The Support Team Behind the Gig Economy

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Customer Service
Here’s what it takes to keep customers—and contract workers—happy.

Driving a car. Ordering takeout. Grocery shopping. These daily tasks and more have been flipped on their heads by companies that support the “gig economy” (businesses that use contract workers as their front-line employees). 

But customers—and workers—still need help. Consider a driver whose business app isn’t functioning or a restaurant that runs out of an ingredient and needs to inform the customer about a delay. Contact center associates fill in those gaps by performing critical functions such as customer service, tech support, sales, and more.

Contact centers have a key role to play in helping the gig economy continue to rise. Here are a few key trends in how contact centers are evolving to support the gig economy. 

Supporting the gig economy

According to a 2017 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, The Value of Flexible Work: Evidence from Uber Drivers, flexible contract work has increased by 56 percent over the past 10 years, with more than 16 percent of U.S. workers engaged in flexible contract work as their primary job.

With more people taking on flexible, contracted work, there’s a greater need for contact center teams to help keep contract workers—and the gig economy—running. In fact, the gig economy is a “triple win” for customer service, noted Shep Hyken, customer service and experience expert, in a recent statement.

“For companies, it allows for great flexibility in staffing during busy and slow times. For ‘giggers,’ they like the flexibility of being called on when needed, the extra money, and work that can be tailored to fit into their lifestyle. And finally, for customers, it means a better service experience, as even during busy times, the company is staffed to deliver fast support when the customer wants and needs it.”

A consumer’s customer service needs aren’t necessarily the same as a gigger’s or independent contractor. The gig economy’s customer support needs can be categorized under three pillars:

Customers—They expect fast, convenient, and personalized brand experiences. They also don’t think in silos and so they demand consistent and seamless support, whether they’re talking to a third-party partner or an employee on a phone call or text message

Independent contract workers—Their pay is contingent on completing a job or task. So it’s imperative that they receive fast and frictionless support. Every inefficient minute is time wasted for contractors when they could be making money elsewhere.

Enterprises—Companies that are part of the gig economy are nimble and agile. They need a support system that not only changes quickly based on the needs of the business, but also proactively provides feedback on improving operational efficiencies and other insights. 

Understand who’s being supported

A contact center associate must be able to navigate each of these pillars and understand their unique needs and expectations. That can be a tall order for a traditional contact center plagued by high turnover and outdated systems. Here’s how a modern approach to support can help solve those issues.

• An AI-powered chatbot can provide fast answers to quick questions for each type of caller from “Where’s my delivery?” to “What’s my login and password?”

• More complex questions are immediately forwarded to a human associate who has a record of the caller’s interaction, allowing the associate to jump in without asking the caller to repeat the question.

• A virtual AI assistant retrieves information for the associate, reducing time spent searching knowledgebases and allowing the associate to provide even faster support.    

• During training, associates could ride along with drivers  or experience the “gig” to understand first-hand the challenges they encounter and what their needs are.

• A data analytics platform that’s connected to customer and contractor feedback provides team leaders with insights on pain points and opportunities to improve the customer relationship.

The advantage of enabling associates to handle any support issue, whether it’s for a customer, contract worker, or employee, is that they develop an interchangeable set of skills. Combined with allowing associates to work on a flexible schedule means enterprises aren’t paying for idle time. Companies can deliver more cost-effective customer service with higher satisfaction rates.

Taking personalization to a new level

Millennials are leading the way in accepting contract work, among other industries. Nearly half (42 percent) of all self-employed individuals in the United States will be millennials by 2020, according to a recent study by FreshBooks, an accounting company, and Research Now.

As more millennials enter the workforce, companies can differentiate themselves by communicating with millennial workers in the ways they’re accustomed to. Forward-looking contact centers are deploying technology platforms that allow for omnichannel communications to meet those needs. 

A worker, for example, might call the contact center with a question while he or she is in the car and continue the conversation over text or email. Associates should be able to pull up notes about the conversation without asking the contract worker to start from the beginning.

Also, time is truly money for a contract worker and so, real-time support is critical. By capturing and modeling demographic and behavioral data, companies can automatically connect customers with the right associate and contract worker. For example, let’s say a customer calls for assistance installing several smart devices in her home. Her demographic data shows that she lives in San Francisco, CA, has two kids, and is a veteran.

The AI-powered routing system sends the caller to an associate who has a similar background—three kids, has lived in Redwood City, CA, and is also a veteran. The customer quickly feels comfortable with the conversation while the associate looks up a technician. The system could then recommend a contract worker who can also relate to the customer.

Not every customer service call will be as smooth, but data segmentation and advanced analytics remove much of the guesswork and optimize the touchpoints between a customer and a contract worker.

At the same time, it’s imperative for associates to be aware of complaints and questions that are being lodged and understand which ones to prioritize quickly. Machine learning algorithms can answer the repetitive questions and flag the complicated topics, while “learning” how to respond to more questions in real time. Hybrid AI and human contact center solutions like this are already in place and continue to grow in sophistication. For gig economy work where every minute counts, they can be a differentiator.

The value offlexible work

Another area that’s quickly developing is  contact center flexibility. The days are gone when associates could only do their job at a desk in an office. More contact center associates have the option of working from home or wherever they’re comfortable.

For instance, contact center associates—who may be contract workers themselves—may decide to start the day as a driver. During a slow period, the driver/associate may decide to respond to emails or answer calls from home before heading out to pick up more passengers in the evening.  

What’s more, an associate who’s well acquainted with the brand that he or she supports can also provide more authentic support.

Think of a dedicated gamer who works for the game developer’s contact center and can provide highly informed answers to users’ questions. While this may not be possible for all brands, recruiting contract workers who are already brand advocates is another way to boost engagement and deliver better customer experiences.

To recap:

1) Deliver customer engagement through as many channels as possible. The more truly omnichannel your company can be, the better experiences and choices your customers will have.

2) Gig economy companies must leverage sophisticated analytics in order to match contact center associates with customers and contractors.

3) Add more shift flexibility to your contact center associates, allowing them to fit work into their schedule and deliver more happiness.

The bottom line is to think creatively about customer support. As Ian Jacobs, principal analyst at Forrester Research writes in a report, “Brands that decide to explore nontraditional labor models can gain advantages beyond just serving customers with more authentic experiences. There are hard, bottom-line, and customer experience benefits to gig economy models, including faster response times, lower cost per interaction and access to new—and better educated—talent pools.” 

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION