Tech-driven innovation has spurred tremendous change across the contact centre across a broad range of entrenched industries in recent years, from the Netflixes of entertainment to the Ubers of transportation. This disruption is evidenced in a myriad of everyday interactions we increasingly take for granted. The most significant paradigm shift currently underway is the “uberisation” of the labour force.
For contact centre management, this trend poses an obvious question: will freelance agents soon become the norm? The jury’s still out, but organisations should exercise caution before employing freelance agents. Whether it is right for you is really based on the answer to two questions:
First, how frequently do you utilise 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 agents? 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.
It’s easy to forget now, but the ubiquity of freelancers is a relatively recent phenomenon.
According to the Bureau of Labour 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, it is more complicated.
In the contact centre space, agents often work with specialised 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 agent is at their job, the more sense it makes for an organisation to hire them on as a full-time employee.
This is particularly true in highly regulated industries like healthcare or finance. The concern there is that agents in these industries are required to give very exact, specific information where there are often regulatory requirements or other considerations that can have legal ramifications or regulatory penalties to the company if the wrong information is communicated.
Fortunately, these concerns don’t preclude today’s customer service agents from enjoying one of the greatest benefits popularised by the explosion of the “Uber economy:” the ability to work remotely. Owing to the advent of the virtual call centre, full-time agents are increasingly able to perform their duties from just about anywhere.
Delivered through the cloud, these virtual contact centre solutions facilitate seamless interactions with customers, providing everything that agents are accustomed to in a physical contact centre, including intelligent call routing, monitoring and performance optimisations, 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 heart-warming episode from the first time one of her sales teams realised they could continue working in the midst of a snow storm. “When they realised 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.”
According to the latest Gartner MQ for Workforce Optimisation, “By the end of 2018, 70% of organisations with over 300 customer engagement centre agents will take an integrated approach to workforce optimisation with their next round of technology investments, whether on-premises or in the cloud.”
No matter where the agent may work from, the skills and systems in place for their success are driven by your organisation.
Learn more about contact centre virtualisation from this Forrester report, ‘Contact Centres Must Go Digital Or Die’.