Don’t Fear The Gig Worker: GigCX And The Employment Reboot

Regular Intelligent Sourcing contributor and CX Files podcast co-host, Mark Hillary, has recently published a new book titled ‘Don’t Fear The Gig Worker: GigCX And The Employment Reboot.’ It’s an analysis of how the gig economy is entering into customer service and how it may actually help to address many of the post-pandemic requirements for more flexible work. Mark’s co-authors are the CEO and CRO of the GigCX technology platform LiveXchange.

This extract from the book is taken from the introduction, where the authors start connecting the flexibility and resilience of the gig economy with many of the trends we have seen in the Great Resignation.

“The great resignation is coming…”

Anthony Klotz

Associate Professor of Management at Texas A&M University

May 21, 2021 Bloomberg Businessweek

A lot has happened since our book ‘GigCX: Customer Service In The Twenty-First Century’ was published just over a year ago. When we sent the final draft of the book for publication it was still a week before Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their Covid-19 vaccine trial was successful.

It still feels so recent, but at the time that book was published, there was still no vaccine and a large proportion of the world was living under lockdown conditions. Much has changed in 2021, but the path to a post-Covid society has been more challenging than anyone could have imagined at the end of 2020. Progressing to a ‘new normal’ is proving to be a very long and winding road.

But despite the challenges, we are getting there. The world is learning how to live and function again. But this experience has changed consumer behavior and attitudes. At the time we are writing this introduction, the Covid-19 pandemic has killed over 5.5 million people. Almost 300 million have contracted the virus. Millions of people have witnessed illness and death up close.

In the middle of 2021 it was fairly common to read about more than a million Americans quitting their job every week. Anthony Klotz coined the term ‘the great resignation’ and a media storm continued for months as experts and analysts all asked why so many people are quitting – often not even changing job.

The Harvard Business Review analyzed over 9 million employee records at over 4,000 companies and summarized two main causes for the great resignation:

  1. With more people working from home (WFH), mid-career professionals with employee experience are far more attractive than younger employees that need more in-person coaching. So the market for mid-career professionals exploded.
  2. Many mid-level professionals will have avoided changing job during the pandemic, so as restrictions eased there was a double-whammy of more people looking for jobs and better offers.

Anthony Klotz and several other labor experts have suggested that the ‘carpe diem’ effect was also a major factor in accelerating the situation. This is where people question the value of their occupation and decide on a change of direction in their life. Why am I doing this when I don’t even enjoy it? I’m outta here!

Whatever the reason, companies were losing people. Some HR leaders suggested that smart companies could turn this situation to their advantage. By reviewing what their employees want from work and responding quickly to suggestions, some companies could potentially turn the great resignation into the great attraction.

The lesson here is that workers wanted more flexibility in their work location and working hours. Some wanted to return to offices, but many preferred to stay working from home. Workers, in general, wanted employers to acknowledge that they had delivered throughout the challenge of the pandemic  – maybe they could start asking for the right to work from home and expect a little more flexibility over their hours?

Academics proved the value of working from home several years ago. Perhaps the best known study was by Professor Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University. Bloom led an experiment with the Chinese travel agency CTrip in 2013 and demonstrated a 13% increase in performance for customer service agents working from home. In addition, home-based workers took fewer breaks and days off sick. The productivity gain of working from home was similar to every employee doing an extra day of work every week.

Some analysts are now asking if offices add any value at all when home-based professionals are so much more productive. The loudest voices crying out for a full-time return to offices are often commercial landlords or the owners of city center coffee stores.

We know the world has changed. Even those companies that retain offices are now offering their employees greater location flexibility. Major city centers are now far quieter on Monday and Friday as office workers focus their in-person meetings in the middle of the week.

Contact centers are no exception. When 5th Talent talked to almost 6,000 contact center workers in 13 different countries in 2021 they found that only 2% of the workers wanted to return to working in a contact center 100% of the time.

This book aims to explore this problem. Managers responsible for customer service processes know that their team wants more flexibility, but just allowing people to work from home is not the complete answer. If you need to work from 9am until 6pm every single day with a remote boss telling you when breaks are allowed then that isn’t very flexible – even if the worker no longer has to commute to an office.

The pandemic proved that WFH works. Academics like Nicholas Bloom had been publishing about this several years earlier. Our foreword author, Stephen Loynd, can point to his own published research from 15+ years ago promoting the virtues of WFH.

But real flexibility is about more than just the location where work is performed – for both employer and employee. Look at this summary from December 2021 of the four main challenges facing contact centers in 2022:

  1. Reducing waiting times
  2. Continuing to engage with remote workers
  3. Recruitment and retention
  4. Low customer satisfaction

These are perennial problems. If your contact center is making customers wait, customers hate the service they receive, you aren’t comfortable allowing WFH to continue, and you can’t find anyone who wants to work in your company then your current methods are not working.

In September 2021, the most in-demand job in the US was customer service representative. People want these jobs in customer service, but we all know that contact centers traditionally face attrition rates that are over 100%. That’s right, it’s typical to change every single person in the company every year.

There is another way to offer flexibility to employees and to build a bench of flexible talent for employers. In the customer service industry we call this GigCX.

Our earlier book introduced and explained the concept, but we want to go further now, to explore why employees are now demanding greater flexibility and what employers can do to meet these demands in a way that creates a win-win situation.

GigCX is focused on finding great talent and then engaging these people in a flexible way. The company indicates when it needs people and the workers match up the times when they want to work with the company needs. The workers are usually paid for each customer that is assisted – not for the time they spend on the job.

This can feel unsettling for anyone used to the concept of being paid to work by the hour. Government minimum wage standards are entirely based on the principle that workers are paid by the hour, not by their actions or achievements.

But in many industries this focus on delivery has been accepted for many years. There are still some journalists that receive a fixed monthly salary, but most are paid for each article they write.

As the authors of this book and our earlier effort to explain GigCX, we have often wondered if GigCX is the right title for this employment structure. When gig is mentioned, most people think of restaurant delivery drivers – paid for each delivery and working long grueling days just to achieve a low income.

GigCX differs in many ways. GigCX workers choose the brands they want to work with. They are often fans of the brands they choose to  support. GigCX workers can almost always earn much more than their peers working inside a contact center on a salary – payment for helping each customer is more valuable than a fixed hourly rate.

Employers that require flexibility at different times, such as the annual Black Friday boom in retail, can build a large bench of trained workers – many more than they usually require – so they can call on this pool of talent when needed. Everyone works from home so there is no need to worry about increasing the team by 50% for a month.

Many legislators, politicians, and even business leaders are still concerned about the gig economy. The Federal Trade Commission is working on various initiatives to restrict gig companies in the US and the European Union has drafted legislation granting employment rights – such as vacation time – to gig workers.

GigCX is a very different proposition to restaurant meal deliveries and in this book we will attempt to describe how a traditional customer service strategy – captive and internal or via an outsourced supplier – can be augmented with GigCX. The debate here is how GigCX can improve how customer service strategies function – not how we need to replace everything that currently exists with GigCX.

In this post-pandemic business environment it is very clear that companies require more agility and resilience than ever. Companies that survived the pandemic did so because they could quickly pivot and change focus. This requirement for agility will now be an ongoing requirement.

But employees also want change. They want to work from home when it suits them. They want to finish early to see their kid’s school play. They want professional jobs with great opportunities for progression, but without the traditional need to be stuck in an office for long hours at least five days a week.

In the customer service industry GigCX offers a way forward. We are not just designing more flexible customer service solutions, we are demonstrating the future of work itself. Connect the dots from the pandemic move to WFH and the present-day demand for flexibility and GigCX looks like an important part of the solution.

This book is a series of short essays that explore how work is changing in the 2020s and how Gig CX will be an essential component for the future of designing customer service solutions – we hope you find it both useful and enjoyable!

For more information about the new book, please click here.

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