More on Virtual Work: Customer Service

Forget data entry. The most common question I get about work at home options is from people seeking data entry work. They imagine a company sending them files of papers to be input to a computer system. The assumption is that must only know how to type; no other skills required. That type of work simply doesn't exist in any legitimate form from home.

A popular category for legitimate home-based work is virtual customer service. The companies that provide such opportunities operate virtual call centers by managing the systems, technology, certification and training to handle incoming customer calls and inquiries for large clients such as airlines, financial institutions, retailers, catalog companies, infomercials and more.

These calls are answered by certified virtual agents from the privacy of their home offices in the United States. With only a few exceptions, these people are paid as independent contractors, not employees. Some require individuals to incorporate, others don't. Demand for specific skills varies with each company, but almost all require individuals to have a dedicated phone line, relatively new computer with high speed Internet access and a quiet work space.

Kids playing, doorbells ringing and other ongoing distractions can be heard through the phone and are the basis for termination of service agreements. Compensation ranges from $8 to $20 an hour depending on skill level and performance. Most companies calculate pay based on actual time spent taking calls. Some people make a full-time living in this line of work; others use it as supplemental income.

The most frequent complaint I receive about this line of work is that there are no opportunities in a particular state. Each company has different needs at any given time. They may recruit more in one time zone during certain months than others. They might not have the ability to do business in some states. I can't recommend one over another because every company is different.

That means if you're interested in this type of work, you must do your research to decide which, if any, company is best for you, based on its eligibility requirements, clients, available shifts, required skills, contractor status and pay range. Just about all of them require that applicants pay for a background and credit check as part of the application process.

These are just some of the companies that offer credible home-based opportunities, each of which differ from the other. Keep in mind, only you can decide whether the opportunity is right for you, so do your research by carefully reviewing the company Web sites, talking to their representatives and understanding the requirements, performance and pay models. Alpine Access ( West

Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on ABC's "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women for Hire. Click here to visit her Web site at

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