Is customer service the job for you?

If you think a customer service representative job is right for you, find out what skills you need.

Customer service reps are the liaison between a company or organization and its customer base. They provide support to customers and clients of organizations across many public and private industries. In most cases, support is delivered in person or via phone, email, live chat, social media, or some combination of these. Depending on the position, customer service reps may need highly-specialized knowledge related to the industry or company. However, these jobs are often well-suited to candidates with a more general background. Here's what you need to know to decide if a career as a customer service rep is right for you.

What Can You Expect From a Customer Service Rep Job?

Responsibilities

As a customer service rep, it is your job to help customers and clients with any question or concern they may have about the products and/or services provided by your employer. The specific responsibilities associated with the job can vary widely depending on the position, but may include:

  • Listening and responding to complaints
  • Verifying, correcting, and/or updating account information
  • Cancelling or upgrading customer accounts
  • Attempting to dissuade customers from canceling their service or account
  • Providing information about the company and its products
  • Assisting customers with order placement, refunds, exchanges, or delivery issues
  • Collecting customer contact and payment information
  • Addressing billing questions and concerns
  • Answering questions about warranties or terms and conditions of a sale or product
  • Handling issues surrounding product recalls
  • Assisting customers when a product or service does not work as expected
  • Offering products, services, or upgrades in a sales capacity
  • Generating reports for management
  • Identifying and escalating complex or high priority cases for resolution

Work Environment

If you provide in-person customer support, you may work in a retail environment or in an office setting.

Reps who provide phone or online customer care typically work in a call center. This may be an office or a more industrial setting in which many customer service agents work in close proximity to one another. Each agent has a computer workstation, and if providing phone support, a headset. Reps may have a dedicated workspace, but often the number of reps on staff means that each rep works at a different station for every shift.

Call centers are high-pressure environments, as reps must process a large number of customer contacts to meet service levels set by the management. They can also be noisy, as many reps may be typing or talking at once.

Some companies allow customer service reps work from home, making this kind of position an excellent option for candidates in remote areas, people with mobility or transportation issues, or those who have at-home responsibilities that prevent them from being away for long periods of time. Reps who work from home may be required to use their own phone line or high-speed Internet connection, as well as provide hardware such as a computer that meets certain specifications. Additional services, hardware, or software may be provided by the employer, and reps may be compensated for using their own equipment.

Schedule

There is no typical schedule for a customer service rep, as every organization operates differently. Customer service reps may work full or part-time and may be hired seasonally, on a temporary or contract basis, or as regular employees.

Some companies maintain traditional business hours, so reps can expect to work weekdays between morning and evening. Others need support available during every hour of every day, so customer service reps work in round-the-clock shifts seven days a week, including holidays. Reps working for companies with extended customer service hours should expect to work at least some weekends, holidays, and non-traditional hours. These positions can be a good fit for people who prefer working graveyard or swing shifts, or whose lifestyles offer schedule flexibility.

What Qualifications Are Required to Be a Customer Service Rep?

Education

The educational requirements for customer service rep jobs vary depending on the specifics of the position. However, there are some degree fields commonly associated with qualified candidates. These include:

  • Business Management
  • Accounting and Finance
  • Communication and Rhetoric
  • Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement
  • Administration

Most customer service rep jobs require company-specific training and/or a probationary employment period, during which candidates learn the employer's policies, procedures, and how to use any job-specific technology.

Experience

The nature of customer service work is such that employers often place a higher value on a candidate's experience than on formal education. Data shows that 30 percent of customer service reps have between 6 and 10 years of experience in the field, while 19 percent have between 11 and 15 years of experience, and 18 percent have been working in customer service for 3 to 5 years. About 25 percent of customer service reps have been in the field for more than 15 years, while only 9 percent have less than 5 years' experience.

These numbers confirm that experience is valued in customer service rep positions, and once you have established yourself in the field, there are ample opportunities to continue in a related job for years to come if you so choose.

Skills

Customer service reps need to have a varied skill set in order to adapt to the ever-changing demands of the job. Here are some of the skills employers look for in prospective reps:

  • Software skills
    • CRM software - Reps may use customer relationship management (CRM) software to access and log information.
    • Call center software - Phone support is often provided via a voice-over-IP (VoIP) system, which connects to a call center software solution used by reps to keep a record of each call.
    • Ticketing platform - Email and chat support is routed through a system that assigns a ticket to each request and then prioritizes and assigns tickets to reps.
    • Social media - Customer service teams are increasingly responsible for monitoring and engaging with customers on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and others.
    • Web browsers - Reps should be comfortable using popular browsers such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Apple's Safari, and Mozilla Firefox.
    • Office programs - A basic understanding of Microsoft Office, including Word, Outlook, Excel, and PowerPoint, is a plus.
  • Data entry - Reps must quickly and accurately update customer records and other information.
  • Conflict resolution - When customers are angry or upset, reps need to de-escalate the situation.
  • Patience - Reps must be able to answer the same questions over and over again and deal with occasionally rude or unpleasant customers without a loss in quality of service.
  • Positive attitude - Customer service agents represent the company and must maintain a positive demeanor at all times, even when faced with unpleasant situations.
  • Ability to work under pressure - Circumstances change quickly, and high-volume periods can be unpredictable, so reps need to be able to adapt quickly and perform under pressure.
  • Flexibility - Reps must be ready for changes in products, policies, schedules, and other factors that affect the job.
  • Attention to detail - Errors made while providing customer service can result in a negative customer experience and unnecessary additional customer contacts, so reps must handle detailed information accurately.
  • Knowledge retention - Reps must be able to remember an ever-changing range of policies, procedures, and information to provide excellent service to customers.

Salary Expectations

Entry level customer service reps typically earn about $19,000 per year. As they gain experience, reps can expect to earn an average annual salary of $31,000, or $15 per hour. Experienced customer service professionals can earn significantly more in certain markets. For example, the average annual salary for a customer service representative is $66,080 in Philadelphia, PA; $54,039 in Los Angeles, CA; and $52,822 in Dallas, TX.

For more info on how much you can expect to make as a customer service representative, check out these insights.

Job Outlook for Customer Service Reps

Projected Growth

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a growth rate of 10 percent for customer service representatives between 2014 and 2024, leading to an additional 252,900 jobs within that time span. That is faster than the average growth rate for all industries, and it suggests a strong market for qualified candidates.

Career Trajectory

Customer service reps who excel in their jobs may be promoted to a team leader or supervisor position. These senior team members are often responsible for conducting quality assurance to ensure reps are meeting service and quality standards, handling escalated customer issues, preparing shift reports, training new reps, and serving as a liaison between customer service teams and departmental managers.

Customer service managers are often responsible for developing team schedules, reviewing and implementing changes in policy, establishing service levels and performance metrics, and managing the employee life cycle from recruitment, interviewing, and hiring to conducting performance reviews and handling employee terminations and departures.

At the executive level, customer service may fall under Operations, Marketing, Communications, or another division, depending on the specifics of the company or organization.

A job as a customer service rep is an excellent option for individuals who enjoy working with the public and being of service. It is also a good choice for people who are interested in a broad range of subjects, as positions are available in almost every sector of the public and private industry. Start your search for a customer service rep position today.