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Ring, ring: customer support representatives answer the call

“Hello, how can I help you?”

Ever wonder who is on the other end of the telephone when you call your local utility company, Internet provider, or product support line? That helpful customer service agent who answers your questions and provides friendly guidance just might be someone like James Brock, a fiber customer support analyst at Verizon. Brock is one of 300 customer representatives at Verizon’s Providence FiOS center, supporting the fiber-optic based Internet and TV service offered by the company.

Brock answers from 50-60 calls a day, from customers who are having technical problems to remotely diagnosing and correcting equipment difficulties. Common questions include, “Why is there no picture on my television screen?” “How can I connect wirelessly?” “What’s wrong with my remote control?”

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Network systems and data-communication analysts like Brock are in a profession that is expected to grow by 53 percent by 2010 as businesses adopt more sophisticated and complex technologies, and e-commerce continues to expand. At Verizon, hiring continues for fiber-customer support analysts and fiber-network technicians who work in the call center answering order inquiries or trouble reports. The position requires a basic understanding of networking components such as routers, LAN topology, Ethernet and network interface cards, as well as a working knowledge of PC hardware and software. But an IT or computer science degree is not required – Brock has a background in hospitality and business and began toying with computers as a hobby.

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Q: What’s the most difficult problem that you’ve helped to solve over the phone?
A:
Just this morning a customer called; he had a huge house and 10 set-top boxes (a device that connects TVs and an external signal). He was trying to figure sort it all out. It got very complicated, because there was top-of-the-line equipment with all the features on it, as well as service from another provider. Ultimately, I wasn’t able to solve the exact problem, but by troubleshooting, we did resolve to send a technician to the house.
Q: You work as part of a team. When you don’t know the answer to an inquiry, you ask your colleagues. What are their areas of expertise?
A:
Each associate has their own special experience and education level. Some have a background in e-mail configuration, others have experience in installing entertainment systems or in online gaming. Many employees have vast telephone service knowledge.
Q: How are you screened and then trained for your job?
A:
Part of the interview process is a take a telephone test; you need to multi-task while speaking to a customer, while also taking down account information and troubleshooting a problem. We also need to take a computer and Internet knowledge test, which is 40 minutes with 40 questions. After being hired, there are eight weeks of initial classroom training, and ongoing classroom refresher courses and Web classes.
Q: What’s the oddest request you’ve ever received?
A:
A customer was 70 miles away from home, trying to connect to her router. She thought she had an unlimited range of connection. I said that she might be able to connect up to 20 or 40 feet, but not 70 miles. I tried to say it in a nice way, of course. That’s what we’re trained to do.

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