Want to be a home-based virtual agent?

By Tory Johnson

Sep 30, 2009 9:15pm

Everyone wants to know how
to work from home as a virtual customer service agent.   Some of you think it’s a snap to
get started and you assume everyone is approved.  Others know it’s an opportunity—not an easy one, but
certainly a rewarding one—to earn $10 an hour while wearing your slippers.

I work with
two leaders in the virtual agent industry—
Arise and VIPdesk, both of which are
actively recruiting now—and I asked them for the lowdown on how to determine if
this may be right for you.

Jared Fletcher, vice
president of Sourcing for Arise Virtual Solutions, and Linda Dickerhoof,
director of public relations for VIPdesk, both agreed to a virtual chat.

1) What are you
recruiting for right now?

Fletcher: As part of an
effort to boost call center resources for the holiday and cruise "wave
season," Arise is seeking 3,000 additional at-home workers. The expansion
follows a move by retail and travel & hospitality companies to boost the
quality of customer service to maximize sales for what is expected to be an
economically challenging period.  In addition, we are recruiting for
licensed Florida insurance agents to support our insurance clients.

2) With so many
companies laying off, why do you have such a great need for new agents now?

Dickerhoof:  Two reasons.  Seasonal rush: We always have a high demand for Brand
Ambassadors in the fall, as our retail clients ramp up for the holiday sales
rush.  And new clients! 
Companies are realizing that because of the high-caliber of people who work at
home as home-based agents, the end result is better customer service for their
clients, which results in larger sales, higher customer loyalty, and
more.  As such, Virtual Customer Care is fast becoming the customer
service solution of choice for many large companies—we are currently both
working with new clients and increasing the amount of work that we do for
current clients. 

3) Arise doesn’t hire
agents as employees.  Would you
explain the relationship between Arise and its home agents?

Fletcher:  It’s key to understand the
business-to-business relationship home-based agents maintain with Arise. Arise
Certified Professionals (ACPs) are independent business owners that manage
their own businesses. An Arise Certified professional (ACP) is required to
establish a Virtual Services Corporation in order to contract with Arise under
a Master Services Agreement to receive calls from people requesting products or
services from Arise clients.

There are tremendous benefits for you as
a Virtual Services Corporation. You are free to choose the clients you wish to
service as well as when and how often you work within the guidelines of a
service contract.

As an Arise Certified
Professional providing customer interaction services through your Virtual
Services Corporation, you choose the clients and the applications you wish to
service from the list of available certification courses for which you are
qualified.

4) There are often
misunderstandings about the amount of work and when someone is required to
work.  Help!

Dickerhoof:  The first misunderstanding that I often
hear about working as a home-based agent is workload.  Home-based agents
get one customer contact (i.e. call or online chat or email) after another
after another. They aren’t just sitting around, they respond to many client
inquiries per hour.

Scheduling is actually
done based on agent performance.  The better an agent does in regards to
meeting expected client metrics, the better schedule they get. 
Unfortunately, just because someone wants to work (for instance) Mon, Wed, and
Fri from 10-4 doesn’t mean that they will get this schedule if someone who is a
better performer than they are also wants those hours.  We recommend that
when Brand Ambassadors enter their available hours, they enter their “real”
available hours, not just their “dream” schedule, as a way to help increase the
hours available to them.

5 
) What’s the average
pay?

Dickerhoof:  The average Brand Ambassador makes
$10-$12/hour.

6) How do I know if this is right for me? What are the skills and
equipment required?

Fletcher:  Successful Arise agents share the
following characteristics: 
 they possess tremendous entrepreneurial skills; they are
self-motivated; they are professional and capable of providing a high level of
service; they enjoy the freedom that running their own business allows them;
they are positive and optimistic; they are tolerant and accepting of differing
viewpoints; they are comfortable with numeric reasoning; they log-in on time
and honor all time commitments; they have basic computer skills; they are
self-motivated and conscientious.

7) Who should potentially think
twice?

Dickerhoof:  If you really need someone “looking
over your shoulder” and aren’t good at motivating yourself to work when you
aren’t in an office (if everyone is honest with themselves, they can answer
this), it might not be for you.

8) What’s the process for
training?  Will I have to pay for my own training—if so, why?

Fletcher: Certification
courses to service a particular client can take between one to five weeks. Some
are instructor lead others are self-pages — all are virtual.

This opportunity is a
business-to-business (B-to-B) relationship. As a business owner, you are
responsible for any investment related to the operation of the business and
that includes the cost of training.

Dickerhoof:  We offer—free of charge—a certification
program for our Brand Ambassadors that lasts about two weeks.  This
program is 100% virtual—utilizing instructor-guided training done via the
internet/phone.  Certification is client specific—as all VIPdesk Brand
Ambassadors work for only one client at a time.  In the certification
program, you learn everything that you need to know to represent the client
effectively to their customers.

9) What are the costs
to get started?

Dickerhoof:  There are no costs to get started—no
costs for certification, background check or credit check.  VIPdesk assumes all of those costs as a
matter of due diligence to ensure that we represent our clients in the best
manner possible.

Fletcher:  The average investment ranges from $400
to $600 if your computer is already in compliance with Arise’s minimum
requirements. This covers the estimates below [which are subject to change]:
National Background Check Fee ($13-$26); Incorporation (approx. $100); 
High-Speed
Internet Access ($50/month); 
Phone Equipment ($100); 
Dedicated Phone Line
($50/month); 
Basic Certification Program ACP101 ($99).

Of the above stated
expenses, only the $99 ACP101 registration fee is payable to Arise to
participate in basic certification. The other costs are payable to third-party
vendors unrelated to Arise. Client certification programs range from $50 to
$225 and are payable to Arise. 
Most Virtual Services Corporations are able to recover their investments
in the first two months.

To learn more and apply,
visit
Arise.com and VIPdesk.com.  
You may also be interested in exploring
Working Solutions, Alpine Access
and
LiveOps.   As you can see,
no two companies have the same policies or protocols, so research several in
this industry before deciding what’s right for you. 

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