Gig Economy: A Lightbulb Moment for the CX Industry

By Jerry Leisure posted 03-28-2019 12:00 AM


In the near future, how we work, where we work, when we work—and, quite possibly, how we’re paid for that work—will be demonstratively different from what we experience today. Evolutions in technology, processes, people, and business will disrupt and drive this change. How they respond to these disruptions will determine which companies can continue to thrive.

At least one disruptive evolution is happening in our resource landscape today: gig-economy workers.

A recent Forbes column cites some interesting studies: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published a 2018 report on individuals in alternative work arrangements that says 16.5 million people now make up with is known as the “gig economy” in this country. And according to a Future Workforce Report from Upwork, 59 percent of U.S. companies are now using flexible workforces to some degree—remote workers and freelancers.

To better understand how we arrived at this massive workforce disruption point, let us learn where it all started.

In the early 1900s, a new invention changed the way people lived and worked: the lightbulb. Being able to see at times and in places that were once too dark significantly influenced when, where, and how people worked. Innovations in lighting (for which Thomas Edison deserves some but not all of the credit) have changed us forever. As the early twentieth century progressed, people experienced a mind-blowing transformation in their personal and professional lives. It all started with a lightbulb moment.

Fast forward 90 years. My first adult job was at a contact center. I sold MCI Worldcom Wireless cellular phones. I was required to be onsite every day for eight hours. My workstation had a Windows 95 PC, and the sales workflow was presented to me in a DOS window. When I started, I was manually dialing each number. Later, our center integrated an auto dialer, which made it possible for me to call 30 people per hour vs. 10.

In my next job, I worked mostly onsite at corporate HQ. About that time, however, a unique piece of technology was introduced that enabled remote workers to log into their corporate VPN. This was my first introduction to the concept of a work-from-home professional. VPN and remote-access capability has since evolved dramatically. (If you’re interested in more details, check out Golden Frog.)
This evolution has enabled new and amazing ways for us to work. As my career in the services area has progressed, I have witnessed many different and clever ways of working more flexibly, many of which completely changed what had been the standard services approach just a decade before.

The current gig-worker disruption has allowed leaders and companies to imagine diverse ways to incorporate freelance, gig-type workers into their resource planning and corporate resource strategies.

In customer service, it has led to really successful “work-from-home” or “gig-economy” type work. Here are a few companies that have excelled and capitalized on this disruption:

  1. Directly wants you to “tap the knowledge of thousands of expert users and technology to deliver better customer service at scale.”
  2. Upwork challenges us to “Hire freelancers. Make things happen.™Grow your business through the top freelancing website. Hire talent nearby or worldwide.”
  3. Modsquad asked the question, “How did a Silicon Valley lawyer's side gig moderating reality-TV message boards lead to the Mod revolution? Witness the dawn of the Mods as they provide avatar staffing for the Gossip Girl sims in Second Life and serve as virtual bodyguards for the Speaker of the House. Follow their stellar rise as they branch out to a squad of 10,000+ Mods, providing customer support, community, and social media services, all in the name of good. We are the Mods!”
  4. Arise believes it is “rewriting the future of customer care. The Arise® Platform connects independent call center businesses to Fortune 500 and other large companies to provide on-demand customer service and superior business process outsourcing results for other back office processes through innovative cloud technology and crowdsourcing, delivering exceptional operational and cost efficiencies.”
  5. Liveops believes, “The modern call center isn’t a call center. It’s a network of virtual, on-demand agents delivering unmatched scale and flexibility.”

Additionally, according to a recent Grant Thornton article, “The gig economy isn’t just for rides anymore. While Uber and Lyft may have successfully leveraged the contingent workforce, organizations of all types are beginning to recognize the significant benefits of this engagement model to attract the workers they need to grow their business.”

This means companies like Uber, TaskRabbit, Postmates, Doordash, and Lyft that manage gig-economy resourcing platformsmay be potentially seriously investigating how to use their own platforms to enable the services needed for their current and future products. Perhaps one of them is considering entering into the services business itself as a disruptor to traditional customer service, by flexing its platform power and reach.

As a customer success executive, I find these evolutions very interesting. As I consider the future of resourcing and staffing, I also consider the parallel transformation in payment and compensation. Over the last century we have seen a move from hard currency to paper, to credit cards, and now we are moving to virtual currency.

According to Forbes, companies raised more than $3.8 billion in 2017 in ICOs (initial coin offerings). Another Forbes article says that Bitcoin’s market cap is now more than $100 billion, making it worth more than Goldman Sachs or eBay. This demonstrates a move in progress for business and consumer payment from Fiat (or traditional currency) to Blockchain verified crypto payments. A recent announcement of a $100 million development fund between Forte and Ripple underscores the continued investment in and capability of virtual currency in the long term.

As we start to tie these two disruptions together, the question I ask is, “When will a services company encompass both?”

Can you envision a world where most all customer service workers are flexible and paid by token or coin? Will this come in the form of an existing company, new disruptor, or from the strength of a gig-economy platform? How will gig-economy workers force us all into a new way of being?

Personally, I believe we need to move away from the stagnant production-worker, industrial-revolution customer service set up we slave away at today.

What mindset shift is needed for our next lightbulb moment in the customer-service industry?

#Workforce Management