In 50 cities across the U.S., Amazon is supplementing their USPS deliveries at times of peak demand using drivers contracting directly with Amazon in a program called Amazon Flex. Tapping for-hire drivers, each batch of deliveries is essentially a “gig” in the quickly growing trend of the Gig Economy. Popularized by Uber and Lyft, the Gig Economy pairs independent, on-demand contractors with organizations for short-term engagements. With Amazon Flex, the company uses a mobile app for drivers to post their personal preferred schedules, which can include very short availability windows. Amazon then displays available “blocks” of time for making deliveries. The driver selects a block, and at the designated time, goes to the local pickup location to start deliveries.
Other industries are quickly catching on for services such as furniture moving, dog walking and at-home makeup styling and the contact center isn’t far behind.
In the contact center, you can think of customer contacts as representing the work to be done (or the packages to be delivered in the case of Amazon). The times when customer contacts arrive and are completed create the opportunities when Gigs are available for contact center employees. Historically, most contact center agents have been employed as regular 40 hour/week full-time employees, even though their schedules might be erratic as call volumes rise and fall throughout the week. However, that history is yielding to pressures from many different directions that point to a very different future for a sizeable percentage of the agent population. Consider the following factors that make the Gig Economy attractive for agents and businesses.
Benefits of the Gig Economy in Customer Service
• Businesses Reduce Expenses – Using independent contractors in the contact center or any other type of business, can reduce the cost of employees by 30% because the employer is not required to pay benefits such as payroll taxes, insurance, or health benefits.
• Employees Can Work-at-Home –The 25% annual growth of work-at-home (WAH) agents is nothing short of spectacular and is a bellwether for the future of the contact center industry. WAH also creates part-time work for a whole segment of the population with physical disabilities, childcare needs or poor commuting options. With more part-time workers, contact centers also have a more agile workforce that can ramp up and down quickly, matching contact center staffing to call volumes.
• Businesses Can Access Specialized Skills – Since 81% of customers prefer self-service to agent assisted service, simpler issues to resolve will eventually go to automated self-service, and only the more complex tasks will go to agents. For more specialized skills, contact centers may need to reach out beyond that current geographic boundary, further stimulating the need for part-time work-at-home agents.
• Employees Get Flexible Schedules –Millennials dearly value their work-life balance, and that means that they want to easily flex their work schedules around their personal lives.
• Businesses Can Manage Volume Spikes – Millennials literally sleep with their cell phones, and their need to be always connected makes them perfectly accessible for notifications about unpredictable contact center “gigs” when volumes spike. The contact center can reach out to them anytime concerning a few hours of potential work with a good chance that the receiving Millennial got the message on his or her cell phone and read it.
Implications for Workforce Management Software
To empower agents with this flexibility and control while still meeting the needs of the business, the contact center must adopt new WFO tools, training, infrastructure, recruiting and management practices. This new model for labor participation requires a new set of contact center workforce management processes and associated technologies optimized for the quality of the service you want to deliver to customers.
The forecasting portion of WFM remains essentially the same in the Gig Economy. We still need to accurately predict the level of demand for staff for each type of work. But scheduling of individuals for the work predicted is quite different. We need new work rules such as:
• What is the minimum length of a work session?
• How much time-off must be allowed between work sessions?
• What is the maximum allowable time that can be worked per day and week?
Most contact centers do not want to make a flash conversion to Gig Economy scheduling, but rather phase in a portion of the agent base that prefers this highly flexible scheduling. The WFM software then must blend the traditional 8 hour/day regular schedules with these highly flexible schedules to find the optimum combination. This requires new mathematical models that can optionally give preferential treatment to the businesses KPIs or the agents’ desired schedules.
The Gig Economy is ushering in a new world for many industries, and certainly the contact center business is one of them. Although it’s not for all employees, companies like Uber, Lyft and Amazon have legitimized an employment model that gives high flexibility and easy part-time employment to those who want it.