Like It Or Not, the Flexible Workforce Model Is Here to Stay

It’s the end of the world as we know it—and you should feel fine.

From the cubicle to the water cooler, from commutes to casual Fridays, the traditional 9–5 workday is starting to look like a thing of the past. Today’s workforce is increasingly remote, dispersed, and entrepreneurial. People are working where they want, when they want, and how they want to.

Throughout industries and regions, this new staffing model is becoming an unavoidable reality—the dominant way of doing business. In fact, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 73% of all organizations will have remote workers as soon as 2028. Freelancers currently comprise 43% of the labor force, and they’re on track to encompass the majority by the end of the decade.

However, not every organization is embracing the new reality or adapting to it well. This unfortunately includes numerous call centers and customer experience (CX) teams.

Let’s See the “Gig Economy” for What It Really Is

By and large, CX executives continue to refer to the ecosystem of independent work as the “gig economy”—a term that calls to mind a transient population of Uber drivers or Doordash delivery people taking on insubstantial, temporary work to make ends meet.

This perspective is both limiting and inaccurate. A better definition of the new economy would be the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”—or “Industry 4.0.”—terms Deloitte used in a recent report about the changing nature of talent acquisition and management.

The world isn’t witnessing a breakdown of work. Jobs aren’t being replaced by gigs. Rather, for many people, work is becoming more variable and dynamic, with hours and projects differing day to day. More and more employees are transitioning into freelancer or freelancer-adjacent roles, taking greater control over their personal time and space, as well as the arcs of their careers.

The changes are wide-ranging and irreversible. They impact people of all ages, abilities, educational backgrounds, and experience levels. We’re all living through the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It’s a mistake to think of remote workers as a marginal population—as an “alternative” staffing solution or a provisional solution during busy periods. In reality, the independent workforce is a diverse community of ordinary people, people who want what every professional wants: stable, rewarding, meaningful work.

Organizations that fail to see the new economy for what it is will face worsening staffing challenges. Already, brick-and-mortar call centers are struggling to attract and keep qualified employees. In 2020, there’s a good chance your best team members are the ones who can’t or would prefer not to sit in a centralized office for 40 hours per week.

Workforce 4.0 Is Better for Workers, Customers, and Organizations Alike

When they do acknowledge the reality of the new economy, executives still tend to feel hamstrung in their ability to take part in it. They perceive too much liability, too much uncertainty, too much change. Indeed, many risk-averse companies—including a number of multimillion-dollar retailers and financial institutions—have been loath to dip their toes into the new workforce model.

Decision-makers fear that remote, independent workers aren’t as reliable as call center employees. High turnover, heightened security risks, and the potential for disappointing, off-brand customer service experiences top the list of concerns.

The irony is that brick-and-mortar call centers are already rife with these issues.

First and foremost, call centers are understaffed. By some estimates, the average call center experiences an agent turnover rate of 30–45%. That’s 2–3 times as much as the national average for all industries in the US (15%), as calculated by SHRM. Reducing attrition remains the top priority for call centers, and yet countless organizations hold steadfast to a model that no longer serves them or their workforce. They continue to demand workers show up to demanding jobs in often undesirable locations, for meager rewards. (Perhaps it’s no surprise that 8 in 10 underpaid agents take on additional work—including, yes, driving for Uber and Lyft.)

Understaffing has a compounding effect. It stresses the existing workforce, increases attrition, and lowers customer satisfaction.

That last point should be particularly alarming for call center operators, as most customers already give companies far lower CX scores than those companies give themselves. Just last year, roughly half of all consumers (49%) switched to a competing brand after a poor customer service experience. Consider the fact that most customers would pay more for better experiences. Clearly, there’s a demand here, and clearly, call centers aren’t meeting it.

The on-demand workforce model fuels better CX for several reasons. For one, it gives organizations greater access to skill and talent. Agents can be sourced from anywhere; recruitment isn’t restricted to a metropolitan market.

Organizations that harness the on-demand model also gain crucial flexibility and elasticity for seasonal demands and unplanned call spikes. Customers don’t have to suffer through extended hold times and tension-filled conversations with overwhelmed agents—there’s always friendly, trained professionals ready when you and your callers need them. Organizations can scale up or down painlessly, responding to challenges and opportunities as they arise.

Psychologically speaking, remote agents are drawn to customer service work. They tend to actually enjoy what they’re doing and make careers out of it, rather than falling into an entry-level call center position as a means to make money in the short term. This also explains why remote agents tend to have greater experience than their brick-and-mortar counterparts, and why they start delivering profit and contributing to CX KPIs faster. On top of that, their autonomy has taught them to nurture discipline and accountability for their work—they have every incentive to provide excellent customer service at every opportunity.

Keep in mind that savings are built into the on-demand model. There are minimal unproductive hours or wasted overhead. Your organization only pays for agents when you need them. In many cases, independent workers also handle their own income taxes and healthcare costs.

As for security concerns, many executives are surprised to learn that on-demand staffing correlates with better security. Work-at-home systems are demonstrably more secure than a typical organization’s IT infrastructure. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, larceny and theft happens 300% more often in brick-and-mortar environments than in agents’ homes. Forgery and fraud occur 180% more often.

Make 2020 the Year You Embrace the Present and Future of Work

In 2020, the old ways of doing business are not only archaic, but financially untenable. The brick-and-mortar model simply doesn’t work for anyone—certainly not agents or customers. Fears of change make little sense when every problem the industry faces is part of the status quo.

Consider what the new economy could mean for your organization—everything you have to gain from tapping into the Fourth Industrial Revolution rather than running from it. Using an independent workforce could mean accessing top talent. It could mean improving retention, minimizing overhead, and reducing security risk. It could mean delivering better experiences for your customers and stakeholders.

Forward-thinking executives are embracing the new talent model and finding that they have little reason to look back. Either way, it may not be long before their peers have no choice but to join them. Whether it’s dying or evolving, the call center as we all know it will soon become a relic. Maybe that’s something to celebrate.


Guest post written by: Liveops

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. Hanover has extensive customer service expertise in the retail, financial services, healthcare industries, and holds an MBA and B.S. Degree in Marketing from Canisius College.