Customer service representatives

What Customer Service Representatives Do

Customer service representatives handle customer complaints, process orders, and provide information about an organization’s products and services.

Duties

Customer service representatives typically do the following:

  • Listen to customers’ questions and concerns, and provide answers or responses
  • Provide information about products and services
  • Take orders, calculate charges, and process billing or payments
  • Review or make changes to customer accounts
  • Handle returns or complaints
  • Record details of customer contacts and actions taken
  • Review and select standard responses for answers or solutions
  • Refer customers to supervisors or more experienced employees

Customer service representatives answer questions or requests from customers or the public. They typically answer incoming phone calls, but some also interact with customers face to face, by email, or live chat.

The specific duties of customer service representatives vary depending on what kind of company they work for. For example, representatives who work in banks may answer customers’ questions about their accounts. Representatives who work for utility and communication companies may help customers with service problems, such as outages. Those who work in retail stores often handle returns, process cash refunds, and help customers locate items. Some representatives make changes to customers’ accounts, such as updating addresses or canceling orders. Although selling is not their main job, some representatives may help to generate sales leads while providing information about a product or service.

Customer service representatives typically use a telephone, computer, and other office equipment. Those employed in retail stores may occasionally use cash registers to process returns or orders.

How to Become a Customer Service Representative

Customer service representatives typically need a high school diploma and receive on-the-job training to learn the specific skills needed for the job. They should be good at communicating and interacting with people and have basic computer skills.

Education

Customer service representatives typically need a high school diploma.

Training

Customer service representatives usually receive short-term on-the-job training, lasting 2 to 3 weeks. Those who work in finance and insurance may need several months of training to learn more complicated financial regulations.

General customer service training may focus on procedures for answering questions, information about a company’s products and services, and computer and telephone use. Trainees often work under the guidance of an experienced worker for the first few weeks of employment.

In certain industries, such as finance and insurance, customer service representatives must keep up-to-date with changing regulations.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Customer service representatives who provide information about finance and insurance may need a state license. Although licensing requirements vary by state, they usually include passing a written exam. Some employers may provide training for these exams.  

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Customer service representatives need strong communication skills to answer customers clearly. They must understand and communicate information effectively in writing, by phone, or in person.

Customer-service skills. Companies rely on representatives to help retain customers by answering customer questions and complaints in a helpful and professional manner.

Interpersonal skills. Creating positive interactions with customers is an essential part of a representative’s job.

Listening skills. Representatives must listen carefully and understand a customer’s situation in order to help them.

Patience. Workers should be patient and polite, especially when interacting with difficult or irate customers.

Problem-solving skills. Representatives must determine solutions to a customer’s problem. By resolving issues effectively, representatives contribute to customer loyalty and retention.

Job Outlook

Customer Service Representatives

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Customer service representatives

13%

Total, all occupations

11%

Office and administrative support occupations

7%

 

Employment of customer service representatives is projected to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Overall employment growth should result from growing industries that specialize in handling customer service. Specifically, telephone call centers, also known as customer contact centers, are expected to add the most new jobs for customer service representatives. Employment of representatives in these centers is projected to grow 38 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Some businesses are increasingly contracting out their customer service operations to telephone call centers as they provide consolidated sales and customer service functions.

Employment growth of customer service representatives in all other industries will be driven by growth of those industries, as well as consumers’ demand for products and services that require customer support. Some companies will continue to use in-house service centers to differentiate themselves from competitors, particularly for inquiries that are more complex, such as refunding accounts or confirming insurance coverage.

However, some companies are increasingly using Internet self-service or interactive voice-response systems that enable customers to resolve simple problems, such as changing addresses or reviewing account billing, without speaking to a representative.

In addition, some businesses are expected to move customer service functions to other countries in order to cut costs, a practice known as offshoring. However, demand for customer service representatives in the United States should continue as companies adjust to consumers’ preference for U.S.-based customer support.  

Job Prospects

Job prospects for customer service representatives are expected to be good due to employment growth and the need to replace workers who leave the occupation each year. Job opportunities should be best in telephone call centers.

There will be greater competition for in-house customer service jobs in the insurance and finance sectors—which often have higher pay—than for jobs in the telephone call center industry.

Candidates with good customer service and computer skills should have the best job prospects.

Employment projections data for Customer Service Representatives, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Customer service representatives

43-4051 2,362,800 2,661,400 13 298,700
  Occupation Description Entry-Level Education 2012 Median Pay
Cashiers Cashiers

Cashiers handle payments from customers purchasing goods and services.'

Less than high school $18,970
Computer support specialists Computer support specialists

Computer support specialists provide help and advice to people and organizations using computer software or equipment. Some, called computer network support specialists, support information technology (IT) employees within their organization. Others, called computer user support specialists, assist non-IT users who are having computer problems.'

Education requirements vary $48,900
Financial clerks Financial clerks

Financial clerks do administrative work for many types of organizations. They keep records, help customers, and carry out financial transactions.'

High school diploma or equivalent $34,960
Information clerks Information clerks

Information clerks perform routine clerical duties such as maintaining records, collecting data, and providing information to customers.'

High school diploma or equivalent $30,650
Insurance sales agents Insurance sales agents

Insurance sales agents help insurance companies generate new business by contacting potential customers and selling one or more types of insurance. Insurance sales agents explain various insurance policies and help clients choose plans that suit them.'

High school diploma or equivalent $48,150
Receptionists Receptionists

Receptionists perform administrative tasks, such as answering phones, receiving visitors, and providing general information about their organization to the public and customers.'

High school diploma or equivalent $25,990
Retail sales workers Retail sales workers

Retail sales workers include both those who sell retail merchandise, such as clothing, furniture, and automobiles, (called retail salespersons) and those who sell spare and replacement parts and equipment, especially car parts (called parts salespersons). Both types of workers help customers find the products they want and process customers’ payments.'

Less than high school $21,410
Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents

Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents connect buyers and sellers in financial markets. They sell securities to individuals, advise companies in search of investors, and conduct trades.'

Bachelor's degree $71,720
Tellers Tellers

Tellers are responsible for accurately processing routine transactions at a bank. These transactions include cashing checks, depositing money, and collecting loan payments.'

High school diploma or equivalent $24,940
Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives sell goods for wholesalers or manufacturers to businesses, government agencies, and other organizations. They contact customers, explain product features, answer any questions that their customers may have, and negotiate prices.'

High school diploma or bachelor's degree $57,870
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Ref: bls.gov
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