Tech-driven innovation has spurred tremendous change across a broad range of entrenched industries in recent years, from entertainment (Netflix) to transportation (Uber) and everything in between. This disruption is evidenced in a myriad of everyday interactions we increasingly take for granted, like the ability to stream video practically anywhere or to order, for instance, a set of headphones and have them arrive in the mail the following day.
But arguably the most significant paradigm shift currently underway is the “uberization” of the labor force. From Uber itself, to services like Postmates and Zingy, consumers are becoming more and more accustomed to the idea of dealing with freelancer networks worldwide to procure everyday goods and services. For contact center agents, this trend poses an obvious question: will freelance customer service reps soon become the norm?
The jury’s still out, says Scott Kolman, Vice President of Product & Solutions Marketing at Genesys, but organizations should exercise caution before employing freelance CX agents.
“The question of whether it is right for you is really based on the answer to two questions. First, how frequently do you utilize the skill in your core business? Is this a dedicated, full time function, or more infrequent, part time? Second, what is the skill level of these reps? The more skilled they are, the more you want to keep them on your payroll because that’s your knowledge, that’s your expertise—it’s not just having a knowledge base to pull up, but it’s people that are really representing your brand,” he said.
It’s easy to forget now, but the ubiquity of freelancers is a relatively recent phenomenon. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 93 percent of all workers were full-time employees in 1995. Today, freelancers and temp workers comprise almost 15 percent of the workforce. But while this shift proved to be a natural fit for industries that rely on relatively unskilled workers, like drivers or movers, in other industries, the calculus is more complicated.
In the contact center space, freelance labor presents a Catch-22. Customer service agents often work with specialized information and address situations that demand expertise and nuance. Consequently, employers need to consider more than seasonality when deciding between a full-time worker and a freelancer.
The better a freelance rep is at their job, the more sense it makes for an organization to hire them on as a full-time employee.
This is particularly true in highly regulated verticals like healthcare or finance.
“The issue is that service reps in these industries are required to give very exact, specific information where there are often regulatory requirements or other considerations that can have financial and legal ramifications,” Kolman said. “You want to have those people on your payroll because they can make or break that relationship, and may even result in financial penalties to the company if the wrong information is communicated.”
Fortunately, these concerns don’t preclude today’s customer service reps from enjoying one of the greatest benefits popularized by the explosion of the “Uber economy:” the ability to work remotely. Owing to the advent of the virtual call center, full-time service reps are increasingly able to perform their duties from just about anywhere.
Delivered through the cloud, these virtual contact center solutions facilitate seamless interactions with customers, providing everything that agents are accustomed to in a physical contact center, including intelligent call routing, monitoring and performance optimizations, as well as integrated analytics. To the end user, these systems are essentially invisible, but for customer support reps, they can make all the difference.
Chrissy Linzy, manager of IT productivity at Red Hat, recalls a particularly heartwarming episode from the first time one of her sales teams realized they could continue working in the midst of a snow storm.
“When they realized that they didn’t have to close because people couldn’t come to work, they were giddy like school children. It was hilarious,” she said. “They could keep selling even in the snow. It blew their minds. They were so happy and so excited that they could stay open. We have made fans for life and they still bring us cookies sometimes.”
Read more: How to “Uberize” Your Business