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 first half of our wide-ranging conversation, Bhargava discussed the competitive dynamics currently at play in the CX/CRM space, the importance of composability to a cloud-centric CX, and what points of differentiation set SAP CX apart.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
ASUG: What defines excellence in customer experience today?
Bhargava: CX—across companies and for users in both B2B and B2C environments—is no longer just about a single touch point. It starts before an interaction, with how information was socialized, how it was sent out, how it was received, how it was consumed. Then, there’s the interaction and what happens next. Customer experience evolves.
For example, in a service industry, with an agent who answers service calls, [the user] doesn’t want to have to call to address a service issue. So, the experience starts with the anticipation of the call and includes every touchpoint across the journey. At every touchpoint, it should be personalized to the customer and their context. Maybe that customer is a prospect, rather than just a lead. Meeting the customer where they are is the differentiation. Excellence involves meeting the customer or consumer where they are, in a personalized context.
ASUG: What competitive dynamics do you see at work in the present-day CX/CRM space?
Bhargava: At its heart, cloud provides flexibility and scalability, curing customers’ headaches and making technology work for them, whether they’re focused on scale, performance, extensibility, composability, or flexibility across business models. If a customer suddenly had to move from a B2B model to a direct-to-consumer (D2C) model, flexibility is important. A lot of companies couldn’t be that agile, because there’s no way for them to suddenly change their business model, for example, to directly ship to every end user. That's what moving to the cloud is about: how to manage a business across not just one location but in a global environment, and how to achieve the business model flexibility required to manage the complexities of their processes.
Customers don’t only care about what they bought. Increasingly, they’re also concerned with the total share of wallet, what they spend regularly on a particular brand. Let’s say a CIO spends $1,000,000 on their transformation. They obviously care about the share of wallet, and they need flexibility in their share of wallet to say, “How will I manage this IT spend or the business outcome that I need to solve for?” That's the full context of a delightful customer experience: it’s the back office, operational processes, the understanding of how that works within the context of customer data, and the ability to connect it across the entire value chain to achieve business outcomes.
Customers and their consumers don't really care about how many products they bought. They care about the outcome of those products, or that software, and how it is helping them. That's important. The dynamics are changing. SAP is in a unique position of strength, having products across the entire value chain, from the back office to the front, and having all of that data and business context. The question for CX is how we solve for not only one customer touchpoint but all the touchpoints across that value chain.
ASUG: What current or potential future points of differentiation do you see as setting SAP apart from its competitors in this space?
Bhargava: We are known for our enterprise expertise. We know supply chains deeply, and we understand the entirety of financial operations and how all of those pieces work. That’s our essential nuts and bolts, our bread and butter. Up to 80% of the world’s business data goes through SAP technology. We have the context of that data present, because the biggest customers in the world are SAP customers. What do we do with that strength of that industry expertise, of having the data and that installed base?
The differentiation, and how we take it to the next level, is that we leverage the power of SAP S/4HANA for the front office and the connectivity of that data for a single customer profile. That breaks silos. A very common question when you're checking out a product you buy is, “When will this good be delivered to me?” A lot of companies cannot answer this basic question, because simply put they do not know how much inventory is available and where the product is sitting in the supply chain.
SAP can answer this question, because we know that inventory pipeline. We know where the product is, we know the supply chain, and we know what the company in question can do to fulfill their promise to the customer. And we know the customer. It’s extremely powerful.
One other question is how SAP can bring its industry expertise into the context of how we build our applications. Composability is also key; we’re no longer focused on point-to-point integrations. We have flexibility in our platform. We built SAP Sales Cloud and SAP Service Cloud, which can not only work together but also work with a customer data platform (CDP), SAP Emarsys Customer Engagement, SAP S/4HANA, and SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP), so you don’t have to tightly couple those integrations and APIs.
Silos can go away with the power of data. Data itself is nothing, but data with intelligence, and the power of what it can do for intelligence, is everything. Everyone is talking about intelligence right now. We launched our intelligent CX positioning ahead of SAP Sapphire this year, and that is foundational to our product strategy. It’s not just industry-tailored, but it’s also connected with the back office, front office, operational data, and contextual data. It's insightful, AI- and ML-driven, adaptive, and composable. It’s about delivering innovations across the suite of SAP solutions, rather than just for SAP Sales Cloud or SAP Service Cloud.
ASUG: To expand on what was showcased at SAP Sapphire, how do you see SAP truly differentiating in CX and leading in certain areas?
Bhargava: It starts with composability. Can we embark on a quest for this long-term, perfect architecture that will one day enable personalization, scale, and performance, integrating with our partner ecosystem? Or can we take a composable, microservices-based approach? I have no ambition to re-architect everything, but instead leverage some fantastic products we have and incrementally build pieces where we can innovate more composable interfaces, rather than relying on tightly coupled, point-to-point integrations.
Internally, that is changing in two ways. The first is to optimize a best-of-suite approach for our products, so the power of our products can come together, rather than leaving areas for our customers to fix. And the second is the composability of our features, moving away from point-to-point integrations and creating headless, composable architectures that we not only build but also open to partnerships. We can partner with companies that provide very specific niche features that we’re not going to invest in.
BTP is the platform, across all our solutions, where we’re building to avoid duplicating our efforts. If we were trying to do many things, we would have settled for being good enough, as opposed to doing fewer things and doing them exceptionally. Focus is the name of the game and it’s how you start breaking siloes down and innovating at the same time.
ASUG: Would you describe this as a partner-led process or more partner-leveraged?
Bhargava: We think of it as partner-leveraged and industry-led. The nuance there is that we ask, “How can SAP CX become the best solution for retail, automotive, utilities, or consumer products?” rather than asking, “Will this partner help us become the best CX for those industries?” For some industries, where we’re pivoting to be the best CX solution out-of-the-box, that’s where it all starts coming to life. We might have two or three capabilities missing, but a partner can tackle those capabilities for us.
The composability should allow us to provide holistic, end-to-end offerings without telling [customers] to go somewhere else, because we want them to stay in the SAP ecosystem. We see the whole opportunity map of a solution that way. I center our solutions around three pillars: “Is it going to help us be innovative? Is it going to help us have more adoption? Or is it going to help us grow?”
ASUG: How have CX and CRM evolved over the past few years for SAP’s Americas customer base? Where are customers on their journeys, and what challenges are they encountering?
Bhargava: The friction points for our customers generally concern whether we’re providing them with sufficient flexibility and meeting them where they are. They ask for the digital convenience of being able to do transactions anywhere—in person or through a mobile phone. Supply chain disruption, more than ever before, has interfered with great customer experience. If I have placed an order, and then I get a cancellation, it’s frustrating. But what if, before I placed an order, I could be alerted that the lead time, realistically, was three months from the point of sale. It’s about setting expectations and then exceeding them, because every time a customer's expectation is broken, it leads to a very fragmented and poor customer experience.
Furthermore, customers want companies to be values-driven—to be sustainable and do good, with carbon-neutral products and track-and-trace capabilities—and understand what that will do for their business. Can being values-driven make them more trustworthy, and can it help them fulfill my promises? Will it make them grow? The interconnectivity of values and outcomes, driven by trust, is important.
Increasingly, companies also know where you are and who you are; they have information about your household and your spending power. What do you do with that, and how do you use it? You don't want a personalized e-mail that says, “We know you just recently went on vacation, and that you had so much fun with your family, and because you bought this product, we want to recommend this to you,” because that would freak you out. That’s where the whole notion of responsible, ethical AI comes in, along with consent and privacy. How do you solve that business problem while also driving toward the right values and outcomes?
In next week's edition of First Five, our conversation with Ritu Bhargava concludes with discussion of the realigned industry-focused approach to SAP CX, plus SAP Digital Assistant and SAP Recommerce. You can subscribe to First Five here.