The Gig Economy: More Than Just "Here to Stay"

By Brett Frazer posted 12-16-2019 05:36 PM

Attributed to Mark WarnerI have spent more than 20 years in the customer experience arena, and I may have tried more new ideas in the past four years at Sun Basket than in the previous 17+ years combined. Startups provide an amazing opportunity to dabble in the new—to find a new idea or trend, research, test, try, fail, change, and/or try something else. I know that I have been lucky with the flexibility and freedom that Sun Basket has afforded me in this area, flexibility that I may not have had in a larger company with more approval layers and/or legacy systems that make such experimentation more challenging. 

Of the experiments I’ve conducted, what has fascinated me most is finding the right mix of frontline talent and technology to meet my customers’ needs. Over the past three years, our mix has been everything from 100% in-house talent handling every transaction fully manually, all the way to a mix of in-house, on-shore, near-shore, and gig talent in combination with customer-facing AI chatbots and back-end robotic process automation (RPA).

Those who have followed my blogs on Execs In The Know's online community are aware that, of this talent mix, one area I have a special interest in harnessing and expanding in our business is gig talent. 

Over the past year, in addition to developing and co-managing my own gig team with a gig talent partner, I have consumed research studies and articles from multiple sources; spoken in-depth with other CX leaders who have implemented, are considering implementing, or have considered and decided not to implement gig programs of their own; participated in panel discussions, and written more than 20 blog posts.

Based on this experience and research, I am sharing four key trends that have convinced me to a) believe predictions that between 30% and 50% of the global workforce will engage in some aspect of gig work by 2025—and b) to expect that more companies will begin hiring their existing customers as gig workers. 

People are thinking about work beyond the 35 to 60 hour, full-time commitment to one employer at a time in one location. 

And by people, I don’t just mean Millennials and Gen Zers in the US. This covers people of all generations and across multiple geographies. According to a recent PwC survey, 65% of workers over the age of 50 have expressed a keen interest in becoming independent workers, and a significant number of people using gig work platforms are over 40. This is not just a US phenomenon, either. Approximately 22% of Italians are already engaged in gig work, while my fellow New Zealanders are looking to shirk the regular 9-to-5.
People are beginning to realize that, for many jobs, where you perform the work is becoming more flexible. Always-connected mobile technology provides the capability to work nearly anywhere. That may mean simply grabbing a task or two to complete while standing in line at your grocery store or the check-in line for a flight or going to the extreme of becoming a digital nomad, roaming the globe and working from wherever you are that day/week/month. While still only a small percentage of the US workforce (~3% in Aug 2018), digital nomads are becoming increasing popular. An August 2018 Forbes article reported 27% of mainstream workers said they might become digital nomads in the next two to three years, and 11% said they fully planned to. Already there are websites, blogs and news articles dedicated to helping workers identify the best ways to shed the notion that the corporate campus, or any static location, is needed to engage in meaningful and gainful work. 

Of course, some types of work in the gig economy do require you to be “local” to your work (e.g., rideshare and delivery drivers, eScooter chargers, and TaskRabits performing a physical service).  

While some will decide to fully make their living through these long- or short-term gig engagements, others will use the gig economy as a means for supplemental or additional income in their spare time.

The variability of companies’ needs (cost, experience, alignment to values, availability, complexity, implementation of AI) requires new ways to manage their investments in talent.

Assuming you are a CX leader like me, you are not only well aware that the internal and external needs we are required to meet is growing in complexity, you are also aware that often these needs are competing. We are expected to provide world-class service and availability at ever-decreasing costs. AI, when implemented correctly, will help, and for many of us, it already is. And the technology will continue to improve, to the point that Servion Global Solutions has predicted that by 2025, AI will power 95% of customer interactions. Powering the customer interaction does not mean it will fully handle all of the interaction; high human touch will continue to have a significant impact on delivering comprehensive customer experience and contributing to customer loyalty.
Over the past 20 years, this drive for increased demand at lower cost has often lead to outsourcing on-, near-, or off-shore. While this practice can achieve great results, one often-cited downside is the lack of alignment to the culture and values of the organization. In many cases, the people now serving our customers have never experienced the issues our customers are experiencing. In this situation, true empathy is always going to be a struggle, no matter how conscientious the “agent” may be.

The desire for 24x7 coverage in itself presents cost impacts as we switch from optimized arrival patterns during “regular business hours” to coverage models to handle the dwindling volume after hours. Layer on top of this the headache of ramping up and down for seasonal and/or product-release surges.

It is not surprising that, according to a Future Workforce Report from Upwork, 59% of US companies are now using flexible workforces to some degree—remote workers and freelancers.

But it doesn’t stop there, another Future of Work report, this one released by Pega and Marketforce in 2017, says that 82% of the 845 senior executives surveyed expect outsourcing to large third-party providers to largely be replaced by the use of a flexible, freelance workforce within 10 years. Nearly half think this will happen within five years. Nine out of ten think it will be standard practice to use online marketplaces that automatically match workers to jobs based on data on their skills and aptitude.

Payment is becoming more fluid than the static hard currency of yesterday. 

Cash may still be king, but there are more players in the game. Increasingly as a society, we attach value to and are willing to trade time for a wider choice of “compensation” than just cash. In traditional work environments, crypto currencies are starting to make small but significant inroads as options for payment, even though there are still logistical complexities to work out, as highlighted in this CNBC article. Despite this, the gig economy seems to be a natural arena for the development of crypto currencies, especially where workers are international. A core example of this is, which established a digital asset called Electroneum to distribute payment to its workers anywhere in the world, directly to their cell phones, without the need of a bank account. 

Companies in the gaming industry are starting to investigate paying players in “in game currency” for providing support to other players. This is on top of traditional forum support communities where customers help other customers for status within their community. For example, members of Sephora’s Beauty Insiders community regularly assist other Sephora customers with product questions without compensation.
In our personal lives, many of us, including me, trade our opinions for loyalty points, store credits, and other virtual compensation that relates to cash in programs like Google Opinion Rewards. While Google doesn’t share how many people participate, there are over 10M downloads of the app just from the Google Play store. 

Consumers now trust other consumers more than they trust companies.

A combination of corporate scandals, missteps, and bad customer experiences continue to erode public trust in companies—think Cambridge Analytica, United’s handling of Dr Dao on Flight 3411, and the impact of less-than-stellar service you personally have received in the past year. According to “Trends in Customer Trust,” a report released by Salesforce in September 2019, 54% of consumers polled think that companies don’t operate with their customers’ best interests in mind. Add to this a report from Edleman that says a majority of consumers aged 18 to 34 are more trusting of influencers than a brand’s advertising and the results of an Olapic and Cite Research survey that found the majority of social media users looking for product information prefer posts from other consumers, with 51% of survey respondents saying they trust user images because they're more trustworthy than brand-owned creative.

Bringing these four trends together, I see compelling reasons to begin engaging and rewarding your existing customers to use their experience with and loyalty to your product/brand/values to help support other customers.

#GigEconomy #GigSourcing #Brett'sBlog