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Becoming a Call Center Agent

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Do you like to talk on the phone? Can you remain patient while you listen to people's problems? Can you operate a personal computer at a basic level? If you have a high school diploma and enjoy a fast-paced setting, then you might belong in a one of the many customer service call center jobs that are available today!

If you've ever called directory assistance to get a phone number, phoned your bank about your account balance, made airplane reservations by phone for a vacation, checked with your health insurance company to find an in-network physician, responded to a phone call following up on service you had from a company, or agreed to update a product in your home or buy something new over the phone, then you've talked with someone in a call center.

Jobs at call centers are good entry-level positions for those who have not yet decided whether to go to college or not. They are also great for people who need flexible schedules — such as college students, parents working around household schedules, or people in need of a second job — because call centers function twenty-four hours per day. In order to decide if you qualify for jobs in call centers, ask yourself if you meet the criteria described below.

To begin with, can you talk to one person after another without losing your focus? The number of calls you need to take per day in order to meet productivity levels varies according to the type of center. In most centers you receive incoming calls, but in certain types you make outgoing calls. The industry with the highest required number of phone calls per day is telemarketing, where you might be expected to call three hundred people per shift! In other centers, the calls-per-day quota depends on the type of business and the number of calls successfully completed. If you receive incoming calls, you will be alerted as soon as you complete one call that another one is awaiting your attention. If you have to initiate phone calls, you will be expected to complete one call and then immediately dial the next.

You also need to have basic familiarity with computers. No matter what type of caller you are servicing, you need to enter the person's responses into a computer because the computer then leads you to your next step. Virtually all companies provide training about their specific product or service. However, at a minimum you need to demonstrate competence in using a keyboard, have basic typing skills, and feel comfortable opening and closing a computer software program.

Good attendance is another must. Call centers schedule available staff to maximize efficient utilization of their equipment, and if you miss work, you are decreasing the company's ability to meet its goals.

Whether you take phone calls or make them, you must demonstrate the ''people skills'' to maintain your focus on what your contact is saying. Some people who are calling — such as those in need of repair services — will start out angry, while others will become angry or frustrated during the course of the phone calls if their issues are not easily resolved. In either case, you have to remember that every person has a valid point, even if you don't agree with it, and just recognizing that will allay your contact's dissatisfaction to a point. If you are making calls, whether performing market research or telemarketing, you must be prepared for a large percentage of people hanging up on you! It's important to remember, though, that people are not hanging up on you personally; they are hanging up on an industry.

Once you have completed your training, you will be evaluated weekly on particular standards. The company will track how many calls you handle per day, and you will be evaluated for how you resolve them. If you are making calls to determine customer satisfaction with a product or repair service, you might be expected to complete a pre-specified number of surveys per hour. Even if you are not in telemarketing, you might be expected to satisfy some complaints by convincing a person unhappy with a product or contract to upgrade to a new one.

Your supervisor will also discuss with you how you can improve your phone etiquette or technique. For example, if you are conducting an opinion poll, you will not want to bias your respondents. Some companies tutor their employees to eliminate slang or ''upspeak'' (ending a sentence with a lift in your tone of voice). Other companies want you to be informal and chatty. In either case, they do not want you to let your respondent hang on the line for long periods of silence. If you are looking up flight times or service repair schematics, you will be trained to make voice contact with your respondent approximately every thirty seconds. Employers want customer service representatives to use consistent techniques for every phone call. Your calls will be monitored for compliance, and employees often participate in training sessions on a weekly basis.

Despite the fact that these jobs do not require more than a high school diploma or GED, you must be receptive to the strict standards established in your training sessions. Call center jobs in California, Ohio, and other places usually begin at $8 to $12 per hour, and some offer bonuses depending on call resolution. Even though you are applying for phone work, you should dress for your interview in casual business attire. Good luck, and happy dialing!
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