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A Proactive Approach to Customer Satisfaction

SAP’s Chief Customer Officer Steve Shander Discusses the Company’s Mission to Help Customers Succeed

by Steve Shander | SAPinsider, Volume 18, Issue 1

January 27, 2017

Sometimes it can seem as if a company’s relationship with its technology vendor centers around one thing: the sale. At SAP, the customer relationship extends far beyond the sale — SAP is committed to ensuring its customers are successful with its technology. Toward this end, SAP established the Chief Customer Office with a mandate to help customers get maximum value from their SAP software. In this Q&A, Stephen Shander, SAP’s Chief Customer Officer, explains the mission of the Chief Customer Office and how it helps customers achieve success with SAP technology. 

Q: What is the Chief Customer Office at SAP?

A: Our organization’s mission is to help our customers get the maximum value from the software they own, optimize their business and IT processes to run more efficiently, and last but not least, to leverage our new innovations. If we do the above for our customers, they will have a stellar experience and even become a stronger reference for us.

Q: How did your experience at SAP prepare you for your role as the Chief Customer Officer?

A: I’m in my 16th year with SAP. I came to this position from the role of General Manager of Sales for the Northeast Region. During customer visits, they would often tell me “you want me to buy more software, but we haven’t utilized what we own” or “we have deployed and are live, but haven’t validated the business case we provided to the board.” This office, and this position, evolved from those types of discussions to ensure that the customers we touch are successful.

Q: What do you and others on your team do on a day-to-day basis?

A: I’ll share a recent interaction to shed some light on the Chief Customer Office. One of the services we offer is a total cost of ownership (TCO) study. We were with a customer to deliver their TCO assessment because the IT organization was facing some pushback from the business about the decision to roll out more software. In an analysis of their IT organization, we focused on a deep dive into two business processes and discovered that they had 500 customizations, roughly 30% of which were never touched. Clearly, that resulted in inefficiencies and complexity from having to support customizations that are not in use.

As part of the study, we also looked at why those customizations were built in the first place. The answer was that the product lacked certain functionality when it was implemented. Now, when they upgraded, they only upgraded technology, not the full new release. So, in this particular study, we shared with the customer that the new release provided the functionality that would replace some of the customizations.

In addition, we were able to show the customer how to optimize their existing business and IT processes to help them utilize more of the standard, out-of-the-box functionality available in the software they own, while also eliminating unneeded customizations.

We also worked with members of that company’s procurement organization, who weren’t happy with the solution they were using for a few reasons, including user-friendliness and adoption. As part of the TCO study, a determination was made that they had implemented the solution based on processes they ran in the past instead of leveraging best practices. So by sitting down with both the IT organization and the business — in this case, procurement — we were able to work out the root of the problem, increase adoption, and even start looking at analytics to help analyze spend performance. From there on, the customer utilized SAP Fiori on the front end, which accelerated the use of SAP technology within procurement by improving the user experience and interaction, as well as the new functionality.

This example gives you a snapshot of some of the work we do. It’s important to note, though, that when we start the engagement, we don’t know the direction these discussions will take; all of it is predicated on helping the customer get more value out of the software they own. It is also important to mention that all our programs and everything we deliver to the customer are an SAP investment, at no cost to the customer. The Chief Customer Office doesn’t have a profit and loss (P&L); our only metric is customer success/net promoter score.

When we start the engagement, we don’t know the direction these discussions will take; all of it is predicated on helping the customer get more value out of the software they own.

Q: How is your organization structured, and how has it evolved?

A: When the Chief Customer Office first started, many of us were from a consulting or support background, and some of us had been SAP customers before joining SAP. At the start, we were 99% reactive. Our executives knew we had a very seasoned team that could engage with any project or implementation in North America to help the customer achieve success. The team would help solve whatever the issue was and then move on to the next project.

About five years ago, we decided that it would provide far more value to our customers to become proactive instead; become involved prior to the implementation and make a difference by not just providing support around what to implement, but by helping get the most value out of the software. That decision has transformed the way the team works. As it stands today, resources devoted to project assessments, which are more in line with the reactive approach of before, now represent only about 13% of the team’s work.

The organization is structured with teams of ambassadors for a number of product areas. There is an SAP HANA ambassador team that focuses on SAP S/4HANA, SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud, and SAP HANA Cloud Platform. We also have a cloud ambassador team to help our customers proactively with SAP Ariba, SAP SuccessFactors, SAP Hybris, and Concur solutions. And we have two other ambassador teams focused around analytics and small and midsize enterprises (SMEs). At the end of the day, all teams are responsible for keeping their respective customers on track or advising a reseller on how to help our customers.

Ambassadors are in constant communication with development, active global support, and consulting about what they’re seeing in the marketplace. This way, when they’re speaking with a customer, they have in-depth knowledge and expertise about the experiences of every customer who came before them. They can say, for example, the last six customers configured the system this way, and here is what they did to achieve success.

Q: How has a proactive approach around software optimization been received by your customers?

A: By being proactive and presenting customers with best practices for an industry and ways to achieve success, we usually find some common pain points where customers need help and what approach can work for their situation. Customer feedback has been very rewarding in terms of the support and assistance we are providing based on what they’re reporting back to us. Recently, an executive at an aviation company who was working directly with our SAP HANA ambassador said that their engagement with the Chief Customer Office was invaluable to their project success, and probably shaved about a year off the implementation timeline. From customer to customer, these are the types of outcomes we’re hearing about.

And, as I mentioned, this is our only success metric. But that’s not to say we’re resting on our laurels; one thing we’re very cognizant of is the need to reinvent ourselves on a regular basis, because if we deliver the same programs without listening to our customer feedback, we will not provide value or help our customers achieve the success they expect. We keep an open dialogue with our customers, asking for their feedback and if there is anything else we could have delivered to add value. This helps us change our model year over year and demonstrate that we are listening to our customers.

Q: One focal point for SAP is helping customers prepare to evolve to a digital platform. How does this initiative affect your group?

A: Many customers are acquiring knowledge about what’s involved with moving into a digital environment. We recently worked with one customer — a publisher — that was implementing SAP HANA as well as SAP SuccessFactors solutions and some other cloud products. Their focus was on making the transition from print to digital both in terms of a business model and as a platform to run and support their back-end systems.

Our team worked with them through many design-thinking sessions, which entailed studying not only what other companies in their industry were doing but also what other industries were doing, with both SAP and non-SAP systems. Interestingly, until those design-thinking sessions, this customer hadn’t really looked at SAP in that light. To them, SAP was the ERP company and digitization was a start-from-scratch proposition. By proactively meeting with the customer through these co-innovation efforts, we jointly started on a path to digitizing the company by optimizing their existing landscape. That was the starting point: They realized SAP could do a lot more than offer up an ERP system.

We also helped develop a master data strategy, because of course you can’t talk about digitization without talking about master data. It is interesting; typically, when you ask an executive whether they have a master data strategy, they start talking about tools. But that’s not what we do. Instead, what we do is open our book — our strategy — to these customers.

In this case, that included introducing them to our internal head of master data to share our strategy: What data is business-critical, and what data is not considered as important to the business? What are the needed skillsets to manage the data? And where do those people sit in the organization? These executives typically aren’t used to dealing with go-to-market plans or customers, and by sharing our perspective we can help steer the narrative that SAP is more than just a software company. We’re now seeing co-innovation opportunities present themselves with almost every engagement. Now, some of these are because digitization is really taking off and companies are trying to get a handle on how to proceed, but a lot of it is because we’ve become a trusted advisor and customers know we don’t have a quota to meet.

Customers open up — they tell us where they’re going. They ask for our input, and that gives us the ability to help them drive and embrace innovation.

Q: What is the most important point you want SAP customers and potential customers to know about the Chief Customer Office?

A: The most important thing to SAP is that our customers are successful, and this group is enabled and empowered to help our customers achieve success. That’s the bottom line: When customers succeed, we succeed.

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Steve Shander
Steve Shander

As the Chief Customer Officer for SAP North America, Steve Shander is responsible for overall customer satisfaction through his leadership of the region’s Chief Customer Office. Since joining SAP in 2002, Steve has held several senior management positions for the North America region, most recently as senior vice president and general manager of line-of-business. Prior to that, he held equally senior leadership roles overseeing the Northeast team, as well as the Premier Customer Network and Northeast Sales Manufacturing organizations.

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