Did you ever hear of the Engineer’s Dilemma? An executive wants an engineer to quickly build a strong bridge and do it cheaply. The engineer replies, “Fast, Good, or Cheap? Pick two, because you can’t get all three.”

How about the Kobayashi Maru? It’s an interesting leadership test from Star Trek, with surprising relevancy for Customer Service leaders. In the Kobayashi Maru, a leader is tested in his or her ability to solve an unsolvable situation. Regardless of what you do, there is nothing to win. Failure is assured. Ouch!

The Vulcan trainee should have spent more time in Customer Service. Captain Kirk’s recommendation: Get some Contact Center experience before trying the Kobayashi Maru again.

What is the Customer Service Dilemma?
Consider the challenges of a Customer Service leader. He or she desires to achieve three goals in managing their customer service organization:

  • Keep customers happy
  • Drive efficient operations
  • Meet strategic service goals

The service goals are clear, logical, and universal. But, the Customer Service Dilemma is a harsher version of the Engineer’s Dilemma and frequently devolves into the Kobayashi Maru.

The Customer Service Dilemma represents choosing one service goal at the expense of the other two. It’s either customer experience, cost or service agreements. In worst-case situations, none are achieved and it is a Kobayashi Maru exercise. I can’t imagine anything less motivating than reliving this dilemma every few months.

Employees, Motivation and a Career
There is a way out. And you don’t have to be Captain Kirk, who is the only person to have beaten the Kobayashi Maru. This is by focusing on what links customer experience, service goals, and cost, which is your employee workforce.

Unfortunately many contact centers, while professing to value their employees, are de-motivating places. The stats on employee turnover in a Contact Center are brutal. For example, it is quite typical for one in five agents quit within 90 days of being hired.

The heart of the problem is whether your employees see a future in their jobs.

  • Can they develop their skills?
  • Are they working on what they were trained for?
  • Are they getting the coaching they need in times of trouble?
  • Can they see their own performance and how it aligns to their manager’s goals?
  • Where is their career going? Could it involve more pay? Better titles? Or more interesting work?

Leadership must prove that career paths exist which are founded on skills, development, and recognition. Otherwise, you are subjecting your employees to individually-sized versions of the Kobayashi Maru, with predictable results:

  • Unmotivated employees show up late, take longer breaks, work less hard, and have less desire to resolve their customers’ problems
  • The most unmotivated employees will actively game the stats via transfers, dropped interactions, and other reporting tricks
  • Most disturbing is that others’ bad behaviors will impact your best employees and possibly motivate them to leave

Solving the Customer Service Dilemma
The Kobayashi Maru, by definition is unsolvable and never permits any desired outcomes. The Engineer’s Dilemma can actually be solved, but only through radical change such as drastically changing the technologies involved.

There is a way to solve the Customer Service Dilemma, and do it without radical system change. But you do need some of the spirit that Captain Kirk used to defeat the Kobayashi Maru test.

Kirk refused to lose in an unwinnable situation, so he changed the rules. Customer Service leaders can take the same lesson by changing the rules governing the careers and motivations of their employees.

Motivated employees have happier interactions with customers, are more efficient in their interactions, and will work towards your organization’s service goals. But you have to change the rules.

For more information about improving your workforce, check out a recent Genesys whitepaper about Six Essential Capabilities your Workforce Management Solution Ought to be Delivering.