Using software to be more human: 5 ways computational thinking will revolutionize human-powered customer service

This is my third post in a series about improving human-bot relations in customer service. In case you missed the earlier posts, you can find them here:

1. A human response to the rise of chatbots. In this post, I cited the investment dollars flowing into AI-powered customer service chatbots as a proxy for innovation occurring within the space. The sheer number of investments shows that we’re mad about bots. While this is destined to be a good thing, I opined that, along the way, we seem to have forgotten about the human-powered side of customer service. We have become obsessed with chatbots because doing customer service is hard and we see chatbots as a possible fix.

The Sociopathic System: Why some customer service programs consistently let us down. This post exposed a crucial risk: ignoring the human side of the equation, as we seem to be doing, risks building our AI-systems over-the-top of an incomplete or even faulty foundation. Most failures are caused not by ignoble agents but by systems, policies, and priorities that set up customer service agents for failure.

Machines aren’t brilliant at “human” behaviors such as showing empathy, hosting dinner parties, being sports fans, or singing properly-amateur karaoke. Nor do they excel (yet) at complex social or business behaviors such as diplomacy, showing thanks, or calling in favors. When it comes to AI, much has been made of this gulf between us and them, and why machines will not replace humans in business. [1] (Of course, billions of us humans aren’t brilliant at all these things, either.)

That machines are not human is not a bad thing. When was the last time you asked a programmer to make algorithms more lazy, gossipy, moody, obstinate, passive-aggressive, tardy, or inappropriate; more prone to procrastinate, go down rabbit holes, or overreact to criticism? Personally, I love humanity’s incredible messiness and diversity, but let’s face it: just how human do we want our machines to become? [2]

Like all our endeavors, Customer Service is fraught with human weaknesses. Despite our noble mission to improve humanity by serving others, and despite the often under-recognized heroism shown by our teams on a daily basis, we still tend to be too reactive, fragmented, and distracted to achieve our loftiest goals. I closed my last post with this challenge that I believe the industry faces:

Chatbots need to seem more empathetic but they do have the advantage of behaving systematically. Humans are gifted with empathy but need to be placed within thoughtfully designed systems that allow us to be our best selves. Both of “us” need to learn from each other.

The first question, then, is, “What can we learn from bots to improve our human-powered customer service programs?”

Entire books are dedicated to this subject. [3] I am going to spotlight five concepts to illustrate my main idea: that humans need to — and with the help of “computational thinking,” can — behave more systematically, to the betterment of our industry. Namely, computational thinking can improve our human-powered customer service operations in 5 key areas: focus, resource allocation, scalability, resiliency, and decision-optimization.

Based on my work applying these 5 concepts in the real world, I will cover each of them in upcoming posts.

Up next: “Stick to your priorities without becoming a robot.” Using “computational thinking” to improve organizational focus in customer service | Medium

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Alan Pendleton

Alan Pendleton

Entrepreneur. Systems Thinker. Creative Contrarian. Passionate about revolutionizing how companies deliver CX. President & Co-Founder at ArenaCX.