Companies around the world now use virtual call centers staffed with agents who work from home.
Every now and then I’ll meet people who tell me about a recent customer service call they made. I always get a kick out of their surprise once I tell them the agents they spoke to were most likely home workers. “What?” they’ll exclaim. “I wish I could do something like that!” To which I reply, “You can!”
Companies around the world now outsource to, or have created, virtual call centers staffed with agents who work from home. And the number keeps rising. This means more and more job opportunities for anyone interested in working from home as a customer service representative. But how does one land such a seemingly ideal job?
Before I start name dropping places for you to apply let me explain something: Not all call centers are created equal. There are pros and cons to everything in life and working for a virtual call center is no exception.
There are basically two types of call centers businesses use: their own in-house center or an outsourced one.
“In-house” essentially means that companies create their own departments solely for handling their customers’ issues. This is typical for very large companies. (Think American Express) These companies hire and train their own agents. Agents are supervised by company employees, who often work from home, too.
Working for In-House Virtual Call Centers:
- Pros: These companies often (not always) provide benefits: health/dental insurance, vacation pay, 401K, etc. Since you’re an employee, not a contractor, these companies may go through great lengths to train you. You’ll become very educated in whatever it is you’re selling or assisting customers with. More likely your pay will be higher than if you were a contractor. Also, your equipment may be provided to you, such as a computer, specialty headsets, webcams, and proprietary software. Finally, there is room to grow: home-based supervisors were at one time home-based call center agents who worked their way up.
- Cons: These companies have very strict rules about your home work space. For example, they may want to see proof a separate work area, a safe electrical system, and a fire prevention and evacuation plan. They may require you to own office furniture that passes their ergonomic requirements. The rules involving the use their equipment may include that you not use it for any personal use. (Yes, they will monitor you.) In sum, when you work for an in-house contact center you belong to the company, just as if you were on site. Finally, you may have to travel for initial (although paid) training if they don’t do it online. In some cases, to eliminate travel expenses, some companies may only hire local candidates, which can immediately rule you out.
When a large company has both on site and virtual call center agents, things can get even trickier. According to Sean B. Hawkins, a call center manager and the editor of Call Center Weekly, “Engaging the [virtual] team is difficult if they work from home. When the company has events that remote agents can’t attend, they tend to feel left out. Also, in most companies, if you work from home as an agent, there is little chance for advancement for roles that require you to be in the office. Therefore, this may not always be the best option if you want to move into leadership roles.”
Working for Outsourced Virtual Call Centers
Outsourced customer service centers are stand-alone companies that specialize solely in customer service issues. Outsourced centers take on companies as clients and then care for those companies’ customers. Small- to mid-sized companies often outsource to such companies so that they themselves do not need to hire, train, or manage a call center staff.
- Pros: You will usually be an independent contractor. This affords you more flexibility when choosing your work days or hours. Often, your training is given online, eliminating your need to travel. It also means your geographical area is irrelevant, making this option even more flexible. Providing you have a quiet, functional work space, many of those in-house center home office rules are usually not required.
- Cons: Pay as an independent contractor may be less because you are working for a “middleman” rather than directly for the actual company whose customers you are serving. Little, if any, equipment is provided other than proprietary software necessary for you to do your job. There are rarely health or other monetary benefits. Training may not always be paid. Finally, because you’ll be assisting different customers for a variety of clients you may feel there’s never time to thoroughly learn a product or service before you have to move on to another project. This can be particularly frustrating because outsourced call centers are less tolerant of agent mistakes, and are not open to off-the-script customer care because of the agreements made between their clients (companies) and themselves.
So which call center option is better? Perhaps the best indicators of the type of virtual call center to work for are your lifestyle and flexibility needs, your family’s needs (such as insurance), your current level of call center experience, and if you have an expertise in a particular field or industry. Regardless of which you choose, be prepared to meet some criteria before either will hire you.
Your turn: Do you work for a virtual call center? Is it in-house our outsourced?
Next: What To Expect As a Virtual Call Center Agent (And who’s hiring!)
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