Customer service representatives are the link between a business and its customers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the need for customer service representatives is expected to increase 18 percent from 2008 to 2018--faster than average for all occupations. While all businesses seek new customers, growth in this career will be fueled by the need for businesses to foster continuing relationships with current customers as well.
Customer service representatives interact with businesses’ customers by telephone, email or face-to-face. They are responsible for responding to customers’ inquiries and needs. For instance, customer service representatives may answer questions about products or how they work, but they also resolve complaints about product function, over-charges or replacing missing or broken parts. While customer service representatives may provide information on placing orders or deciding which product to buy, they are not generally involved in selling products, according to the BLS.
In 2008, customer service representatives held approximately 2.3 million jobs—ranking among one of the largest occupations in the U.S., according to the BLS. In fact, representatives are hired by almost every business from banks to department stores. Customer service representatives are significant to any business because they are the the face, or voice, of the company to the customers with whom they interact.
Although customer service representatives must have at least a high school diploma, employers prefer applicants with either associate or bachelor's degrees in any major. Besides education, representatives must undergo training prior to working with customers on their own. This on-the-job training can last several weeks during which representatives learn about the company and its products and the computer systems and phone systems they will use. Often, employers will train customer service representatives on customers’ most frequently asked questions and how to deal with them.
Work hours for representatives can include morning, evenings and weekend shifts. Typically, customer service representatives work in call centers that can be noisy or crowded. Their working environment consists of cubicle spaces or work stations where they sit waiting for the next call. Usually, representatives use headsets, telephones, computers and fax machines during their work day. People working in customer service are at risk for medical conditions such as eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome and headaches.
Customer Service Representatives require a variety of skills to be successful. Representatives need good communication skills, a pleasant speaking voice and must be able to work independently. In 2009, the median salary for customer service representatives was $30,290, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration’s O-net Center.