The Role of the Agent in the Gig Economy

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The term “Gig Economy” (often called the “on-demand economy” or “access economy”) describes an increasingly common mode of employment popularized by companies like Uber and Lyft, in which temporary positions are the norm and organizations utilize independent contractors for short term engagements.

Gig Economy

In the contact center, you could think of the ACD and other contact center software as creating “gigs” for contact center agents, just like the Uber app creates gigs for Uber drivers. Historically, most contact center agents have been employed as regular 40 hour/week full-time employees, even though their schedules might be erratic as call volumes rise and fall throughout the week. However, that history is yielding to pressures from many different directions that point to a very different future for a sizeable percentage of the agent population. Consider the following:

Cost Savings – Using part-time workers and independent contractors, in the contact center or any other type of business, can reduce the cost of employees in the range of 30% because the employer is not required to pay benefits such as payroll taxes, worker’s comp insurance, unemployment insurance, vacation time or health benefits. A recent article in MONEY indicates that nearly three-quarters of companies plan to hire more freelancers this year as a way to avoid the higher healthcare costs they face as a result of the Affordable Care Act. The article also cites a study by the American Health Policy Institute which determined that the cost of the ACA to large U.S. employers is estimated to be between $4,800 to $5,900 per employee. If the employee’s average working time is less than 30 hours per week (i.e., “part-time”), the employer can avoid this cost. For better or worse, this will greatly impact contact center workers as this is a sizable percentage of their annual salary — one which many employers would like to avoid paying.

Work-at-Home Precedent – The Gig Economy is already in full swing in some segments of the contact center industry. The 25% annual growth of work-at-home (WAH) agents is nothing short of spectacular and is a bellwether for the future of the contact center industry. Offering both the ability to work remotely and part-time, WAH could be the future of the contact center industry. With the growing adoption of telecommuting in many businesses, why not for agents? It is a bit ironic that we ask agents to come to work in a central location, so they can immediately be isolated from their co-workers by cubicle dividers and enter a virtual world created by their workstation and headset. WAH also creates part-time work for a whole segment of the population with physical disabilities, childcare issues or poor commuting options. With more part-time workers, contact centers also have a more agile workforce that can ramp up and down quickly, matching contact center staffing to call volumes Of course, the success of remote agents is highly dependent upon excellent interaction management and WFO software such as is available in Aspect Via. WAH has huge momentum, and its growth will help make part-time contact center work commonplace.

Growth of Self-Service – In the past few years, technology has finally advanced to the point where it is a good substitute for a human conversation. And since 81% of customers prefer self-service to agent assisted service, the simpler work will certainly go to automated self-service, and only the more complex tasks will go to agents. Studies show that 95% of agents are only willing to drive up to 30 minutes to work. For these specialized skills, contact centers may need to reach out beyond that current geographic boundary, further stimulating the need for part-time work-at-home agents.

The Millennial Agent – Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, and contact centers are rife with them. It’s well known that Millennials dearly value their work-life balance, and that means that they want to easily flex their work schedules around their personal lives. Many value complete control over their work schedule above a higher income and/or benefits, and that’s the perfect profile of an Uber driver or part-time contact center agent. In order to empower agents with this flexibility and control while still meeting the needs of the business, the contact center needs to adopt new WFO tools, training, infrastructure, recruiting and management practices.

Millennials are also, “always on”. They literally sleep with their cell phones, and their need to be always connected makes them perfectly accessible for notifications about unpredictable contact center “gigs” when volumes spike. The contact center can reach out to them anytime concerning a few hours of potential work with a good chance that the receiving Millennial got the message on his or her cell phone and read it.

The Gig Economy is being hailed by some as a great opportunity for workers to control their own destinies and denounced by others as a way for companies to avoid payroll taxes. Whatever your point of view, TIME found in a recent poll that 22% of American adults, or 45 million people, have already offered some kind of good or service in this Gig Economy, so it’s likely here to stay. In the next few years, expect to see much more use of part-time (often WAH) workers, as contact center software providers like Aspect adapt their workforce optimization software for a much more virtualized and part-time labor force.

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Mike Bourke, SVP & GM Workforce Optimization

Mike Bourke is Aspect’s Senior Vice President and General Manager of Workforce Optimization. Mike is responsible for charting the strategic direction, and continuing the momentum of Aspect’s global workforce optimization suite and continuing the solution’s availability in the Aspect Cloud.
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