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Can Uber's Surge Pay Model Work in the Contact Center?

It’s rare to have a conversation about company culture without hearing the name Zappos.  Many leaders aspire to be more like Tony Hsieh, CEO of the online retailer, and countless job seekers dream of a coveted spot on the Zappos team.

Hsieh has long been known for his innovative approach to management, and it’s clearly paying off.  Time and again Zappos scores high marks for both employee and customer satisfaction. Their flexible work schedule, focus on work life balance, and awesome office perks (think gym , stocked kitchen and an emphasis on volunteerism) are all part of the appeal for employees. Now the company is testing out a new incentive for its customer support reps, and it looks a lot like Uber’s often criticized surge pricing model.

The basic idea:  agents who volunteer to work during the highest volume call times get paid more.  It seems like a valid to solution to one of the contact center’s biggest challenges: ensuring there are enough people in the right place, at the right time. But will it really work?  Should other contact centers follow suit?

I had a chat with a few industry experts, including ICMI’s founder, Brad Cleveland. The overall sentiment: this seems like another great idea from Zappos.

“The core principle driving contact center management is matching resources with demand. I applaud efforts to innovate and push this along, and this is another great example from Zappos,” said Cleveland.  “The Zappos experiment with ‘surge’ pay and flexible hours is a new twist on the ongoing challenge to be there and respond effectively as workloads evolve.”

Scott Sachs, President of SJS Solutions agrees that the approach is certainly intriguing.

“At first look, this strategy is the same as a shift differential which is used in many contact centers currently,” said Sachs. “Usually a shift differential is used to attract employees to the less attractive shifts which are usually evening/overnight and weekends (I would call these the inconvenient shifts).  The paradigm shift here is that the differential is more valuable for the busiest shifts not the most inconvenient shifts. It’s an interesting thought.”

Sachs says as long as the contact center has enough staff to handle the total volume of contacts to begin with, this model should work.  His only word of caution: don’t fill one void just to create another. 

“If there are enough overall staff to handle the call volume this may be a solution,” said Sachs.  “The question becomes whether the financial incentive being offered will be the “tipping point” to drive people to change shifts where the organization is most in need.”

It’s too soon to tell whether this surge-pay incentive will pay off for Zappos, but it does beg the question: what are some other incentives the contact center can use to better serve customers and better engage agents?

Brad Cleveland says there’s no one approach that works best for every center.

“Put some thought into your own approach—both how your organization is predicting resource requirements and innovative ways you can respond to reduce waits and hassle for your customers,” says Cleveland. “Zappos is charting an interesting course as an example, but there are many ways to go at it.”

Want to learn more about how Zappos is launching the surge pay approach in their contact center?  Read this article from Fortune.

Tell us what you think: is this approach good idea or bad idea?  Would it work in your contact center? Do you have other unique incentives to suggest?   Leave your comments below!