Customer service representatives are employed by businesses and organizations that sell products or offer services. The employees answer questions about products, resolve issues with orders or accounts, and handle complaints. Whether interacting with customers in person, over the telephone or via a web chat, a customer service associate must be patient, knowledgeable and resourceful.
Although the customer service representative definition varies from business to business, customer service work generally covers three broad areas:
- Order or Account Assistance: Customer service representatives are the employees customers contact if they only received part of an order, would like to change or place an order, want information about a shipping status or need detailed information about a product. Representatives who work in banks, utility, health insurance or in other companies that provide services; may issue new credit or debit cards to customers; may help clients open or close accounts, replace lost or stolen cards, or answer questions about bills, payments or deposits.
- Policy Information: A customer service rep conveys company policies and procedures to customers. If policies or procedures are confusing, a customer service representative must understand how to communicate the information to customers in easy-to-understand language.
- Complaint Resolution: When customers are upset about broken products, unexpected fees or missing orders, customer service representatives investigate the issues and offer solutions. If they can’t resolve an issue to the customer’s satisfaction, a customer service representative may need to research further or to consult a supervisor or manager.
Basic computer software skills, the ability to speak and understand English, and familiarity with fax machines, cash registers and other office machines are standard requirements for a customer service associate position.
Although the ability to master the company’s computer programs is important, soft skills are just as crucial for customer service reps. When representatives pick up the phone, they never know if callers will be upset or angry about a billing issue or a product that failed to live up to expectations. A good customer service representative knows how to pacify customers while making them feel that their complaints are taken seriously. Patience, empathy and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations are important attributes for representatives.
Customer service representatives may work in call centers, offices or even from home in some cases. Those who work in call centers must be able to work efficiently in noisy environments. Representatives who interact with customers in person may spend most of their shifts on their feet.
Some companies expect customer service reps to meet hourly or daily quotas, which can make the job somewhat stressful. Depending on the business, evening or weekend shifts may be required.
Highly skilled customer service representatives may eventually be promoted to team leads, supervisors or directors of call centers.
Education and Training
A customer service representative must possess a high school diploma or the equivalent. Companies may offer short training programs or provide on-the-job training for a few weeks for new employees. During training, a new customer service associate will learn how to use the computer system and review information on products and services, best practices, policies and procedures.
Salary and Job Outlook
As of May 2017, the median hourly wage for customer service representatives was $15.81, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2016, 2.8 million people in the U.S. were employed in customer service positions. The Bureau expects the demand for customer service representatives to grow 5 percent through 2026.