Woman taking pictures of Christmas meal on table

External Workforce Is Key for Customer Satisfaction in Times of Disruption

As the holidays draw near, my native Germany transforms into a dazzling wintertime spectacle of abundance and good cheer. Yet for all the sparkle of the season here in Germany, I must admit I also admire the uniquely North American tradition of Thanksgiving. Every November, Americans – and Canadians a month prior – gather with family and friends to break bread and take stock of the many blessings in their lives.

Gratitude shapes the perspective we all need to evaluate what truly matters most in our lives. Typically, it’s the people around us. At home and in our communities, we cherish our family and friends. In the workplace, meanwhile, it’s our colleagues and customers who cheer on each other’s successes and reinforce a sense of shared purpose.

For businesses grappling with the disruption associated with COVID-19 since last year, that shared purpose has been put to the test. Amid fractured supply chains, logjammed seaports, and uneven public health measures, an agile workforce has often meant the difference between maintaining operational continuity and falling short on promises made to customers. Business leaders seeking to extend competitive advantage in these uncertain times have had to rethink how to recruit and retain an agile workforce and – just as importantly – how to manage it to sow customer success.

In nearly every instance I’ve observed since the coronavirus crisis began, businesses that adapt successfully to rapid shifts in supply and demand have relied on the contributions of highly skilled external talent, ranging from contingent labor and independent contractors to freelancers, consultants, and temporary staff. These non-traditional workers supplement the skills of their traditional counterparts by lending organizations the flexibility they need to instill resilience, ride out labor shortages, and come out stronger on the other side of the pandemic.

Just as external workers have proved crucial to enabling businesses to take steps toward recovery, cloud-based technologies have become increasingly essential to providing the visibility needed to manage these workers effectively. Research shows that external labor accounts for 42% of workforce spend overall. But even though 70% of business leaders indicate they use digital platforms for services procurement, only half as many turn to technology to help manage their contingent workforce. Thus, nearly two in three business leaders fail to capture significant value created by these vital workers. Yet the need to reap maximum value from them remains acute, particularly as COVID-19-related disruption tightens its grip on supply chains across many regions and industries.

Performance unmeasured equals value untapped and, ultimately, ambitions unrealized. Customer satisfaction typically rises or falls in direct relation to an organization’s agility and responsiveness to the accelerating pace of change. That’s why the external workforce is so consequential to strengthening operational interdependencies. It’s also why cloud-based platforms for managing this pool of talent deepen the resilience of businesses and their customers alike, even as ongoing disruption bears down on both. Visibility into the engagements of the external workforce – as well as into other core, increasingly integrated operational processes – improves an organization’s predictive capabilities, restores regularity to its trading patterns, and augments its ability to meet or exceed customer expectations.

For nearly two years, the external workforce has played an indispensable role in keeping commerce flowing – and customers satisfied – across all industries. Some of the most vivid examples include those associated with infrastructure critical to us all: the nurse practitioner who, pulling a double shift, renders aid to the ill and lends comfort to anxious loved ones; the truck driver who, passing fewer open petrol stations than there used to be, replenishes remote grocers with fresh produce; the safety engineer who, after reminding her children to turn in their homework online, works the night shift at the nuclear plant to ensure the lights stay on for millions.

As we raise a glass this holiday season, acknowledging the many people in our midst for whom we’re grateful, let’s be sure to include a special word of thanks for the external workers who’ve made our lives fuller, safer, and healthier – and for the technologies that magnify the favorable outcomes of their sacrifice on behalf of us all.


Thomas Bamberger is president of SAP Customer Experience & Engagement.