When I was in graduate school several years ago pursuing a Master’s degree in Social Work, I had to quit my full-time job to work as an unpaid intern in a hospital in order to complete my degree program.
I still needed to bring in income, so I decided to look into virtual customer service, work from home opportunities that would give me the flexibility I needed to finish my degree while making money to keep my bills paid.
Although I was successful in finding the right opportunity for me, there was so much I didn’t know at the time that I wish someone had told me about these kinds of jobs.
If you are considering a virtual customer service representative job either as a side hustle or full-time gig, I want you to know what you’re getting into so that you can make an informed decision.
What Is A Virtual Customer Service Representative?
A virtual customer service representative (or agent) provides customer service support via inbound and outbound calls, email, chat, and video conferencing.
While there are some big name companies that hire their own virtual representatives, most companies use a third-party business process outsourcing (BPO) company that manages their customer service needs.
The BPO hires or contracts with agents (that’s you!) who provide these services using the BPO’s platform and technology.
It goes without saying that almost every industry known to man has a customer service department.
While there are still lots of call centers in operation around the world, many of the customer service agents on the other end of the line are virtual representatives working out of their homes.
Here are a few examples of the types of clients you might serve as an agent:
- Government Agencies
- Service (e.g. installation, repairs)
- Warranty Companies
- Insurance Companies
- Roadside Assistance
Each business process outsourcing company has different rules and policies for their agents; however, there are certain facts that are pretty common among most of them.
Here are 7 important facts you need to know about virtual customer service opportunities before you apply.
#1 Some agents are independent contractors, not employees
While there are some business process outsourcing companies that hire agents as employees, many of them bring on agents as independent contractors.
An independent contractor is someone who enters into a contract to work for an individual or company as a non-employee. Essentially, an independent contractor is self-employed.
It sounds appealing at first, and in many ways it is. Having a home-based business is a dream for many people.
However, it is important to remember that, as a business-owner, you are responsible for all of your business operations.
Whether you are looking to ease into self-employment as an independent contractor, or simply looking for a work from home job, you have options!
#2 There are usually out-of-pocket costs
Virtual customer service job opportunities usually have small to moderate out-of-pocket costs needed to start working.
Examples of costs include:
- Background check – ranges from $35-$60 and is usually required annually
- Training – some BPOs that use independent contractors charge fees to train or certify your business
- A newer computer with a current operating system
- At least one larger computer monitor; two monitors will make your job much easier!
- A corded telephone with a headset jack
- A wired USB headset and/or phone headset
- Landline telephone service and a wired Internet connection
- A decent office set up. You’ll be on the phone and at a computer for hours at a time, so you want to be comfortable. You’ll need a desk, comfortable chair, and other office accessories.
If you are an independent contractor, these costs will be a worthwhile investment for your business, offering potential tax deductions.
Note: Legitimate BPOs have all of their costs and tech requirements posted on their website for you to see before you apply. Also, you should not be paying for a background check or any equipment until you’ve been offered a position or a contract. Any company asking for money upfront, before they’ve extended an offer, is a red flag.
#3 Income may be irregular
Virtual customer service jobs are a legitimate source of income, both as a side hustle or a full-time job. However, that income may be irregular and inconsistent.
Here are several factors that may affect your earnings:
- Pay structure – hourly vs per minutes of talk time. If you are paid an hourly wage, you’ll make that wage as long as you work your hours. If you are paid per minute, you only get paid for time (per minute) you are actually on a call.
- Call volume – when call volume is high, there is more potential to earn. When it is low, hours may be cut.
- Performance metrics – calls are usually routed first to higher performing agents. If your metrics are low, it will affect your earning potential
- Training – for most independent contractor opportunities, required training/ certification is unpaid. You won’t start earning until you’re actually taking calls
Many people live on a budget and can survive off of an irregular income. However, I would not recommend quitting your main income source to pursue a virtual customer service agent job until you start making a consistent income.
#4 Many jobs have availability requirements
Although working from home comes with flexibility, you may still be required to work a minimum number of hours per week, and have night, weekend, and holiday availability.
Most companies’ highest customer service call volume is typically on nights and weekends. Retail customer service is particularly busy during most holidays.
Have you ever wondered who takes infomercial orders late at night? Or, how people stranded in the middle of nowhere are able to call their roadside assistance any time of day or night?
That’s because customer service agents, like you, must be available 24/7 to assist them.
With this in mind, be realistic about your other obligations, including another job, children’s activities, social life, etc. and look for opportunities that suit your schedule.
#5 Strong multitasking skills are a plus
For each call you take, you’ll need to be able to carry on a friendly, natural conversation while performing several other tasks.
These tasks include entering customer information, verifying their identity, identifying the reason for the call, troubleshooting, and actively listening to everything they are saying.
Also, most clients have multiple programs that you will need to access in order to assist the caller. So, you’ll be navigating back and forth between multiple screens during each call.
Be patient with yourself. After a few calls, you will get the hang of it.
#6 There is zero tolerance for background noise
Although many people know that customer service agents often work from home, the client still wants their customers to have a professional experience with the agent taking their call.
This means that any background noises not likely heard in a traditional office setting cannot be heard from your home office. This includes children, pets, cell phones, music, TV, etc.
Remember, even though you are working from home, you are still working. Background noise will get you terminated or your contract revoked immediately.
#7 Customer service is rewarding, but challenging
The most rewarding part about customer service is that you get to help people.
Whether you’re helping a lady choose the perfect gift for her husband for their 50th anniversary, or filing an insurance claim for someone who lost everything in a home fire, people need customer service agents.
However, there are also challenges.
One of the biggest challenges as a customer service agent is dealing with difficult customers. More often than not, people will call because they are angry and dissatisfied. Who do they take that anger out on?
People will say things to you over the phone that they wouldn’t say to your face. Still, you have to maintain your professionalism, while trying to resolve their problem.
If you enjoy helping people, despite their sometimes difficult behavior, you will do fine.