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Does Employee Classification Matter to Customer Service?

As companies continue to look for ways to drive down operating costs one area that they’ve found savings is through employee classifications and outsourcing. This has significantly impacted contact centers, with a number of companies outsourcing their call center operations overseas or to independent contractors. Much has been written about the pros and cons of outsourcing this important service to overseas companies, but what about domestic agents who are hired as independent contractors rather than employees? Does classification matter when it comes to customer experiences?

IRS Crackdown

The federal government and states are joining forces to limit independent contractor violations as misclassification of workers has a large impact on state and federal coffers. Companies don’t want to be caught in the cross-hairs of a state or federal investigation because they were looking for seemingly easy ways to lower operating costs.  Periodically reviewing and assessing how workers are classified is important as the law is continuously being tested and tweaked depending on the outcome of court cases.
Once you’re confident that your agents are correctly classified, the next important question is, are you getting the most “bang for your buck” regarding customer experiences from your independent agents.


If your company’s contact center communications are heavily scripted and have little demands on the agent to access customer history or answer technical questions then hiring independent contractors directly may be reasonable and straight-forward. On the other hand, if customers that contact your company expect more expertise, personalized service, and the ability to be quickly patched through to another department, then contracting with companies that work directly with independent agents will likely be a better choice.  A number of companies including, SYKES and ContractWorld, manage independent contractors directly and train on your company’s behalf. If you’re asking yourself what’s not to love about outsourcing all contact center communications to independent contractors, it’s important to first consider the customer.

Companies invest a lot of time and resources into creating a culture that is reflective of the values and mission of the organization. When a large chunk of a company’s business is outsourced, it immediately becomes harder to control the quality and standardization of training. Keep in mind that when customers contact your organization they expect an employee who is professional, courteous, proficient and knowledgeable.  With more self-servicing options being made available to customers, the nature of calls between agent and customer is becoming more technical.

Some ways to standardize training for anyone representing your brand/product is to make your training materials nimble and flexible so that employees can access the same material remotely or in person.  Training manuals, videos, on-line portals and recordings should be readily available with minimal effort so that all representatives can be on the same page.

The Customer

There is no getting around the fact that companies are using independent contractors more and more. While this may benefit the company’s bottom line in the short run, if the customer experience isn’t well monitored or tracked because of excessive reliance on independent contractors, then short-term savings may end up costing more in the long run.

While there will always be a segment of the workforce that enjoys the flexibility and independence of working from home, it is much more of a challenge to inspire and create unity.  Inspired workers feel invested in by their employer. It is easier to deliver better customer experiences when you feel supported, well-trained, and valued. Customers are more willing than ever to pay more for a service or product if it means they’ll have a more positive experience.  No matter what fiscal decisions your company makes, it shouldn’t lose sight of the customer.

The bottom line is there is no singular or right answer for companies that rely on contact center agents. The industry is constantly shifting, costs are increasing, customer demands are changing, and technology is the great disrupter.  There is no denying the power of cloud-based systems for improving customer experiences while bringing overall costs down. At the end of the day, customers don’t care what type of software you are using, or where your agents are located. What matters most is they feel respected, listened to, and valued for their patronage. It’s up to you to ensure that anyone representing your brand or product is delivering this type of service regardless of their employee classification.