exciting frontier for Customer Support ...

Intelligent automation and predictive analytics will drive proactive resolutions. Advanced diagnostics will help systems anticipate and fix issues even before users notice them.

Through advanced AI algorithms and automation capabilities, IT systems will be equipped to continuously monitor for anomalies and take corrective actions – in real-time. As mentioned before, self-healing systems will significantly enhance user experience, reduce the burden on support teams, minimize downtimes, and ensure uninterrupted business operations.

In cases where customers report issues or outages and performance degradations are detected by our monitoring tools, large language models would be able to predict and match their requirements to meet their information expectations. Now more than ever, we have the technological capabilities to learn from the past so that we can predict the future. AI allows us to predict and prevent issues from becoming escalations and business-impacting events.

AI enables us to transform support from a reactive process to a proactive and predictive one. I would summarize the future of support at SAP specifically as: bi-directional, predictive, and effortless for our customers.

Finally, with deep levels of personalization, customization, and curation, I believe the future of support will be more people-focused than ever.

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