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 contact center management before trying the Kobayashi Maru. Captain Kirk’s recommendation, “Get some contact center experience before doing this again.”

What is the Customer Service Dilemma?
The Customer Service Dilemma is a harsher version of the Engineer’s Dilemma and frequently devolves into the Kobayashi Maru.

Consider this, every Customer Service leader wishes to achieve 3 service goals which are clear, logical, and universal.

  1. Keep customers happy.
  2. Drive efficient operations.
  3. Meet strategic service level agreements.

Yet, for many Customer Service leaders, it feels like they must choose one service goal at the expense of the other two. It’s either customer experience or 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 management experience 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 solution can be found 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 1 in 5 agents to quit within 90 days of being hired.

The heart of the problem is whether or not 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 positions? Or more interesting work?

Leadership must prove that career paths exist which are founded on skills, professional 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 customer’s problems.
  • The most unmotivated employees will actively game the stats via transfers, dropped interactions, and other reporting tricks.
  • Most disturbing is that bad behaviors will drag down 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 radically changing the technologies involved.

There is a way to solve the Customer Service Dilemma, and to do it without drastic system change. But you need something 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 must change the rules.

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

For more information about the Kobayashi Maru, here is a short, summarized video on YouTube.