The Covid-19 pandemic has been a disaster for many industries, but we are now seeing more than just the shoots of recovery – some sectors are soaring. Take a look at apparel sales for one example. Compared to the same period (Q4) in 2019 analysts are expecting to see a 59% increase in sales this year.
That’s compared to the last final quarter before the pandemic. The level of growth is astonishing. I expect that some of this growth is pent-up demand – customers spending less during the pandemic are returning again – but even so, it’s still impressive.
Many of the new shopping behaviors we experienced during the pandemic will stick around as well. 18% of customers bought products online that they had only ever bought in-person before. 35% said that they did not miss in-person shopping. 33% of millennials bought items from another country using e-commerce platforms – often purchasing directly from brands rather than retailers.
Retail companies often face problems when sales temporarily increase. How long have you had to wait in the past when trying to return a product bought during Black Friday or Cyber Monday? If many different retail sectors are facing a similar boom to apparel then customer service levels are going to deteriorate dramatically.
What’s the answer?
This research indicates a very good place to start. There are around 60 million freelance workers in the USA alone – gig workers. They actively choose to get paid for individual tasks (gigs) rather than basing their income on the amount of hours or days worked.
This model applies for the customer service environment too. Retailers that are struggling to cope with a 59% increase in sales, and all the extra customer interactions this will inevitably create, need to tap into this pool of workers. You can’t just ask everyone to wait while you build an extension to your contact center.
Use your contact center as the core of your customer service team, but build up a bench of workers hired using a “gig cx” model. Then you can ramp up quickly to cover the sales and holidays. You can reduce cover when it gets quiet again in January. You can expand your gig team without the need to build any additional facilities – these are all going to be agents working from home.
Almost 60 million Americans are now working this way. They want flexibility and they want to be paid each time they help a customer. You should be enjoying this market growth, not struggling to serve everyone and developing a reputation as a brand that lets down loyal customers.
This is not just a US-focused solution – customer service specialists across the world are now exploring how to blend some gig workers with their core – in the contact center or working from home. It makes sense – the problem of seasonality has always existed and the traditional overtime bans and moving people around from one team to another have never been good enough solutions. It’s time to really design for flexibility at the heart of a CX solution.
Keep your contact center, but build a flexible layer on top so you can tap into the millions of workers who actively want to operate within the gig economy.