Why Microsoft Is Banking on Gig Workers for Customer Support

By Brett Frazer posted 05-30-2019 12:00 AM

  

In late March I caught up with fellow community member Claudia Cristiani, Emerging Sourcing Strategy Leader at Microsoft, to ask her how the global software giant has been tapping into the Gig Economy. Claudia and I were once peers in the Microsoft global customer service organization when she led LATAM and I led APAC. Here's what she had to say about leveraging gig workers to enrich customer service and support talent pool.

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Brett Frazer: When did Microsoft first start thinking about the gig economy as a talent sourcing strategy and why?

Claudia Cristiani: We believed using gig was going to give us access to very qualified talent with great experience and a passion for Microsoft’s products. The gig economy also provides a flexible sourcing channel that allows us to ramp up or ramp down resources quickly to align to support volume spikes, like the ones we usually experience during the holiday season. Lastly, there is an efficiency gain by optimizing infrastructure and overhead costs that this model enables.

Brett: What concerns did you have?

Claudia: Legal and customer privacy regulations were our biggest concerns. Plus access to the right tools and training beyond their own usability knowledge.

Brett: What got you past those concerns?

Claudia: The Microsoft Office product group started working with gig economy in areas where they would have traditionally hired a contractor or onsite vendor. Areas such as marketing and translation services. Based on their success, we decided to do an incubation trial in the customer services and support business. This allowed us to assess risks, define and agree with our Gig partners on the necessary legal terms for our work-agreement and put security and privacy processes in place that will minimize risk. After running a pilot for 3 months and validating our assumptions, in terms of the customer experience benefits, we were ready to scale and add it as one of our support channels.

From a training perspective, we realized that we needed to focus on “how” they delivered their assistance to Microsoft customers. We needed to make sure it was what our customers expected from a Microsoft support experience.

Brett: What roles are they filling and are there any special programs that have been designed around these workers (ambassador programs, incentives, etc.)?

Claudia: In customer service and support, Microsoft has gig partners helping us support Microsoft customer cases in the Consumer Technical Support space across some of our digital media channels such as forums, chat and email. We are starting to test the potential of supporting the phone channel as well.

Brett: What constraints did you run into as you thought about what you would like to cover, but cannot?

Claudia: Protecting customer privacy and data is an absolute priority for us, so we excluded any scenario where customer privacy data was required for the transaction (i.e. credit card information to renew subscriptions, etc.).

Also, if solving the Microsoft customer issue required access to a specific internal Microsoft tool that the Gig advisor didn’t have, those scenarios where also excluded and routed to our traditional Microsoft support channels.

Brett: What is the biggest lesson you took away from your implementation that others considering should know?

Claudia: The amount of time it took us to onboard a Gig sourcing partner and getting through all the legal and compliance elements took much longer than expected. The documentation and approaches we traditionally use in onboarding contact centers suppliers don’t apply and needed to be re-built to accommodate the particularities of the Gig economy model. After going through it a couple of times we refined the approach saving approximately 25% of the time it initially took us. However, it still takes about twice the time to onboard a gig economy partner vs a traditional contact center.

The second area was the need to adapt the backend tools that support the overall Microsoft customer service and support process to ensure they were “gig ready”.

Brett: I know it is early days, but what advantages are you starting to realize from this talent pool? And were any of them unexpected surprises?

Claudia: For advantages, we’ve seen all of our perceived benefits come to fruition. We were able to handle the Christmas holiday spike in a more efficient way both from a customer experience perspective and a cost perspective.

One of the unexpected surprises or learnings was that language expansion wasn’t easy. This is primarily due to lower volumes in languages other than English. For the gig economy, it usually takes a minimum amount of volume for the Gig network to become active, otherwise they will drop off and disengage.

One unexpected surprise we found in using Gig as support sourcing strategy, was that our Gig partners are very loyal to our brand and are true product advisors for our customers, driving more loyalty and satisfaction with the Microsoft brand.

Brett: Next steps?

Claudia: We are exploring Gig as a sourcing model for the Microsoft Commercial Technical Support Business. We are also looking to continue language expansion and incorporating solutions to use Gig in our Microsoft Phone channels.

Brett: Any additional advice for anyone considering utilizing the Gig economy in their sourcing pool?

Claudia: Focus on the great benefits it can offer for your customer’s support experience. The reduction in time it takes to onboard and cost savings will come next.

Brett: What would you like to hear from others in the community?

Claudia: I would love to hear from anyone who has been working with Gig in the “Selling” environment to help us understand the business case insight to upselling and cross selling pilots.


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