Will the four-day week trial findings drive a customer service revolution?by
The world's biggest trial of a four-day working week has concluded that its impact has "extensive benefits". But what does it mean for customer service?
The world's biggest trial of a four-day working week has concluded that its impact has "extensive benefits", especially for employee well-being. So with many companies invovled in the trial continuing to operate with a shorter working week, and the results potentially opening the way for many other companies to follow suit, what does this mean for customer service and customer experience management?
Between June and December 2022 a pilot programme was launched in the UK by 4 Day Week Global to examine the potential benefits of a four-day working week for employees, exploring its impact on areas such as stress, job and life satisfaction, health and energy use.
The programme, saw more than 3,000 staff at 70 British companies working a four-day week with no loss of pay, in what is said to be the world’s biggest trial of a shorter working week.
The findings have now been shared in a new report.
Key findings include:
- Business performance and productivity both scored an average of of 7.5/10 on two separate scales.
- Revenue rose by 1.4% on average over the trial.
- When compared to a similar period from previous years, organisations reported revenue increases of 35%, on average.
- The number of staff leaving fell by 57% over the trial period.
Overall, 92% of organisations involved with the trial are continuing with a four-day week.
What the report only touches on lightly, however, is the impact on customer service. Other than a mention of productivity improvements being driven by the automation of "certain aspects of customer service", it's difficult to gauge what impact - if any - a four-day week has. And if productivity and performance are rated well during the trial (7.5/10), does that mean there has been no discernible drop in service standards? Or does this mean there has been an 'acceptable' drop?
Revenue has apparently risen on average, so it could be argued that if there has been a drop in quality, it hasn't impacted the bottom line. So does it really matter?
What are the service challenges of a four-day week?
Paul Louden, regional director UK & Ireland at Sinch, says: "The shift towards automation within customer service is already well underway, so any move to reduce the availability of live agent support by shortening the working week would only serve to expedite this.
"However, good customer experience is about supporting customers 24/7, regardless of whether businesses operate a four- or five-day week.
He adds: "In reality, many businesses are just at the beginning of their journey towards fully-automated, conversational customer engagement at scale. But as the pandemic lit the touchpaper for digital transformation, this major shift in UK working patterns will help to turn that march into a stampede.”
Dr Kam Star, VP, product portfolio, SS&C at Blue Prism, agrees: "If a four-day week does come into effect, organisations will become increasingly reliant on technologies such as chatbots to deliver compelling customer service.
However, he notes: "Chatbots are great for simple tasks, but they are not able to do anything that might require human empathy. So, in a portion of cases, they are unable to provide a satisfactory experience for the user. They are not able to use their knowledge and skills when they interact with the user. They also cannot use their emotional intelligence in order to provide a better customer service experience.
"So, whilst they are able to provide a service that is faster and more convenient for customers than human personal assistants, they tend to fall short in situations where a human touch is needed or the solution to the problem is complex and requires creativity. Businesses that are using chatbots to enhance their customer services will need to carefully consider how they effectively orchestrate their human workforce and chatbots in order to create a seamless and positive customer experience throughout the week."
The customer service benefits of a four-day week
So is it going to be a tricky balancing act? It depends on how you manage the four-day week, says Jo Ayoubi, CEO of Track Surveys. “If you're offering a four-day week, but it's actually a five-day week squashed into four long days, then customer service and experience will suffer. Tired, overworked employees don't offer a great customer experience!
“On the other hand, if you've carefully planned your four-day week, so that staff have enough cover on their days off (this is easy using flexible schedule tools and apps), then your employees will be rested and refreshed. And customers will feel loved too!
“So the message is: plan carefully, and tell your employees what you're doing. Make it really clear how the four-day week is going to work. And don't forget to get regular feedback from employees. You can make useful tweaks if you know what's working and what isn't.”
Iain Fisher, director at global technology research and advisory firm ISG, adds: "An organisation that deploys a rigid four-day week may struggle to compete in customer experience and customer service against one that doesn’t, simply due to availability of contact staff.
“The current proposals allow for a gold option of 32 hours per week over four days (eight hours per day) or a silver option of 35 hours per week over four days (8.75 hours per day). On paper, the gold option is a simple pro-rata of a 40-hour week and the silver option means you work almost the same hours in a shorter time period so may need the extra day to recover anyway.
An organisation that deploys a rigid four-day week may struggle to compete in customer experience and customer service against one that doesn’t.
“The answer to this is simple, and usually overlooked. Not all employees get the same four-day working week. Some do Monday to Thursday, and some do Tuesday to Friday. That way there is overlap in the customer contact area which vastly reduces customer experience impact.
“Also, through working at home or remotely using hybrid tech, employees can be more productive in the same time span. I have experienced this pre-pandemic and the simple spread of resources was the cure. It’s not complicated. It takes well-planned solutions that will maintain customer experience and customer service.”
“The only way a four-day working week can be implemented effectively, without any negative impact to customer experience, is by using a shift pattern,” agrees Lewe Goldmann, supply chain & operations director at CLOUD NINE. “This becomes even more crucial if a four-day-week system were adopted on a more national scale, as customers would be likely to use some of their additional day off contacting customer services to resolve any issues with services and products.
“Without a shift pattern, response times to customer queries would increase. This is for two reasons - one, people would experience longer periods with no available customer service; and two, there would be a larger backlog to clear when teams return to work after the extended weekend.
“However, if used with a shift or rota system, a four-day working week could have a significant positive impact. This is because shift patterns allow you to increase the availability of customer experience teams, and therefore speed up the response and resolution time to the benefit of the customer.
“At CLOUD NINE we have moved to a rota pattern for the customer experience team, enabling them to work from home for two days a week. This has increased our availability for customers from 08.45-17.15 to 08.00-20.00.”
Of course, as the trial has been successful, there may be a stampede to embrace the four-day working week model, meaning service strategies may have to switch up their shift patterns anyway to accommodate changing customer behaviour.
"The increase in leisure time afforded by a four-day week creates opportunities for brands or organisations that provide customers with entertainment, purpose or self-development,” notes Dave Pattman, customer experience MD for Gobeyond Partners, part of the Webhelp Group. “However, if a four-day week becomes the norm, we should expect changes in how and when consumers choose to contact an organisation.
“With fewer working days becoming more intense to maintain 100% weekly productivity, time for life admin tasks will likely be grouped and shifted to the non-working weekday, whichever day that may be. We may see brands adapting contact patterns throughout the week to accommodate this change.”
Ultimately, as suggested in the report, customer service teams and contact centres should see the potential implementation of a four-day week as an opportunity to drive innovation.
Samantha Richardson, principal visioneering consultant, EMEA Lead at Twilio, says: “For a long time, contact centres have been scheduling around flexibility, in many ways actually being pioneers for a four-day working week.
“If we’re looking at a more wholesale change, though, the suggested change in working hours is an opportunity to rethink the contact centre entirely and enable operators to 'work smarter, not longer.' Reducing the burden on operators can also eliminate low-value interactions. By improving automation and processes, as well as introducing channels such as WhatsApp and other chat apps that can help manage volume asynchronously, you’re not then having to rely exclusively on voice calls that can lead to frustrating wait times.
“Flexibility in work types could then also be an additional consideration, with time split between answering different channels, as well as focused on front and back office. This kind of change in work distribution is ultimately better for employee wellbeing and performance - which can only be a positive thing for the end-customer."
Are four-day weeks working so far?
Of course, the final word should go to a couple of companies that are already running a four-day system.
Madeline Paddock is a digital marketing executive at Ascent Group – a collective of six recruitment brands that all specialise in their own niche. One of these - TechNET IT Recruitment - implemented a four-day working week a year ago.
“We have found that by implementing a four-day working week, our consultants feel more energetic, positive, and morale is boosted in the office,” says Madeline. “This impacts our customers as our consultants spend around 50% of their day on the phones, speaking with clients and candidates – therefore a positive attitude and high-energy is key for building relationships and providing the best possible customer service.”
More recently, professional services SaaS company Scoro has also launched a four-day week.
Fred Krieger, founder and CEO of Scoro, says: “We found that, on average, we worked 20-25% less on Fridays. Now we are on a mission to prove that, with the right foundational changes, you can save time while maintaining the same level of work and customer service.
“Happier employees = happier customers. But employees will only be happy in a four-day work week that's been properly engineered to ensure success, and not cause chaos.”
With the findings of the UK-wide trial now available for all to digest, there will undoubtedly be greater calls for a shift to four-day weeks. From the information we're given, there appear to be no serious commercial repercussions, and the signs are it has encouraged innovation. Could a customer service revolution be around the corner?
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 20 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined MyCustomer in 2007.
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Very Nice Info.