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If your cable TV has ever failed or you found a peculiar charge on your credit card statement, you have probably interacted with a customer service representative. Customer service representatives spend their days listening to your concerns and problems with their company's product, then work with you to resolve the dispute. If helping others in this way sounds like your niche, here are some facts about the occupation from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Customer service representatives are a first direct point of contact with a business's customers, providing answers to inquiries and handling disputes. Most representatives use computers and telephones extensively to look up routine requests and attempt to resolve problems using guidelines established by the company. Sometimes, customer service representatives help people choose the best type of products or services or aid customers in completing their purchases.

Some customer service representatives spend their entire day on the phone. Others answer e-mails, and some conduct business face-to-face. Representatives must monitor the time spent with each customer to be sure all customers receive enough attention.

Training and Education
A high school diploma or equivalent is required for most customer service representative positions. Training requirements vary by industry. Most companies provide on-the-job training where representatives learn phone skills, products and common problems, operation of the phone or computer systems and company policies. Many customer service jobs are entry-level, but others, including those at insurance agencies, require additional training. Insurance representatives must have previous insurance work and are often required to be licensed like insurance sales agents.

Good customer service is critical for businesses, so employers look for people who are friendly, professional, patient and who have a clear speaking voice and good time management skills. The ability to speak a foreign language is valuable.

Customer services representatives held 1.9 million jobs in 2002, according to the BLS. Of these, more than one-in-four worked in finance and insurance. Nearly one-in-eight worked in administrative and support services, which includes telephone call centers and employment help services. Another one-in-eight worked in retail trade establishments.

Though opportunities exist in all states, in 2002 more than 30 percent of total employment was concentrated in four states: California, Texas, Florida and New York.

Pros and Cons of Customer Service
Because of the round-the-clock nature of the industry, customer service lends itself easily to part-time work and flexible work schedules. People who work evenings, nights, weekends or holidays sometime earn higher pay. The occupation also offers seasonal work in certain industries.

However, customer service representatives must be able to handle stressful situations. Dealing with difficult or angry customers can be wearisome, and representatives must minimize the length of each call while still providing excellent service. Supervisors often monitor calls to make sure procedures are being followed, which may cause additional tension. In addition, the work can be long and repetitious, leading to eye and muscle strain, backaches, headaches and repetitive motion injuries.

According to the BLS, median annual earnings for customer service representatives in 2002 were $26,240. Earnings vary widely depending on the industry and skills required, with those working in wired communications carriers earning $38,980 and those in grocery stores taking home $17,230.

Other benefits include product or service discounts, training, bonuses, pensions, and health insurance.

Job Outlook
The BLS predicts that through 2012, there will be more openings for customer service representative positions than there are applicants. As businesses try to retain customers in a competitive market, they will rely more and more on stellar customer service, driving job growth. Jobs will be most abundant in call centers.

Technology has impacted customer service by making workers more productive, but increased representatives will be hired to respond to e-mail. Many customers also prefer to interact with a human when they have disputes or complex questions.

Source: BLS September 2004

Last Updated: 24/09/2007 - 3:50 PM

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