At our recent CX Gig Workforce Briefing at Microsoft HQ in Redmond, WA, we learned one thing for sure: There are as many possible applications of the gig workforce for customer experience as there are corporate use cases - and the number of brands sourcing gig workers for customer service and support is set to balloon in the coming years.
Of those in attendance at the briefing, less than 5% reported currently employing gig workers for CX functions, but around a third indicated that it’s on their two-year roadmap. The consensus in the room was that within five years, about half would be pursuing some type of gig strategy.
But what would that look like, exactly? While there is no “one size fits all” approach to Gig, our conversation over the course of the day uncovered a few key questions that each company must answer for itself:
- How do we define “gig workers”?
- How do we engage these workers within the CX organization?
- How do we train gig workers to maximize efficiency and deliver results?
- What are the risks in terms of quality, security, and the current legislative environment?
The answers may vary, but it’s worth finding out how different brands across a variety of industries are tackling these questions. Briefing attendees got the bird’s-eye view from third-party gig providers Robert Padron (Arise), Paula Kennedy (Concentrix), Megan Neal (Limitless), Matt Wheatly (24-7 Intouch), and Greg Hanover (LiveOps). Here’s what we discovered.
Defining the “Gig Workforce”
Plenty of companies currently employ remote workers, both part-time and full-time. The difference between the gig and work-from-home (WFH) models is that, while at-home workers are generally looking for a standard role within a single company, gig workers seek the flexibility of working when they want, however many hours they want, for whatever companies they want.
Whether at-home workers are W2 or 1099 employees, traditional WFH is still schedule-based, with set expectations on deliverables and hours worked (be it part-time or full-time). By contrast, gig workers are given the freedom to choose the work they want to do, when they want to do it, and earn per task completed regardless of physical location.
Gig’s flexibility and fluidity creates a unique challenge for the CX organization and a tremendous opportunity for companies that can harness its power.
Engaging the Gig Workforce
Gig Supply and Demand
The flexibility of the gig workforce enhances companies’ ability to deliver support to their customers when and where they want it – not where it makes commercial sense for the business, as in a traditional contact center model. But to keep those gig workers consistently engaged, companies should do three things:
- Ensure that there is going to be enough supply (volume of tasks) to fulfill the demand of gig workers to make working “worth their time.” Some companies guarantee a minimum earning value for a period of time when volume is uncertain. Companies can also offer surge pricing on days, and or times, when workers’ demand is lower than the supply of tasks to complete.
- Think differently about “service levels,” focusing more on the health of the crowd in relation to the volume. To ensure consistency, companies must have a high number of workers handling a low but financially effective volume of tickets on a regular basis. This allows for flex where spikes occur.
- Socialize gig hires to your brand and their fellow workers. Companies that can galvanize new gig workers into a team generally see higher levels of interest and commitment.
Skills-Based Talent vs. Fans
While some brands have successfully leveraged a highly engaged fan base as gig-based experts or ambassadors, not all gig workers need to be fans. Some surveys show that about half of gig workers say they are motivated because they “love the brand they are helping,” while the other half say they gig because they are getting fairly rewarded for their efforts.
The gig model enables access both to fan-based talent and skills-based talent. In general:
- Skills-based models give flexibility for multiple clients
- Fan-based models find that fans stick to a few brands
In cases where a third-party gig provider may have multiple clients in the same industry, guardrails are typically put in place to prevent individual workers from working across competing companies. For example, if a gig worker services a cruise line during one work period, he or she may not be able to service another cruise line for a month after that work period ends.
Gig’s Expanding Role
Increasingly, companies are looking to leverage gig talent across multiple areas of their business – from simple to complex, from direct-to-customer to, say, helping cleanse data for artificial intelligence (AI) use.
Companies are also looking to Gig to unlock access to new capabilities that don’t fit in the traditional box. For example, a company may transform its traditional training processes by engaging with gig instructional designers and adult-learning educators.
Training and Measuring the Gig Workforce
The beauty of a digital space is that it doesn’t matter where the workers are, so companies are not limited by geography to get the best talent. Gig has the potential to deliver not just flexibility (scaling up and down) but also access to wide-ranging levels of expertise.
In a Fan-based model, often you are tapping into the existing knowledge and firsthand experience with the company’s product/ service/ processes that allows this talent group to begin assisting customers almost immediately. The on-boarding focus here is on helping to confirm and refine this insight. With skills tests and access to additional knowledge information vs in-depth “training."
For Skills-based talent, training on the company, its products, services, processes, etc., are still necessary.
In both these situations, a key question is how to best “train” gig workers when they are scattered across the globe? First of all, consider the UX of the gig worker as much as the UX of the customer. Keep things as automated as possible; consider how you can transform existing content into bite size, just in time, and experiential modules; ensure there are interactive and experiential elements to the approach.
Once on-boarded, the digitization and immediacy of the gig platform also allows for faster capability to identify poor performance and block low performers from impacting customers. At the end of the day, gig workers need to perform as good or better than traditional workers or companies will not be successful in ensuring compliance and quality.
Risks & Opportunities
Despite real and lingering concerns around potential security risks to data and personal information when utilizing gig workers, the physical environment of a contact center may actually pose a higher risk for PII to be inadvertently unsecured.
- Gig workers are less likely to be able to collude with coworkers to defraud a company or customer, than those who are in direct physical contact in a brick and mortar setting.
- Average profile of these workers is at a higher level than general outsource center, older, more educated, more general work experience.
- Technology can be utilized to identify and “remove” any PII from the information passed to the gig worker, even if the customer attempts to add it (i.e. email address, credit card data).
- A number of the Gig Partner organizations are developing anti-fraud capability for collusion between consumers and gig workers to artificially create volume for personal financial benefit.
- Lastly, there is opportunity with the rise of Blockchain technologies to make the hand off of secure data even safer, both for the Gig and traditional sourcing solutions.
Even with the above safeguards, the reality is that not every interaction type will be suitable for handling in the Gig space. It will be up to each organization to thoroughly asses the level of regulation, risk, and tolerance associated with their interactions to determine what, if any, types of issues meet their unique needs.
The Evolving Legislative Landscape
How do you handle constraints of new laws for contract talent, e.g. the California law that goes into effect in 2020? Your best bet in the long term is to focus on doing right by your talent.
Set fair and reasonable rates to compensate your gig workforce.
Start with identifying the task types that are going to be placed into the environment, and how long that takes and what are the minimum wage elements within the environment that the work could be performed. This then helps to set the bands of what the appropriate fees will be and how that then dictated which geographical areas are likely to be attracted but those rates.
Look at the impact to the rest of your business by stripping out what often is less complex issues, i.e. do you need to pay more for the work that stays in your traditional model and does that offset the savings from the Gig?
Assess your responsibility for assisting and providing access to benefits.
Gig workers understand that flexibility may come as a tradeoff for access to standard benefits. Investigate what benefit packages meet your gig workers’ needs and expectations. Some will need health coverage, some will want life insurance, etc. One approach taken from the companies on the panel is to partner with third-party companies who provide these benefits, and direct workers to these companies on an individual or bulk purchasing power basis.
The bottom line.
Government regulations on Gig only pose a threat to companies if they use these restrictions as an excuse to avoid participating in the Gig Economy altogether. Businesses who embrace the opportunities Gig offers while remaining within compliance will reap the benefits.
Gig Briefing Takeaways
While there were several notable interactive discussions, here are a few key takeaways from the briefing:
- Gig starts with the talent. This workforce is proficient and passionate. Leveraging people who already love your brand only enhances the work they’ll accomplish. Gig talent works and behaves differently than call center talent, requiring different methods of training and functioning more proactively due to task-based results.
- Gig is a flexible model. The beauty of utilizing gig workers is that support can be scaled up or down as needed to handle spikes and lulls within your business. If you operate a highly variable call volume business or you need around the clock support – gig is a cost-efficient model for managing to your budget and supporting off peak hours.
- Engaging brand fans is not the only use case for a gig model. If your brand isn’t as well-known as Microsoft, and brand fans are not widely available, it doesn’t mean gig work isn’t the right option. Many gig workers simply love the flexibility of the work and enjoy the process of learning about various products and choose to perform work for brands where they’d be most successful.
- You can’t prevent gig workers from working with your competitors. If brand information is sensitive, you can choose to utilize a gig model and limit the information shared with a gig worker potentially working for competitors to avoid exposing sensitive information. While you can’t prevent gig workers from working with a rival company, agents are required to sign confidentiality agreements and there are known best practices to stay secure.
- Gig can be used to create a talent pipeline. A high-profile clothing company mentioned its strategy of utilizing students in fashion school for gig work, creating a pipeline of potentials to hire upon graduation.
While the day helped to clarify some areas of understanding about the opportunities, risks, considerations and applications of the gig workforce for customer experience; and highlighted that there is still much to learn; it is clear that a larger portion of the talent pool in the future will want to engage in this type of work. It came as no surprise that a common theme of the event included keeping people at the heart of what we do and to create an environment where workers can live with a strong work/life balance to keep them intrinsically motivated.
As Customer Experience leaders we must each decide if we want to wait and learn from the sidelines by observing others, or to dive in and begin making discoveries, take calculated risk, and explore opportunities ourselves.
As the adoption rate of the gig economy for CX continues to scale and proves to be effective, together we will continue to provide opportunities to learn, share, network, and engage to innovate and uncover all opportunities that exist within the emerging gig economy.
Special thanks to Brett Frazer, Head of Customer Experience at Sun Basket and co-moderator of this event’s corporate-only session, for his assistance and input to help us compile this article. Read Brett’s blog on CX in the Gig Economy here.#GigEconomy#GettingStartedwithGig#GigSourcing#TrainingGigWorkers#ManagingGigWorkers