If you've been thinking about working from home but thought this type of work arrangement was only for web designers, writers, or computer "geeks", think again. There are numerous call center companies that have adopted this work-from-home model. And the number of virtual call centers are growing. This means more job opportunities for Americans who are interested in working from home as customer service representatives.
There are two types of virtual call centers: in-house and outsourced.
In-house refers to large companies that develop their own virtual call centers. Their human resources team oversees the hiring process, from call center supervisors to call center agents. These companies own their own dialing equipment and systems. They conduct their own agent training. Often, agents that work for these companies are or become company employees, not contractors. For example, American Express is a well known, large company that has their own call center and uses their own Customer Service Representatives. Candidates apply for customer service positions directly through this company.
- Pros: Company often provides full benefits: Health/dental insurance, vacation pay, 401K, etc. Higher pay than smaller companies. Equipment may be provided, such as computer, special headsets, webcams, and software.
- Cons: Very strict rules about your home work space. For example, they may want proof of a safe electrical system, fire prevention and evacuation set up, and even the they type of chair you sit in must pass their check point as being ergonomic. May have to travel for initial paid training.
Outsourced customer service companies take on other companies as clients. These companies hire outsourcing companies to handle their customer care needs so that they do not need to manage a call center, purchase equipment or software, or take on new employees. Very often, customer service agents are independent contractors. For example, Convergys hires home based care agents throughout the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom. These agents are independent contractors who are serving the needs of Convergy's clients, and these clients come from a wide array of business industries. (Hotels, airlines, flower shops, travel agencies, clinics, and more.)
- Pros: Workers have more flexibility when it comes to choosing their work days and hours. Training is usually online or virtual. Providing you have a quiet workspace, some of the other safety requirements are not necessary.
- Cons: Pay is generally less for an independent contractor of a smaller company. Little, if any, equipment is provided, other than the company software necessary for you to do your job. There are usually no health benefits. And training may not always be paid.
Regardless of what type of virtual call center you chose to work for, there are some common skills you need before either will hire you.
Experience & Education–The basic requirements to work as an At-Home Express Customer Care Representative for Xerox include:
- Possess a High School diploma or GED.
- Type 30 WPM
- Ability to utilize English verbally and written.
- Experience with Microsoft Office package desired.
- Ability to work independently in a fast paced environment.
- Familiarity with Windows and MS Office applications, as well as basic web navigation skills.
Skills–To be an E-Customer Service Agent for UHaul, you must have, at minimum, the following skills:
- Must be highly PC literate.
- Ability to download software is required.
- Applicants must have good verbal skills.
- Fluent in the use of Instant Message.
Personality–Being friendly is a great start, but it takes much more than a cheerful voice to make it as a successful customer care agent. According to a recent job ad from Enterprise Holdings, these are a couple of must-have skills for their home-based Customer Service Representative:
- Ability to remain resilient, project patience and empathy, and provide excellent customer service when dealing with stressful situations.
- Increased level of problem-solving and decision-making skills.
Office Requirements–Enterprise is very picky about their agents' home office set up. They are an in-house call center (see above description), so they exert a lot of control.
- Computer (PC, no Mac) OS Version: Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8 Computer.
- USB Headset with Microphone or PC speakers and microphone.
- High speed Internet access provided by a cable or DSL provider (Satellite broadband does not meet our requirements).
- Minimum up load speed of 1000 kbps (1.0 mbps) Minimum down load speed of 3000 kbps (3.0 mbps) Use of wireless and WiFi "air cards" is prohibited.
- Enterprise reserves the right to verify that your PC meets or exceeds the following requirements.
Office Set Up–When you work from home, it's very important to have a "real" working environment. 1(800)Flowers tells prospective home-based Customer Service Agents that they must have:
- A sturdy desk and a comfortable sturdy chair at a comfortable height with adequate back support. (5 legged chair highly recommended.)
- A workstation in a private, quiet area away from others in your residence and background noise.
Rules of Conduct–Other requirements by Enterprise, regarding general interaction with clients, are:
- Provide exceptional customer service and collect required information from the customer on every call per established criteria.
- Use experience to identify customer needs and handle accordingly.
- Demonstrate sincerity and empathy when appropriate by using the proper voice/tone pitch and word choice.
- Provide timely and accurate information reflecting a customer-oriented image for the company.
- Demonstrate and maintain professional oral and written communication with customers, co-workers and other company staff.
- Communicate information considered unsatisfactory by customers in a tactful manner.
- Offer alternatives and options to overcome objections.
Background–In all cases, regardless of company, you can expect a thorough background check, drug screening, work history verification, and possibly credit check. APAC tells their potential Work@Home Customer Service Representatives:
- After successful completion of a comprehensive background and drug screening, the applicant may receive an offer to join Work at Home's fantastic journey in our virtual classroom as a Customer Service Representative.
Related Knowledge–It's always best to have some knowledge or understanding about the business a client or company is in before applying to work for them. According to a recent job post for Home Based Representatives by Norwegian Cruise Lines:
- People who aren't passionate about CRUISING need not apply!
- People who aren't passionate about building DREAM VACATIONS need not apply!
Rules and requirements aside, what makes a good customer service candidate, from an employer's perspective? According to Sean Hawkins, a Call Center Manager, and co-founder of Call Center Weekly, "When selecting call center agents, soft skills are most important."
These skills include:
- Being a good listener
- Being a good communicator
- Showing good problem solving skills
- Possessing empathy
- Ability to follows instructions
Armed with this information about what is needed to become a virtual call center agent, and the skills necessary to succeed, it's clear that this profession requires much more than just a telephone and some spare time. There are equipment needs, mandatory office standards, desired personality traits, and background and work experience criteria involved. None of those are difficult to overcome; but it helps to have a good picture of what's involved before proceeding.
Have you ever considered a career as a Virtual Call Center Representative?
Bio: Pamela La Gioia has been researching and writing about telecommuting issues since the early 1990s. She is the founder and CEO of Telework Recruiting, Inc., a website that helps professionals in all fields find telecommuting employment.