Customer Service Is Changing in the Era of Uber

A recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that 10.1 percent of the U.S. population work in contingent jobs, down from 10.7 percent in 2005. While this might seem surprising, especially with the popularity of Uber and Lyft, it might not tell the full story. The bureau's survey didn't account for those who do gig or freelance work in addition to holding full-time jobs or those with multiple sources of income, like a full-time job and a side freelance gig. So, could the gig economy be bigger than we think? According to the Federal Reserve it is. Nearly a third of adults participate in some type of gig work, according to the Federal Reserve and a 2017 Upwork and Freelancers Union study found that 36 percent of the U.S. workforce is freelancing. And while the tech industry has been disrupted by the gig economy, there's an argument to be made as to why the customer service industry could be next.

As the gig economy grows, it is slowly starting to peak the interest of the customer service industry. In fact, 16 percent of customer service agents are already holding positions as on-demand agents, according to Aspect Software's 2018 Agent Experience Index. But the interest to get into a gig-like job is much higher, with 42 percent of all agents and 51 percent of young Millennials/GenZ saying that they would be interested in moving into a gig position. But even if there is agent appetite for on-demand work, is there something in it for businesses?

Benefits of Agents in the Gig Economy

There is no doubt that businesses are becoming increasingly mobile-friendly, and rightly so, considering that 95 percent of Americans own cell phones and one in five uses it as the primary means of online access. If companies are prioritizing mobility for their customers, it is essential that they prioritize customer service agents in the same way. For example, one of the benefits of being a gig employee in customer service is that an agent gets to experience flexibility in her work. While your typical customer service agent is usually sitting in a contact center behind a desk, the new wave of gig agents could be at home, at a coffee shop, or killing time between flights. Regardless of where they are, they are armed with their cell phones.

Gig agents tend to be more skilled in handling interactions on emerging channels, such as SMS or social media, compared to traditional agents. In fact, 45 percent of gig agents are trained to handle customer service via SMS or texting compared to only 21 percent of traditional agents. And when it comes to social media, 27 percent of gig agents and only 15 percent of traditional agents say their company has trained them on customer service via social. Employing gig agents allows companies to provide more flexible customer service, when the customers want, with a higher skill level on emerging channels while traditional agents continue to provide superb customer service through conventional channels.

There are many benefits to keeping your customer service agents engaged, such as reduced attrition and increased productivity, but one of the stand-out reasons is better customer service. When agents are engaged, they are happier and, in turn, they provide better service. And gig agents have all the reason in the world to be happy. According to the Aspect survey, 84 percent of customer service agents feel a work/life balance is essential to their workplace engagement. Gig agents also more likely to say that their employer is giving them the easiest and most up-to-date software to use. Giving Millennial-aged employees everything they want might not be the best business decision, but greater schedule control, work flexibility, and decent software appears to be, according to the agents themselves, a good recipe for increasing their productivity and improving the service they provide to customers.

Who better to solve a complex problem than someone who has experienced the issue. Companies like Directly have built a business around the idea of offering highly-skilled experts to work on-demand to solve customer issues versus the company solving them on its own. Handing off complex or specialized questions to an agent who wants to take it on will not only take the stress away from the traditional agent but will also result in a more satisfied customer. Because agents will be able to choose their work and the tasks they take on, they will be passionate about their services and more trusted by customers.

Without a doubt, there is a future for the gig economy in customer service. Companies that can leverage it where it makes sense can improve both agent and customer value. In a recent report, Forrester Research analyst Ian Jacobs wrote that "Brands that decide to explore nontraditional labor models can gain advantages beyond just serving customers with more authentic experiences. There are hard, bottom-line, and customer experience benefits to gig economy models, including faster response times, lower cost per interaction, and access to new and better-educated talent pools." By providing a flexible work environment, investing in your agent experience, and using workforce solutions that enable a mobile lifestyle for agents, you will create an engaged and happy workforce.

Chrissy Cowell is director of product management for workforce optimization at Aspect Software.

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Posted December 04, 2018