Are Gig Economy Workers the Next Agents?


Are Gig Economy Workers the Next Agents?

Like nearly every industry, today’s contact centers are facing a labor shortage. The Great Resignation and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have changed workforce availability and shifted how workers want to experience work.

With so many organizations having been converted to remote work over the last two years and 75% of companies planning to keep at least half their staff remote, contact centers are re-examining how to fill agent roles. One viable option is Gig Economy workers.

What Is the Gig Economy?

The Gig Economy comprises freelance or contract workers who typically supplement full-time workforces by providing flexible, temporary labor.

Gig workers take on project-based jobs or fixed-term assignments to fill labor gaps in various industries, supporting businesses with a variety of skills and services.

Many contact centers are familiar with the scalability that comes with business process outsourcing (BPO), in which an outside agency provides additional agent support on an as-needed or even full-time basis.

BPOs have enabled contact centers to quickly scale staff during high-peak seasons without the hassle of sourcing, onboarding, and hiring employees. Hiring gig workers is another way to solve that challenge.

Is Technology Replacing Agents?

The latest conversational artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, such as intelligent virtual agents (IVAs), enable contact centers to automate many routine and repetitive service requests, which can massively improve customer and agent experiences.

In many cases, customers now prefer using IVAs to self-serve for tasks such as booking appointments, making payments, refilling prescriptions, or checking order status.

In a world where everything is going digital, remote, and online, people are missing human engagement.

However, for urgent or sensitive issues, people still want to talk to people. In the most recent Five9 Customer Service Index research, respondents in the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Italy, and Spain all ranked voice as the preferred channel when dealing with customer service issues across age ranges.

Even in the 18–29 year-old group more than 40% preferred voice. And when it comes to urgent or sensitive issues, voice skyrockets as the preferred modality for more than 75% of all respondents.

In a world where everything is going digital, remote, and online, people are missing human engagement. They want to feel heard and feel understood.

Individuals crave those one-on-one, empathetic interactions where they can convey their frustrations and challenges. You can achieve this type of experience on the voice channel, which is why agents are still needed and likely will continue to be central to contact center success. They are certainly vital now.

Yet finding people to fill agent roles is challenging. Traditionally, agents have been employees that go through onboarding, training, and probationary periods, and are overseen and coached by supervisors.

While this model worked well with onsite situations, remote work has changed nearly all elements of the agent experience. Meanwhile, the typical applicant profile of a contact center agent has not changed. Many companies have not adapted their recruitment models and remain constrained by hiring “employee-only” status.

But as contact centers take a broader role in achieving customer success across support, sales, marketing, logistics, and more, having access to broader-skilled workers becomes necessary.

Why Look to Gig Workers?

Gig workers are well suited to roles in remote contact centers. These workers, by choice, prefer remote, flexible work arrangements and are adapted to a freelance mindset, making it easier to expand or contract agent numbers as needed.

Gig workers thrive on flexibility. In fact, according to Pew Research, 49% of them report that the ability to control their own schedules is a major reason they’ve taken on gig jobs over the past year.

For employers, it’s far easier to find gig workers with industry-specific experience who are open to training as agents and putting their “insider” perspectives to work.

This becomes even more applicable as contact centers expand the roles that agents fill — sales support, marketing, store associates, etc. BPOs could also benefit from hiring gig workers.

Because gig workers are responsible for continually finding work and supporting themselves financially, they tend to be invested in high performance and successful outcomes. After all, their next job depends on solid references and past performance. Most gig workers, therefore, are dedicated to doing the jobs well.

This is not to say a permanent workforce doesn’t do the same. It is just that gig workers tend to be motivated by successful outcomes and often see themselves as performing services for companies, rather than just filling a job.

So, for remote contact centers looking to fill agent positions on a temporary basis, hiring gig workers can provide multiple benefits.

Because they’re independent contractors versus employees, overhead costs are typically lower. Likewise, workforce scalability increases as you can hire workers for specific time blocks, whether short- or long-term assignments.

Beyond those advantages, the gig model provides:

  • A workforce that by nature chooses and prefers a remote work model.
  • Access to a larger labor pool, with diversity and access to a broader range of skills and experience.
  • The ability to hire specialized skills with workers who have industry-specific experience.
  • A flexible workforce, along with tools like IVAs, allows organizations to plan for expected spikes in demand and quickly respond to unexpected spikes in demand.
  • Workers experienced in a remote-team model and working with cloud-based tools and video.

Attracting Gig Workers to Contact Center Roles

Remote contact centers are here to stay because businesses have adapted to this model over the last two years.

While some contact centers will maintain onsite, most remote models successfully leverage the cloud and technology advances that make remote labor economical for the business and more attractive to employees.

Any contact center shifting to the cloud, or a remote model, can benefit from the shorter ramp-up times that gig workers bring when it comes to working in the cloud. Many contact centers have adopted split-shifts and “fill certain hours”-type schedules attractive to gig workers looking for flexibility.

…gig workers…are attracted to
positions that let them quickly leverage their talents…by being supported with technology…

Remote contact centers that have adopted intuitive cloud-based technology also provide an attractive workstyle for gig workers.

For example, agent assist tools can “listen” during interactions, transcribe, and summarize conversations in realtime. Using that information, they can also surface helpful resources, coaching tips, and other apps in realtime that can help agents resolve issues.

Agent assist tools that provide real-time coaching, including next-best-action guidance during customer interactions can also support gig workers and further reduce their ramp-up times.

These kinds of technologies make it easier to quickly onboard gig workers and they know they’ll have the support they need to succeed.

How to Recruit Gig Workers

While gig workers are responsible for continually seeking out new assignments, contact centers can focus on recruitment tactics that will reach and appeal to gig applicants.

Many gig workers are members of job boards or job communities geared to matching employers with gig applicants.

So, when posting job descriptions, make it clear if you are open to gig applicants in lieu of or in addition to FTE (full-time equivalent).

Remember, gig workers value flexibility, are typically more open to foregoing or negotiating benefits, and are attracted to positions that let them quickly leverage their talents by being supported with technology that sets them up for success. Make sure you mention these things in job postings and have recruiters highlight them.

Many gig workers operate on a referral basis, having developed a rich network over their careers. Networking can be a successful path to finding those workers who will bring specialized skillsets or managerial candidates.

A Win-Win

Gig workers and remote contact centers are well matched to provide mutual benefits. The gig economy is well-suited to support the success of contact centers as they move toward a model that blends live agents with AI to deliver the customer experience of the future.

Callan Schebella

Callan Schebella is EVP of Product Management at Five9. Callan has worked his entire career in Voice Automation, Machine Learning and related technologies, with a focus on creating solutions that make it easier for businesses of all sizes to build and maintain speech-enabled applications.