SAP ANZ’s Chris O’Brien Addresses Customer Success with InsideSAP

Christopher O'Brien, Head of SAP ANZ Customer Success

The relationship between SAP, partners and customers has been a long-discussed topic. With SAP dedicating focus to customer engagement and success, the local market has still voiced concerns that relationships could be more transactional in nature. To turn the tide, SAP ANZ has recently appointed Chris O’Brien its Head of Customer Success.

InsideSAP spoke with Chris on the topic of SAP’s relationship with its users, engaging with customers, business outcomes and the best approach to feedback.

Q: “Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me. We’re interested in the updates that you’ve provided in posts on LinkedIn around Customer Success, and inerested to hear any details you can share?”

A: Many of our customers see our business as the local sales arm of SAP. However, they want us to be more than that and we must deliver on those expectations. Our customers have outcomes to achieve and want to know who will stand beside them in that journey. 

We need to spend the time understanding customers and communicating value in a context that resonates with their strategies. We want customers to understand that we care about what they’re doing and have ideas about how to do things differently. We need to build trust, so customers are open to having the right conversations. This requires focus from us. 

I joined SAP ANZ last year from an SAP customer, as SAP wanted to change how it approached customer success and customer engagement. At the same time, SAP globally created a new organisation called Customer First, which is responsible for developing the methodology on how we connect with our customers. 

My role is to work with many of the groups within the business already engaging with customers and who are focused on their customers’ outcomes after the sale of software to utilise the work that’s come out of the Customer First organisation and help our customers achieve their goals. 

So my role is about asking “how do we articulate the work that we’re undertaking and make sure that it lands effectively with our customers and does it allow us to focus on what is truly important to them?”

The blog posts I’ve been writing are about opening doors, being transparent about the work we’re doing, and the changes that are taking place within the organisation to deliver on our promise of becoming more customer-centric. The question that’s important is: How do we change the way we go about doing everything day-to-day to ensure we’re focused on the business outcomes that our customers want to achieve, rather than their purchases of SAP?

Q: We’ve heard a bit about Customer First as well as Partner First, could you tell us more?

A: The Customer First methodology is about how we change the way we go about doing everything each day to ensure that we are focused on the business outcomes that our customers want to achieve rather than the sales of SAP technology. Partner First is about enabling our partners to deliver on our customers’ needs.

Part of Customer First is about standardising the way that we do things. A lot of time, effort and investment has gone into building out a standard methodology for how we engage with our customers and measure the quality of the engagement so that we can continually work towards improving the quality of our customer relationships.  Ultimately, it’s about ensuring that we are focusing on the things that are important to our customers and we are delivering to the outcomes that they had intended to achieve when they invested in our technology.

Q: So the focus is to measure and ensure that you’re meeting the needs of your customers? What are some of the ways that you obtain feedback?

A: There are two main ways we approach measurement: the first is NPS; the second is using the Customer First methodology. 

The main mechanism for obtaining feedback and measuring that is through our NPS process we have in place. We’re very aggressive in NPS measurement, as it’s not something that can be manipulated and it gives us a real-life measure of how our customers feel. It’s a great mechanism for collecting that feedback and making sure that we action it. 

The second mechanism is the Customer First methodology. This involves sitting down with a customer and having discussions around where we are now, and where we’d like to be over a given period, and then developing activities and an action plan that come from that discussion. We then review over time to look at where we’ve made improvements, as well as where we need to continue to make improvements and action them. That’s how we gain deep insights from customers and work with them on improving the quality of our relationship.

However, the acquisition of Qualtrics is really exciting in this space and we’re currently revamping our whole feedback mechanism to look at how we will be using the depth of its capability to make sure we truly understand ‘the why’ of what’s important to our customers. 

SAP ANZ’s Chris O’Brien Addresses Customer Success with InsideSAP

Q: From your findings, do you make correlations, put it in a process and have a larger look at where some of the pain points are and the customer relationship versus triumphs you might have?

A: Absolutely, within ANZ we have an absolute intention to look at where our strengths and weaknesses are and build programs around these insights to ensure we are delivering on our customer promise. At a global level, we want to be able to have a look at where our strengths and weaknesses are as an entire organisation. SAP already has a myriad of programs in place to enable customers and help them with their transformation journeys. 

Sometimes, however, the difficulty in a large organisation is trying to match the most effective program with the right customer need. By taking more of a programmatic and metric-driven approach to measuring the quality of relationships, it’s much easier for us to not only get those programs to the right customers at the right time, but also identify if we have any gaps in providing services to customers. 

Q: From a service and sales level, you talked about training, as well as why, what, and how to make life simpler for customers. What are some of these newer training techniques or classes or sessions that you’ve had that have made a difference?

A:The first group of training sessions was a well-structured pilot of the process, so we could get feedback from customers. The second phase was a kick-off session at the beginning of the year for all the internal staff, and some of our partners, where we had customers come in to talk to us about their experiences. A lot of this training was focused around ensuring that everybody understands the methodology, how we record our progress and the tools that are available to help so that we can meaningfully measure and manage the body of work. 

This week, over two days, we’ll be training the people that will do the work, SAP’s Customer Success Executives. Attendees will be flying in from all around Asia Pacific Japan into Sydney this week and we have the Customer First leadership team from North America in town to help deliver the training. 

Q: It seems like this is a long process designed to ensure everything is perfect for customers before rolling out all these training sessions and steps to make sure the customers are put first and are being heard and not just getting lip service but actually having measurable and trackable success points.

A: It’s incredibly important to ensure that the changes being made are meaningfully felt within the customer base – so we must ensure that the process, measurement and objectives are clearly understood and delivered to the highest standard. 

I’m responsible for driving this locally and I want customers to feel comfortable and know that they can come directly to me with open feedback. Transparency and honesty are fundamental to this program and in light of that I’m partnering with the SAP user group here in Australia to ensure we create that visibility and have open and frank conversations, because I think we’ll reach a better outcome faster if we do that. 

Q: So you say that you want customers to respond directly to you, what’s the best way to reach out if they’re not seeing these solutions being put in place and being actioned?

A:Customers can always speak to their account executive about the Customer First work that’s happening within ANZ. Each account executive knows who I am and can make sure that we can come in to have a conversation and look at how that work can benefit them. I’m also at every one of the user group events and am reaching out to customers directly. I also manage our NPS process, so I would always encourage people to respond to the NPS surveys – if they’re responding to these, we not only ensure their comments are captured but they’ll also hear from SAP.

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