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3 Reasons Why Enterprises Need the Growing Gig Economy

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When most people hear the words “gig economy,” they think of Uber. To thought leaders, journalists and executives alike, the ride-sharing giant’s name has come to represent a new, global economic model where technology, sharing, and flexibility are cornerstones. Companies such as Paro for accounting pros, GrubHub for food delivery, and even Quip for dental care have been described as “the Uber” of their industries because they are solving a fundamental business problem in a new way. The New York Times once called my own company, Liveops, “the Uber of call centers.” Indeed, entire industries have been “Ubered” by disruptive innovations such as mobile GPS, peer-to-peer lending, and artificial intelligence, but “gig” and “uber” don’t do these business models enough justice.

I’ve spoken to countless enterprise decision makers who are enticed by flexibility and scalability, but express concern over how workers in “gig” jobs can maintain their company’s standards for quality. The good news for these executives is that Uber is far from the only company with a flexible operating and staffing approach. And outside of transportation, flexibility opens the doors for higher levels of dedication and tenure, which make the term “gig economy” something of a misnomer. Here are a few reasons why:

Opportunity #1: Unlock Underutilized Workforce Populations

Competition is fierce as companies struggle to find, train, and retain their best employees. Take my industry, call centers, for example. Given the talent shortage in a thriving economy, traditional brick-and-mortar call centers are forced to accept entry-level employees and invest untold sums in employee development and engagement programs that may or may not pay off.

In the enterprise gig-economy, customer service teams can gain access to a national network of skilled, incentivized agents who work remotely. For call centers, these “virtual” agents fundamentally differ from conventional workers in terms of career and educational background, demographics, and motivations. Compared to workers at brick-and-mortar locations, the average virtual agent is seasoned with 10 more years of work experience, 15 more years of life experience, and is more than two times as likely to have a college degree. Many are stay-at-home parents, caregivers, veterans, disabled persons, or retirees for whom the flexibility of gig work is essential, so they have been historically locked out of traditional 9-to-5 work—until now.

Mind-set matters, too. Virtual customer service agents are choosing to create careers in a service-oriented field because they like it rather than backing into low-paying and often temporary work. In many cases, they own their own businesses, invest in their own training, are dedicated to continually developing their skills, and care about their ongoing performance and longevity—not just the next milestone. Because of their age, they typically have realistic and sustainable wage and hour expectations. In other words, we’re definitely not talking about “gigs.”

This translates into savings and earnings opportunities for the enterprise in several ways—but ultimately it means a better customer experience. Self-motivated, entrepreneurial workers require less hand holding and stay satisfied in their roles for longer periods of time, so brands can save on workforce development and retention-recruitment efforts. For my customer service teams, self-trained agents reach—and frequently exceed—customer satisfaction goals quickly. Find a way to access the underutilized workforce population in the U.S. by reshaping shift requirements, putting more specificity to qualifications, or partnering with a company that can access people qualified for specific business process.

Opportunity #2: Access Talent Without Geographic Barriers

In the conventional brick-and-mortar employment model, brands are limited to recruiting employees who live in or near the location where they operate. In the enterprise gig economy, brands can prioritize the right experience and talent over location.

With online talent marketplaces, brands can source workers from anywhere. Many enterprise companies, including AT&T, Hilton, and SAP, already do. In a flexible, remote, and on-demand workforce model, workers don’t necessarily need to live in urban areas, nor keep typical work schedules. Additionally, last mile fiber is allowing enterprise-grade internet connections in rural areas, eliminating old geographic constraints on productivity enabled by high-speed internet connections.

Some companies, meanwhile, are leveraging the remote workforce to go hyper-local and tailor customer experience to certain regions and cultures. Through remote, flexible networks, any company can more easily source workers who share linguistic and societal ties with a particular consumer audience. Considering how a customer’s regional and cultural identity bears on everything from values and perceptions to buying habits, brand affinity, and feelings of security, navigating differences should be a top priority for the enterprise.

Opportunity #3: Enhance Security

Perhaps the greatest concern I have historically heard from the enterprise about the on-demand workforce is security: “How can we trust remote workers with sensitive customer data?”

I can confidently say that, as we enter 2019, this concern is unfounded. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, work-at-home environments offer better security than typical IT infrastructures. Specifically, larceny and theft risk is 300 percent more prevalent, and forgery and fraud 180 percent more prevalent, in brick-and-mortar environments than in agents’ homes.

That’s right—your data is probably safer in the right on-demand workforce model than in your current system.

How is this possible? One reason is the evolution of security technology. New technology such as blockchain and automation takes security risks out of workers’ hands, giving more control to providers or organizations, thereby mitigating the greatest cybersecurity risk of all: human error.

And the main driver behind better work-at-home security likely comes down to humans as well. Highly educated, skilled, and trained customer service agents are less likely to play fast and loose with sensitive data.Their investment in their own careers leaves enough at stake to deter them from engaging in misconduct. At the same time, on-demand workforce providers take great precautions to screen workers and restrict their access to any data not necessary to their jobs. At Liveops, for example, we use sophisticated gating processes and background checks to prevent bad actors from ever interfacing with clients’ organizations, among other industry-leading security precautions.

Better Workers, Deeper Connections, Greater Security—These are Just a Few Benefits

Make no mistake: the way we work is changing. Just dive into the McKinsey Global Institute’s research on the future of work, which does an excellent job of showing us how these changes are taking place. But we’re not becoming a world of Ubers—far from it. A new economy and workforce is emerging—the enterprise gig economy. It is one where brands can benefit from a highly skilled, motivated, and trained workforce, but whose individual schedules are flexible but together are stable and continuous. Said differently, brands can now hire the specific expertise they’re looking for to get the job done, on demand. 

A plethora of highly skilled workers partake in the on-demand economy, presenting the enterprise with numerous, untapped workforce opportunities. I would argue, in fact, that Fortune 500 companies actually stand to gain the most from this new economy, with large-scale customer service providers—including call centers—sitting squarely in the center. If they want to stay ahead, however, enterprise companies need to take a lesson from Uber and get behind the wheel.

Greg Hanover was named CEO of Liveops Inc. in 2017 after 10 years with the company in senior leadership roles. Liveops is a leader and pioneer in the virtual call center space, with a distributed workforce of over 20,000 domestic home-based agents. Before Liveops, Hanover was with West Corporation in a client services capacity. Prior to his leadership roles in the contact center space, Hanover held senior level positions the sports and entertainment industry.

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