When the term “gig economy” first started to catch flight, it was used to refer to people who were unemployed and making a living by working a series of part-time jobs to make ends meet. This hopping around process became known as “gigging”, however gigging as we know it today has taken on a new meaning.
Today, gig economy workers are voluntarily choosing self or at-will employment arrangements as a lifestyle decision. The Sydney Morning Herald found that almost a million self-employed Australians work on a freelance or project basis rather than in permanent jobs. This has led to more employers engaging with independent workers on a short-term contract basis. The workforce is increasingly moving towards on-demand, flexible work, and many young workers are championing this movement away from the traditional full-time employment framework.
While it’s important to understand the pros and cons of this style of employment for the employee and employer, what we’re interested in specifically is how this trend is impacting on customer experience.
One of the main challenges is skill development. Due to the lack of formal training that a gig economy worker would receive compared to a permanent worker, it becomes much more difficult to manage the skill level and behaviour of employees. This could potentially mean that gig economy workers are not provided with the adequate training, and consequently the customer will be the one who suffers at the end of the chain.
In addition, it can also be difficult to ascertain whether a gig economy worker will provide a customer with the same level of care and commitment as a permanent worker. It is widely assumed that a full-time employee will have a higher level of loyalty to the company, and consequently this means that they will be more willing to put in effort for a customer and work to uphold the company’s brand reputation and values. While this cannot be used as a sweeping statement, it is still worth questioning whether a gig worker would have the desire to consistently perform at their best if they are less likely to share the same close affiliation that a long-term employee feels towards the company.
While a higher level of loyalty is typically expected from someone who is a permanent and long-term employee, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t an opportunity for gig workers to go above and beyond for the customer. If anything, they can be more willing to put in extra time and effort because they are able to complete the work on their own terms. Gig workers could therefore potentially provide a higher level of customer experience because they aren’t constrained by their employer.
There is also an opportunity for the gig economy to decrease the total costs of operation for companies who hire freelance and contract workers. In turn, this leaves potential for a greater proportion of spend to be invested back into CX services and technology.
It’s clear that despite the underlying challenges, there is potential for companies to leverage the modern gig economy to improve customer experience. While many still question how employees who wish to be free and hop from one job to another can ever become a true brand ambassador without the long-term company relationship, length of employment is not necessarily an indicator of customer experience. Regardless of whether a company is engaging with workers on a long or short-term basis, the employee needs to be prioritised in the process of developing a customer driven strategy. Gig workers bring a fresh set of eyes and skills to the table, and it is up to employers to provide them with the adequate information and resources needed to meet the customer expectations of the company.