Customer service and public relations are two careers with much in common. After all, both positions serve as the "face" of a company and work to uphold the company's image and interests. The similarities, however, usually end there.
The Main Difference
The key distinction between the two careers lies in who the representative works with. A customer service representative, as the name implies, works directly with customers while public relations specialists most often deal with members of the media and other organizations.
Customer Service in Brief
Customer service representatives answer customer inquiries, resolve complaints and make suggestions. The representatives work in a variety of environments, according to the nature of the company. A customer service representative may work inside a retail store, at a call center, at an office or even at home. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that because almost every industry needs customer service representatives, it is one of the U.S.' largest occupations.
Public Relations in Brief
Public relations specialists contact members of the media and write press releases to announce how clients plan to serve the community. Public relations specialists also organize functions such as speaking engagements and conventions to keep the organization in contact with the public and press. Public relations specialists might conduct interviews or prepare speeches for clients. Business, nonprofit organizations and government agencies all hire public relations specialists.
Differences in Training and Education
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, customer service employers generally require high school diplomas and provide on-the-job training, though many employers might prefer a bachelor's or associate's degrees. Public relations employers generally require a bachelor's degree in public relations, journalism or communications and often offer internships to train and create a pipeline of new employees.
Differences in Pay
As of May 2008, the BLS reported the median annual salary for public relations specialists was $51,280, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $30,140 and the top 10 percent earning more than $97,910. The BLS reports the median hourly wage for customer service representatives was $14.36. Working hours vary wildly for customer service, but assuming a steady 40-hour work week, that would put the annual median income at $29,869.