The Gig Economy Is Coming to the Contact Center

In the United States alone, more than 30 million people have requested government assistance for unemployment since the COVID-related shutdowns began in March. This is in addition to reduced work hours and pay cuts experienced by employees across many sectors. These aren't just numbers. They reflect people who must find ways to not only survive the downturn, but also adapt to the post-COVID economy to continue working.

So, what will the post-COVID world look like? No one has a crystal ball to answer that, but if early indications from other economies that have already opened fully or gradually are any signal, post-COVID contact centers will have a greater number of sanitary measures regulating employee movement and presence within offices, at least for the foreseeable future. To this point, Aberdeen recently surveyed 307 contact center leaders about their current and planned strategies. While only 14 percent of contact centers admitted having remote work capabilities in place before COVID, that increased to 52 percent in June. Sixty-two percent plan to continue increasing their remote work capabilities well into 2020 and 2021.

While the surge in remote work is interesting, it doesn't signal that contact centers are transitioning to an entirely remote work model. Rather, it means that more firms are planning to blend remote work with office-based work. Expanding remote work capabilities means that many employees working in restaurants, transportation services (e.g. airlines, taxis), hospitality, movie theaters, sports stadiums, and even healthcare can work remotely as contact center agents if they're concerned about exposure to COVID-19.

The gig economy is set to enable contact center leaders with a diverse set of talent across numerous industries. Gig economy workers are not salaried full-time employees. They work part time, typically pick the services they want to deliver, and often don't have contractual commitments tying them to a specific employer. Former employees of restaurants, hospitality outlets, and entertainment firms can provide their services to companies based on the time they are expected to work. In fact, even current restaurant, hospitality, and entertainment workers can take advantage of the contract work for added income as a contact center agent working remotely.

To take full advantage of the gig economy in the contact center, firms must ensure that each person working in this capacity on their behalf is qualified to deliver top-notch customer service. Hence, it becomes even more important for contact center leaders to build a profile of the skills of their top-tier agents so prospective gig economy talent can be evaluated against them. Because the long-term availability of gig economy workers is often unpredictable, contact center leaders must also increasingly use automation to adjust forecasting and scheduling based on changing customer traffic and the availability of both full-time, salaried contact center agents and gig economy agents.

It's also important to keep in mind that contact center agents—whether salaried or part of the gig economy&nmash;have a direct impact on business key performance indicators, such as customer satisfaction, service costs, and first-contact resolution rates. As such, it's crucial to track and measure the performance of gig economy agents and score them on performance. This allows firms to continue using the services of gig economy agents while driving desired results and avoiding those who fall below standards.

As an added benefit, contact center leaders might find that some of the gig economy workers are high performers. This allows them to locate new talent without the added cost and effort of recruiting, hiring, and onboarding. Considering the high churn rate among contact centers agents, the gig economy provides an opportunity to partially address the problem.

While the gig economy is not yet top of mind for many contact center leaders, now is the time to consider how your company can leverage the availability of such personnel to continue delivering top-notch service while expanding service delivery capabilities when needed.

Omer Minkara is a vice president and principal analyst covering contact center and customer experience management at Aberdeen. Follow him on Twitter at @omerminkara.