Would a four-day week improve or impair customer service?by
The UK is trialling a four-day working week to explore its benefits. Would four-day working weeks benefit customer service - or damage customer experiences?
Last month a pilot programme launched in the UK to explore 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, which launched on June 6 and will run for six months, will see more than 3,000 workers 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.
Previous studies conducted around a compressed four-day working week have indicated that employees maintain the same productivity level, while improving job satisfaction, company loyalty and teamwork. Furthermore, happier employees also mean less absenteeism, better employee retention - and potentially better performance. So with that in mind, could a four-day working week improve customer service and customer experiences? Or would it harm it?
What are the service challenges of a four-day week?
“The way we work has been rapidly evolving over the course of the pandemic with the introduction of a four-day working week trial in the UK, the next stage of hybrid working,” says Charley Longfellow, senior director of EMEA at Momentive. “However, the question remains whether companies can innovate in how they get work done without sacrificing the quality of customer experience.
“Momentive’s research in the UK highlighted that the top benefit employees would choose to be introduced would be a four-day work week (42%), and thus from an employee experience perspective it’s clear that this strategy could help attract and retain talent. On the other hand, customers expect exceptional customer experience and an instant response all round the clock. Hubspot released a report saying 82% of consumers expect a customer service response within 10 minutes. That’s hard to pull off under normal circumstances, let alone with a shortened workweek.”
Paul Louden, regional director UK & Ireland at Sinch, predicts: "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 4 or 5 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.
But 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 8.45-17.15 to 8.00-20.00.”
Of course, should the trial prove to be a roaring success, and the majority of organisations embrace the four-day working week model, 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, 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 almost 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 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 4-day work week that's been properly engineered to ensure success, and not cause chaos.”
With the UK-wide trial set to run until November, there will be plenty of time for organisations to work out the pros and cons of the four-day working week, how they can re-engineer their working systems - and whether or not customer service will suffer as a result.
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.