Customer service representatives interact with customers to ensure their company is providing an adequate level of service. They answer questions about products and service, and handle any questions, concerns, or complaints. Some specialize in specific areas, while others may act as general contacts. They communicate with customers either in person, over the telephone, through email or regular mail, by fax, or over the Internet. Some of the questions they receive are simple and only require looking up easy-to-access information, while other questions are more complex and may involve additional research. Customer service representatives may be responsible for determining if complaints are valid, suggesting solutions to the problem, providing refunds or exchanges, following up with customers, or helping customers decide which products suit them best. Much of their work involves the use of computers and telephones. Their job responsibilities may vary depending on the industry in which they work, such as banking, insurance, communications firms, or utilities companies.
Because they represent a company or organization to the public, customer service representatives must have a friendly and professional disposition, as well as strong interpersonal communication, listening, and problem-solving skills. They must be able to remain patient and courteous when dealing with impatient and angry customers. They should have the ability to work independently. Employers look for candidates who have a clear speaking voice and are fluent in the English language. Bilingual skills are highly advantageous. Those who communicate with customers via email must have good typing and computer skills.
In 2002, customer service representatives earned a median annual salary of $26,240. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $17,230, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $42,990. The following shows the median annual salaries for the industries employing the highest numbers of customer service representatives:
- Wired telecommunications carriers – $38,980
- Insurance carriers – 28,560
- Agencies, brokerages, and other insurance – 28,270
- Management of companies and enterprises – 27,990
- Nondepository credit intermediation – 25,600
- Depository credit intermediation – 24,850
- Employment services – 22,510
- Electronic shopping and mail order houses – 21,530
- Business support services – 21,130
- Grocery stores – 17,230
Training and Education
The most common educational requirement for customer service representatives is a high school diploma. The addition of basic computer knowledge and good interpersonal communication skills makes for a qualified candidate. Although training varies between industries, almost all new employees receive training before and after they start their jobs. This training usually includes phone skills, products or services, common customer problems, operation of telephones and computers, and company policies and regulations. Training usually lasts for several weeks or more, and after employees begin working, they continue to receive training updates. Many customer service jobs are entry-level positions and can serve as a good opportunity for entry into a company. Customer service representatives may advance to supervisory or managerial positions, or to areas such as product development. Insurance agencies and brokerages require their customer service representatives to have previous work experience in insurance and to be licensed like insurance sales agents.
In 2002, customer service representatives held about 1.9 million jobs. 25% worked in finance and insurance, while others worked in administrative and support services, telecommunications, manufacturing, and wholesale trade. 30% were employed in California, Texas, Florida, or New York.
Between 2002 and 2012, the number of customer service representatives is expected to increase faster than the average. Growth will be fueled by an increased reliance on these workers due to the realization that they are directly linked to the success of an organization. Industries such as financial services, communications, and utilities will attempt to gain a competitive edge by improving customer service and by hiring more customer service representatives. Prospects for those seeking positions as customer service representatives will be excellent, with more job openings than jobseekers. Demand will be especially high for bilingual employees.