The question everyone wants to be answered about a new job is “How much does it pay?” However, when considering an at-home call-center salary, another question is “How does it pay?" Virtual call centers have varying methods of calculating pay.
Call center jobs may pay an hourly wage, a per-call, or a per-minute rate, or one of these rates plus an incentive. If a job is an employment position in the U.S., it must pay minimum wage in the state where the agent lives. However, independent contractors do not necessarily receive minimum wage.
No matter the pay structure used, home-based call center agents should evaluate whether they are receiving a competitive pay rate by calculating the true hourly wage. This is figuring how much you earn per hour in an average week while also accounting for the costs you incur.
When calculating their true hourly wage, independent contractors should figure in any training fees, unpaid training time, or other pay deductions that companies may charge, and they should consider the portion of the self-employment taxes that they incur, but employees don't. And both employees and contractors should calculate the ongoing and one-time external costs, such as Internet/phone service, headsets, computer equipment, and virus scan subscriptions when calculating their hourly rate. (Plus, these things may be tax deductions, so keep good records.)
Call Center Hourly Rates
Both independent contracting and employment call centers may pay an hourly rate, but it is more common in employment positions. Basic pay rates (not including incentives) range from the U.S. minimum wage to $15 an hour. Bilingual agents may be paid at the upper end of the scale because there is often a pay differential of $1 or more per hour for bilingual call center jobs.
Any call center job that advertises that it pays more than $12 per hour is likely including the incentive in its average pay, looking for very specialized skills and experience (such as telehealth nursing jobs) or charging fees to its workers. As with a brick-and-mortar job, the pay is often based on the average wage in the geographic area of the worker, so the same company may pay remote employees in different states different hourly wages.
Per-Call and Per-Minute Rates
Agents compensated on a per-call and per-minute basis (or for “talk time”) are paid only for time on the phone—not for time waiting for calls to come in. The agent may have no way to know if calls will come in a steady flow. Per-call pay rates might be anywhere from $.10 to $.25 per minute, but there is no way to know in advance what this might work out to as an hourly rate. After some time on the job, it is possible to calculate an average hourly wage, which then can be adjusted for the expenses incurred.
For those paid per call, moving quickly through calls means more money. Employment positions will pay a minimum hourly wage—usually minimum wage—if too few calls come for an agent to earn the basic wage. However, independent contractors rarely get such protections and can easily make less than the minimum wage. Because taxes aren’t taken out of independent contractors’ wages (though contractors pay these later at tax time), it can appear that they are making more money than their hourly-wage counterparts. However, in reality, independent contractors pay more taxes because they are responsible for the employer and employee portions of Medicare and Social Security taxes.
Agents paid on a per-call or per-minute basis should make a habit of calculating their pay on an hourly basis for their records so they can project paychecks, compare their current jobs with potential jobs, and be sure they are getting the going rate for call center work. Also, as with those paid on an hourly basis, it’s a good idea to figure in any costs associated with working at a company.
In the majority of cases, incentives for both employees and contractors are in addition to one of the base pay systems above. There could be a few independent contractor sales jobs that are incentive only. Incentives could simply mean commissions on sales (a percent of the amount sold), but call center companies use many other types of incentive pay programs. Companies might offer cash bonuses for sales of a certain product, for sales above a certain amount, or for the top seller of the day, week, or month. Incentives can be offered in non-sales jobs too. Companies might offer a higher rate for those who complete a certain number of calls per hour, a bonus for those with good customer service feedback or a certain number of calls or surveys completed.
Regardless of how a company calculates incentives, agents starting a new job will not be able to project incentive pay until they’ve been on the job for a while. And even then, it will fluctuate.