Work-From-Home Questions Answered

We were inundated with responses from Wednesday's segment on home-based customer service agents.

Based on questions from viewers interested in learning more about how to pursue this line of work, we're providing more details for your consideration.

This growing trend throughout the country is focused on agents handling incoming customer service inquiries from their homes while connected to a network via computer and phone.

It's replacing the traditional bricks-and-mortar call centers and helping to keep jobs in the United States as opposed to outsourcing them offshore.

For customer service agents, this offers the ultimate in flexibility.

You can schedule your hours and determine how much or how little you're willing to work.

In this case, working from home is not only a benefit, it's a requirement of the job.

Companies also can tap into a diverse pool of sophisticated workers who wouldn't ordinarily want to work in a bricks-and-mortar call center, but who would be thrilled to handle this type of work from home.

The result is improved customer service without the often-challenging cultural barriers, which is proving more important than ever for many of America's top companies, including banks, airlines, retailers and more.

Do you have the basic requirements?

To become a virtual customer service agent where you'd accept incoming phone calls from customers of large companies, you must have a computer, high speed Internet access, a landline telephone, and a quiet work space.

You must provide all of that at your own expense. You will be not reimbursed.

Are you a punctual self-starter?

Are you entrepreneurial? Not everyone is cut out for this kind of work. You have to thrive on running your own show. If you work best in a more structured environment, this kind of home-based call center work probably isn't for you.

Do you have a pleasant phone manner, common sense, and a desire to solve problems efficiently?

Prior sales or customer service experience is a plus, but not a requirement. Bilingual skills are also an asset.

In addition to typing, writing, language and computer tests, be aware that the application process, which differs with each company, may include background checks, credit checks and drug testing.

Hiring is handled online and on the phone, which mirrors the type of work that you will be doing.

Research the companies you might want to work for.

There are two distinct business models in this industry: independent contractor or employee.

One company, Alpine Access (www.alpineaccess.com) hires virtual agents as employees.

Other companies, including Willow CSN (www.willowcsn.com), LiveOps (www.liveops.com), and VIPdesk (www.vipdesk.com), among others, require agents to incorporate, and they're hired as independent contractors.

The main difference is that as a contractor, you are responsible for managing and paying your own taxes, as well as some other start-up costs. Visit their sites and explore the sections on how to become an agent.

Aside from determining on your own -- or with the advice of an accountant -- whether employee or contractor status is best for you, there are several factors to consider when deciding where to apply:

Location: At any given time, one company may be hiring virtual agents in your state while others are not. Check with each company to determine its current and ongoing needs for your area.

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