• January 1, 2019
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

The Gig Economy Isn’t New, but It Might Be Worth a Second Look

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As someone who has made a career in print journalism, I’ve gotten to know quite a few freelancers over the years. They’re really good and talented people. Heck, I even did plenty of freelance work myself when I was just starting out, as a way to get experience and supplement my income. I spent countless evenings and weekends running around to police precincts, schools, civic group meetings, political events, parades, and protests—after putting in a full day’s work at my regular nine-to-five job. The pay wasn’t great—usually $50 or $100 per story—but I got to pick and choose my own assignments, work at my own pace (as long as I met my deadlines), and carry out some noble purpose as I informed area residents where the latest homeless shelter was being built, which firehouses were closing in the latest round of city budget cuts, and how their elected officials were planning to spend their tax dollars. Freelance work even sustained me when I was out of work for nearly a year during the lean times in the early 2000s.

When I was doing this sort of work, it didn’t have the same fancy moniker that it does now. I was simply a freelance reporter/photographer; the term “gig economy” hadn’t yet come into vogue.

Today, the gig economy, as explained in this month’s feature article, “The Gig Economy Is Emerging, but Overstated,” by gig economy writer Paul Korzeniowski, is all around us. It’s growing, particularly in the CRM world, to the point that your customers’ next text, chat, IM, or phone conversation with customer service could be with a freelance agent.

According to Aspect Software’s most recent Agent Experience Index, 16 percent of current customer service agents are working gig economy jobs, and many more have expressed an interest in that type of on-demand work. There is a lot of debate about just how big the gig economy will get, but there is no denying that it is a reality and that it has some appeal for companies and workers alike.

Customers, on the other hand, haven’t really noticed at all. If you’ve been concerned that your customers will have a problem dealing with contact center agents who aren’t full-time employees of your company, don’t be. According to Aspect’s research, customers don’t really care either way. The study found that 61 percent of consumers care more about talking with an agent whose experience mirrors their own than whether the employee is a full-time contact center agent or freelancer. More than half said an agent’s employment status would have no impact on how they feel about the company and its brands, products, or services.

Korzeniowski’s article discusses many of the positives and negatives of the gig economy employment style and clearly points out that it’s not right for every company or industry. Before bringing freelance agents on board, weigh your options carefully and be prepared for a little extra grumbling from your HR department. Such arrangements do present staffing challenges when it comes to scheduling, demand forecasting, compensation, training, quality assurance, and worker motivation.

Know, too, that gig economy work is not right for every employee. In fact, Korzeniowski’s article maintains that, given the choice, most people—surprisingly, even Millennials—would prefer full-time employment over freelance and on-demand jobs. 

From my own experience, freelance work was fine when I was younger. Now, as I’ve aged, I’ve come to prefer something a little more stable and assured. At this stage in my life and my career, there’s a lot to be said for a steady job with a steady income and benefits. I prefer the structure of going to work every day for the same employer.

But, then again, print journalism is a shrinking field. In the growing CRM field, there is definitely enough room for companies to experiment with enlisting devoted customers who bring their product passion and knowledge to the job and can use their experiences to help other customers with similar issues. That is, at least, until the bots fully take over everything.

Leonard Klie is the editor of CRM magazine. He can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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