Importance of process in Customer Science

Kasparov's formula works well in business

garry_kasparovYou might remember Garry Kasparov, the last chess grand master to beat a computer. That was about 20 years ago when he went up against Deep Blue, the IBM megaframe that is the direct ancestor of Jeopardy!-winning Watson. A re-match between Deep Blue and Kasparov a year later did not go so well for the human and that was the end of an era. You might even recall the Jeopardy! tournament in which two of the greatest players of all time, including Ken Jennings, matched wits and lost.

It would be a mistake to say that we’ve arrived on the threshold of artificial intelligence based on the Jeopardy! and chess performances but we may have reached an accommodation point. When computer science quit (for the moment) trying to emulate human thinking, it began to make real progress.

Watson, and it’s predecessor did as well as they did because they were loaded with up to 200 million pages of information that they could retrieve and sort through very quickly to winnow out possible wrong answers, stack rank the good ones, and offer up the most likely possibility. There was no thinking involved it was all raw horsepower. Watson was tuned for jeopardy! just as other versions are being tuned for things like medical diagnosis.

Watson isn’t always right but the combination of speed and accuracy enabled it to win Jeopardy! Interestingly, when asked how he would attempt to beat the computer one of Kasparov’s not so lucky colleagues, offered this advice—bring a hammer to the competition. Kasparov did the next best thing — he invented chess moves that hadn’t been written down yet and thus could not be in Deep Blue’s database. As a result the machine was forced to puzzle through (let’s not call it thinking) its options and it didn’t always choose wisely. It lost the tournament.

This bit of chess history has direct applicability to CRM and front office business. Like Kasparov’s strategy, business comes at you randomly, chaotically and the best you can do is to prepare for the well-known eventualities, even if they don’t happen to everyone all the time. Think of it like insurance. When a moment of truth hits, you’re glad to be covered.

From his experience with computers and chess, Kasparov penned an algorithm that serves as a blueprint for us. It says that you can’t rely on a brilliant player or a great computer alone, but that the key to success was,

“Weak human + adequate computing + great process.”

Did you note that Kasparov’s formula is the same people, process, and technology in a different order that we’ve all been preaching for many years?

You’d probably take umbrage at the notion of a weak human and rightly so because in business you have to be able to play with the team you have, not the one you wish for. So for business purposes let’s think in terms of empowered humans since we always want to empower our employees to do great things, at least we should. And computing is no longer a big deal. You can buy a lot of compute power for very little today so adequacy in the Kasparov sense can be assumed. So what separates great companies from the also-rans?


People haven’t changed in the last couple of decades; it takes millions of years for evolution to work its magic. Computers evolve before our eyes though and what was not possible yesterday is taken for granted tomorrow. Such is the case with process and the rapid advance of technology is one reason that new processes are coming on-stream all the time.

The MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee take Kasparov as the jumping off point in their book The Second Machine Age (yes, I have written about them before). They tell us that even for expert jobs we need to heed Kasparov, eschewing chasing success with only one or two of those resources. With computing being a level playing field and the human capital market being a coin toss process becomes the differentiator.

I think those ideas are essential to CRM success these days and I have written about how it all comes together in my new book, Solve for the Customer. Customer-facing processes are now undergoing a massive change simply because customers are increasingly demanding more sophistication in the processes they participate in — well beyond the purchase transaction and especially our uneven attempts at customer experience. Also, it is dead solid easy to figure out better processes, if you want to commit to change, that is.

In this case, change simply means checking your assumptions about customers and “the customer experience” at the door. Instead, you need a method, which I call Customer Science, to interrogate customers, capture their data, and apply some adequate computer analysis. The result is amazing. Like an insurance company you’ll be able to figure out the probabilities of a host of customer facing issues — called moments of truth — so that you can prepare for them. This beats relying on faulty memory and “experience” to speculate what a customer experience is all about.

As a matter of fact, if you embrace Customer Science you’ll discover that customer experience is no longer a noun, it’s a verb, as in customers experience a moment of truth. Knowing that you’ll compete so much better in the second machine age. It’ll be like winning Jeopardy! every day.