Keith Dawson's Analyst Perspectives

SAP Service Cloud Bridges the Contact Center and the Back Office

Posted by Keith Dawson on Mar 4, 2021 3:00:00 AM

The contact center is still, for most businesses, where customer experience is designed, delivered and measured. And as we might expect, customer experience (CX) tools are migrating from where they started point solutions based on narrow functions into broader suites that encompass multi-departmental functions and reach across customer journeys. The goal is to provide more consistency across interactions, and to provide organizations with deeper insights into customer behavior along with control over the various moments of influence that occur along the lifecycle.

This evolution has increased the market power of companies such as SAP. These companies have deep software connections into enterprises, particularly into the linkage of front-end customer-facing systems with back-end systems. Organizations are increasingly able to find tools used by many different CX personas within a vendor’s broad portfolio of services. This provides a certain amount of lock-in for the vendor, as well as consistency of user interface, plus data control and accountability for the organization.

SAP has taken advantage of these trends by gradually acquiring software to add functionality to its key customer relationship management (CRM) application, C/4HANA. C/4HANA is now part of a product family called “SAP Customer Experience,” which itself is made up of five “pillars,” or loosely associated functional categories. SAP refers to each as its own “cloud”: SAP Customer Data Cloud, SAP Marketing Cloud, SAP Commerce Cloud, SAP Sales Cloud, and lastly, .

Bridging the Clouds

Service Cloud is the SAP component used in contact centers. It manages the omnichannel interaction environment from the agent’s perspective and controls the workings of self-service applications. It’s a diverse tool, offering case and ticket management as well as analytics and customer data insights. The suite bridges pure contact center operational software and the area of customer service, with support tools and field service, segments that Ventana Research recently added to our 2021 market agenda because of their importance to the overall CX environment.

Through SAP’s acquisitions of vendors such as Qualtrics (voice-of-the-customer analytics), Gigya (identity resolution and personalization) and Emarsys (marketer-centric engagement), SAP has collected tools that complement its CRM and enterprise resources planning (ERP) platforms. SAP’s idea of “clouds” separates applications according to function, into Sales, Service, Commerce, etc. But in reality these designations are less end-to-end integrations than explanatory buckets that organizations can use to identify which SAP modules solve which types of business problems.

So, Service Cloud is a critical element of SAP’s overall CX strategy. Yet it’s clear that SAP has greater interest in knitting contact center operations together with other business functions, which plays into the company’s historic strengths in ERP and enterprise software.

Service Cloud is clearly a contact center product, however, aimed squarely at the mid-sized organization’s service centers. Its existence reflects SAP’s strategy of emphasizing complex business processes over basic contact center functionality. SAP’s strategic roadmap puts Service Cloud squarely into the context of broader CX, effectively boosting SAP’s customer data platform (CDP) offering at the platform layer, where it can serve all the functional clouds, while focusing on broadening its commerce solutions throughout SAP’s CX portfolio.

The best way to think about Service Cloud, then, is not necessarily as a contact center operational tool, but as a gateway to a more integrated enterprise software platform that includes CDP for data management, artificial intelligence for enhancing knowledge across the business and for self-service, and for back-office integration of invoicing, accounting, fulfillment and similar processes. The difference between SAP Service Cloud and the contact center tools of its competitors lies in the connection to the rest of what SAP has on offer, including those recent CX acquisitions.

The Future of CX

Ventana Research asserts that by 2023, VR_2021_Customer_Experience_Management_Assertion_4_Squareone-half of organizations will have developed initiatives to map and manage customer journeys by integrating sales, service and marketing processes. In the same period, one-half of organizations will recognize the need for a dedicated tool for ingesting and integrating their siloed stores of customer data. This is spurring discussions between IT and CX professionals about the best data management strategies. And when choosing CX tools, organizations, including those responsible for contact centers, are understandably looking for expanded capability, with an eye on data management, privacy/compliance, business continuity, and customer analytics.

While SAP has the ability to front-end even very large, high-volume contact centers, the future of CX tools, even those for service, is in multi-departmental efforts to analyze data and orchestrate experiences. These efforts take place outside the contact center but rely on the center’s data and support to run smoothly.

It’s notable that SAP appears to be keeping the relationship between Service Cloud (and the other four cloud pillars) and the overall SAP Customer Experience portfolio deliberately loose. So, while contact centers will look to SAP’s Service Cloud, and sales teams to Sales Cloud, and so forth, it all points to the end game of a CX strategy that aligns the contact center with marketers, data analysts and product planners.

Still, the product suite suffers from out-of-date nomenclature that doesn’t do justice to its extensive capabilities. SAP should present Service Cloud as a critical component of CX, necessary but not stand-alone sufficient for building lasting and profitable relationships with customers, and it should put more effort into explaining its long-term view of the CX marketplace, including articulating its vision of how all the pieces it has built and acquired fit together. The company should emphasize the connections between Service Cloud and its sister Clouds, and should do so with messaging to new personas, a focus that would transcend more narrow departmental functions. For example, instead of contact center managers, they should target chief customer officers.

Organizations, meanwhile, should consider SAP Service Cloud as an omnichannel interaction processing engine and contact center agent portal. It has the full range of features necessary to operate service centers, including field-service use cases and advanced B2B technical support.

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Keith Dawson

Topics: Customer Experience, Marketing, Voice of the Customer, Contact Center, Digital Commerce, Enterprise Resource Planning, agent management

Keith Dawson

Written by Keith Dawson

Keith leads the expertise in Customer Experience (CX), covering applications and technology that facilitate engagement to optimize customer-facing processes. His focus areas include: agent management, contact center and voice of the customer and technology in marketing, sales, field service and applications such as digital commerce and subscription management. Keith’s specialization is in natural language and speech tools with intelligent virtual assistants, multichannel routing and journey management, and the wide array of customer analytics. He is focused on how businesses can break down technology and operational silos to provide more efficient processes for two-way engagement with customers. Keith has been an industry analyst for more than a decade and prior was the editorial director of Call Center Magazine. There he pioneered coverage of cloud-based contact centers, speech recognition and processing, and the shift from voice to multichannel communications. He is a graduate of Amherst College.