Few people in developed economies remain untouched by the gig economy. Whether that’s directly through working in it (like 3 in 20 of UK working adults), receiving deliveries at home, taking an Uber or something similar, or working with an outsourced service provider. Popular types of gig work range from mundane level activities to HR, IT, and legal and finance professionals. It includes writers, tutors, drivers, creative designers, translators, entertainers, book-keeping and handyman services. This article takes a closer look at the growing sector of the Customer Service gig economy, known as GigCX. GigCX can improve customer service with benefits for both brand owners and brand customers, and creates an income stream for knowledgeable brand experts.
The internet changed Customer Service
The rise of online retailing gave brand owners valuable D2C opportunities to get to know their customers, and gave customers the opportunity of direct relationships with their favorite brands, rather than with staff in the shops where they bought them. This required brands to invest in their customer relationships to answer questions, offer advice, and provide after-sales support. There were two obvious routes: staff-up internal teams, or use call centers.
Employed staff would have to be paid whether or not they were busy. This could lead to insufficient numbers of call handlers at busy times, and a surplus of them at quiet times. If a brand owner used a call center instead, they would be the ones to have to meet the challenge of providing a flexible level of service at an affordable cost.
Call centre negatives GigCX can solve
There are several downsides to call centres.
- They are a first level entry point for many employees into the workforce. While it provides them with their first regular pay cheques, competition among call centres to acquire customers has driven pay levels
down. Shift work and rigid schedules are less appealing today than they ever were, and there is a high churn rate of around 30-45 percent above the average for other occupations.
- Coupled with “quiet quitting” (the trend of doing only just enough to satisfy an unfulfilling job employment contract without being fired), there’s a reduced likelihood that a caller will be answered by someone who is either knowledgeable about a particular brand, or concerned about the quality of their response.
- Whilst all call centres say their top aim is to maximize customer satisfaction, call centre metrics mainly track agent productivity statistics, such as how quickly calls are answered and then how quickly they can be ended.
A growing number of call centres support their agents with AI-driven, speech-based tech to improve customer service. Even so, many customers now prefer to use a company’s social media channels to seek answers and information. This creates its own risks for brand owners. If the customers don’t get the information or support they expected, they are already in a place where they can publicly voice their disappointment and disapproval.
Crowdsourcing rather than outsourcing
Community Forums began a process of allowing customers to engage with each other through what could be called self-help groups. Call handlers are knowledgeable about a brand’s products, can share anecdotal tips, and are generally regarded by callers as more trustworthy than scripted employees. However, these call handlers are not paid, their efforts are totally voluntary, and as a group they can be difficult to organize. There can be queues of callers when not enough handlers are available; some may lack up-to-date product experience; some could even “go rogue.”
Gig economy-based CX (customer experience) appears to be a solution to improve customer service. Fans of a brand who are knowledgeable about its products can be elevated higher on a loyalty ladder, and create an income stream from taking calls to share their enthusiasm and product experience. Some may well already be brand advocates, using word-of-mouth to recommend a favorite brand among their contacts.
Roger Beadle, co-founder and CEO of GigCX specialist Limitless, based in London, UK, told us these roles can pay £7,000-£8,000 a year. Paying the brand experts creates a framework for control over when they work, to match adequate levels of cover with caller volume patterns.
Roger had a telemarketing role for American Express when he was a university student, and went on to run a pan-European call center that he sold in 2011. He spotted his opportunity, and today’s Limitless clients include major global brands such as Microsoft, PlayStation, HP, Dell, eBay and Samsung. These brands receive calls from all over the world. In addition to Europe and the US, he sees rising call volumes from Brazil and Mexico, plus Asia.
Can GigCX work beyond tech sectors?
Roger believes there is significant potential for the gig economy to deliver customer service in other industry sectors. They may not experience such a high rate of growth, and products may not be as technical, but many people have a portfolio of favourite brands they can share valuable knowledge about. L’Oréal and Unilever are already served by Limitless.
Recruiting brand experts to improve customer service
Limitless has a unique method of recruiting its brand experts: it asks each client to supply lists of candidates. They then verify each person’s identity, because they may be in a position to access sensitive information on the company’s database. They go on to check their soft skills and language proficiency. Then they test their product knowledge, and if they are still being considered they put them through some role plays, and then into a live group.
Most candidates work on just one brand, but nothing prevents them from applying for more sets of tests for other brands.
There are currently about 5,000 active brand experts handling calls through Limitless, in 22 languages. There are another 25,000 on the waitlist.
Trends in GigCX
Governments around the world, such as in the Philippines, are introducing new regulations and protection for people working in the broad gig economy, so that more people can take up new forms of work. GigCX work is also very relevant to developing markets such as Africa. People can work in more diversified and inclusive teams, from home, which can benefit many people who feel excluded from workplaces.
Call agents say they appreciate gaining new skills through the work; customers prefer talking to peers rather than employees; and more CEOs have told Limitless they are going to switch from a call centre to the gig model. What holds some of them back is a lack of familiarity with the benefits. They also want to see a competitor using it first, particularly in new market sectors where GigCX is not yet used.
Please share any of your GigCX insights and thoughts with us.