SAP Customer Experience (CX) has undergone a significant strategy shift in recent years, with SAP moving from a previous focus on traditional customer relationship management (CRM) functionality to pursue more cloud-centric, industry-specific CX.

As part of that evolution, the SAP roadmap for intelligent CX was unveiled at this year’s SAP Sapphire and ASUG Annual Conference, enhanced by the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and data. Few individuals will be more central to the success of this new direction than Ritu Bhargava, President & Chief Product Officer, Industries & CX/CRM at SAP.

Bhargava, who began her career as a developer at SAP, returned to the company in 2021; she previously spent a decade each at Salesforce and Oracle, and she also began her career as a developer at SAP. In her current role, she leads product, engineering, user experience, strategy, and operations for the entire SAP CX portfolio.

In the second half of our wide-ranging conversation, Bhargava discussed the realigned "industry-first" strategy for SAP CX, the emergence of SAP Digital Assistant, and why AI and automation are crucial to the success of intelligent CX. And for more from this SAP leader, read the first half of our conversation here.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

ASUG: Earlier this year, SAP announced a realigned “industry-first” approach to SAP CX. In practice, what does this approach look like?

Bhargava: It’s an intriguing differentiation, being “industry-focused” or “industry-tailored,” but you can think of it as whether you’re “CX” or “CX for retail.” Perhaps you’re both.

If you are a major grocery retailer, you need to know inventory data, supply chain data, user profiles, buying behaviors, campaigns, marketing emails, promotions, loyalty programs, order fulfillment processes, returns management process, and so on—and you need all of those capabilities from all our products. Right now, you might have a bill of materials (BOM) that has all these products that are sold, and then the customer gets a systems integrator or does it in-house, building all this as their architecture.

Or, I could say, “I’m going to give that to you out-of-the-box,” which means that from the time the retail customer signs in, it's one single sign-on across nine or 10 products, from the ERP to CX. If the customer clicks on one particular link, it is a hard link that does not ask for additional sign-in, giving them the same experience across all products. More importantly, they get pay-as-you-go composable pricing, so they buy only as many units as they need.

That’s where “industry-tailored” CX comes to life. We know the industries. There are 27-30 industries SAP works in. Now, we can start bringing that differentiation into providing holistic capabilities.

ASUG: With regards to CX adoption, are there any industries you're particularly focused on?

Bhargava: We’re thinking about how we can become increasingly industry-tailored by thinking about capabilities that are agnostic of industries, at a suite level, that can still power the composability of partners coming and working with us.

For automotive customers, there are parts suppliers, distributors, and dealer networks; then, there’s its intersection with retail, with electric cars and charger station networks. What does that look like, and how does that monetization happen for the ecosystem of a retail experience sitting side-by-side with automotive? This also fits into our overall sustainability goals of how we help advance our more carbon-neutral, carbon-negative products.

There are tremendous opportunities there, as once-thick boundaries are blurring between industries. Commonalities exist, as all these industries want to scale their performance, with flexibility, composability, personalization, and building further with partners. What do you focus on for more organic innovation, and where do you leave it for partners to build on top of? That’s where this becomes an industry-led approach.

ASUG: What do you see of the role SAP Digital Assistant and its generative AI capabilities will play in the SAP CX portfolio?

Bhargava: Consider the process of sending an email to a colleague. When you start typing the email, in whatever context that you are in, SAP Digital Assistant gives you a side-panel that will note the last time this colleague was in touch, the three points that were discussed, and any outstanding deliverables that should be asked for in this latest email.

In the background, SAP Digital Assistant will parse every interaction and connection you had with that colleague, or with their closest connections that are also connected to you. It can then tell you the next steps; the best time to connect with the colleague, the best e-mail to send. It can curate that e-mail for you, through ChatGPT integration, and generate it. That’s just one small use case. It can be used across CX and Industry solutions – from commerce, marketing, service, retail and many more.

We did an alpha release at SAP Sapphire and are now onboarding our own internal sales team at SAP. We’re targeting, later this year, to have a generally available release with more features. First, we’re testing it within SAP and seeing how it serves our operations. The best part is that it's a combination of our own proprietary AI models and what we’re building on through partnerships with OpenAI and other vendors.

ASUG: SAP recently noted Pizza Hut, Carhartt, and smart Europe as three SAP CX customers benefiting from industry-first CX. Can you shed some light on either those customer stories or others you see as exemplary case studies in how SAP CX strategy can drive success?

Bhargava: Carhartt transitioned its entire back-office operations with SAP and has been through a digital transformation. Carhartt wanted agility and composability. Having been in the business for 130 years, imagine the complex processes Carhartt had to simplify. Carhartt wanted to focus on personalization, on connecting enterprise data from the back office to the front office, on powering e-commerce with supply chain and inventory data. Intelligent CX is four things: industry-tailored, connected, insightful, and adaptive, and Carhartt represents that.

Swarovski recently launched the LUXignite strategy to consolidate its processes, and to drive delight to customers at every touch point. How can Swarovski know who the customer is, have a 360-degree view of the consumer, know their spending power, and use marketing insights to understand when is the right time to talk to them? Swarovski also cares about sustainability and is values driven. Sustainable diamonds are a big deal for their business.

Swarovski also wants to give customers high-end experiences, rather than simply manufacturing diamonds. With SAP Commerce Cloud and a suite of other SAP solutions, and as an SAP customer of more than 40 years, Swarovski is a wall-to-wall SAP shop—from ERP to supply chain to SAP Ariba, SAP BTP, and SAP Marketing Cloud. It’s been huge for Swarovski to have a connected experience, because their end-to-end experience is everything for them.

ASUG: What else would you share about your vision for CX, and what are you excited about going forward?

Bhargava: It's not a marketing pitch or just a vision. We’re talking about an intelligent CX, where we are simplifying the BOM, processes, commercialization, and more. Every touchpoint will be driven by AI and automation, and the solutions are composable. If I were to build CX and CRM today, it would be intelligent by default. It would be AI-driven by default—not everywhere but in a way that makes technology transparent and provides productivity and efficiency to the end user.

I'm hyper-focused on execution, not just talking about a strategy. My team is executing incrementally to deliver outcomes. Technology is rapidly changing, the world is rapidly changing, and users’ needs are rapidly changing. So, we need to keep up but also avoid too much disruption for our customers and end users. We have to take some of that disruption on ourselves, to anticipate needs and demands.

ASUG: Can you speak about SAP Recommerce and why helping retailers to manage returned goods is a priority?

Bhargava: Think of it as our answer to “reuse, reduce, recycle.” It is a feature built on SAP Commerce Cloud. If a customer wants to return a product, instead of just responding to the customer that they can send it back, SAP Recommerce could suggest how to sustainably handle the return. Instead of sending it to a landfill, can it be donated to the nearest Goodwill or reused it another way?

The biggest problem for retailers right now is how much of their revenue is tied up in goods that are in transit. Even before you sell it, you want to have the best size, the best fit, the best probability of being sold. Recommerce optimizes for the least number of returns and then advises on what customers can do with those returns. It’s an SAP innovation, from scratch, and it’s important. You don’t want excess, you want fewer returns, and you want more used products in the market.

We are in the initial stages, and plan for SAP Recommerce to be more generally available later this year. We’re looking for pilot customers, and the pipeline is looking pretty solid. The sub-segments of retail are good starting points, such as high fashion and furniture, as well as consumer goods.

For more from our interview with Ritu Bhargava, read the first half of the conversation, on the importance of composability to a cloud-centric and industry-focused CX, here.