The Ultimate Customer Service Career Guide (2020)

Today we’re going to cover everything you could possibly want to know about a career in customer service. 

After reading this guide you’ll not only know whether a career in customer service is for you.

You’ll also know exactly how to choose the right job, what to expect, how to apply, and how to progress your career further. 

Let’s get started.

customer service

Contents

Chapter 1

What is Customer Service?

Chapter 2

What to Expect

Chapter 3

Getting Started

Chapter 4

Applying

Chapter 5

Career Progression

Chapter 6

Summary

What is Customer service?

Customer service is the act of helping both potential and existing customers. It can involve assisting with information, complaints, orders, errors, account questions, billing, cancellations, file complaints and processing returns.

Customer service is present in any industry where there are customers/consumers – so basically all of them. While it can be automated or provided by a site or app, its roots are people-based.

There are a variety of roles, from part-time, remote representatives all the way up to manager and even chief customer officer (CCO). We’ll go through these roles in more detail shortly. But first we need to cover why customer service matters.

Why is it Important?

Customer service is integral to any good business. Here’s why.

It’s how companies keep customers, and customer retention beats customer acquisition every time. 

It’s how companies convey their image, mission and values. 

It’s also a marketing tool: if a company’s customers are happy, they will recommend it to their friends. Plus repeating customers spend more. 67% more, to be precise. 

It’s more than just keeping people happy – it’s a competitive advantage.

Without customer service, companies don’t stand a chance long-term. On the other hand, companies with top customer service become famous for it (companies like M&S, First Direct and Lakeland). The quality can often be a factor in choosing between different companies (choosing a network provider, for example).

Jobs

While the terminology varies hugely from company to company, these are the three core customer service roles.

Customer Service Representative/Assistant

Representatives are the front line of customer service. They receive the call or in person query, assess how to tackle the problem or answer the questions, and finally recommend a course of action to the customer or provide the requested solution/information themselves. It is fairly common for this job to be done remotely.

Customer Service Team Leader

The role of the team leader is essentially the same as that of a representative, except they also coordinate the team, review any escalations, conduct team member evaluations and even train new hires. 

Customer Service Manager

The manager oversees the team and may perform any of the team leader’s duties if required. However they may also be responsible for recruiting staff, handling internal complaints and dealing with finances.

While these are the main three roles, there is one missing. One that is becoming more and more common – bilingual customer service representatives. In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review56% of consumers said that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price.

Types of Customer Service

As technology advances, more and more types of customer service are born. Here are the main ones:

  • Phone support
  • Email support
  • Live chat support
  • Social media support
  • Interactive voice response

However, despite technological advances, phone support still reigns supreme.

So there you have it, customer service in all its glory. Now let’s find out what to expect from customer service jobs.

What to Expect

 

In this section you’ll find out what to expect from a job in customer service.

 

We’ll cover responsibilities, salary, hours and even some pros and cons for good measure.

Let’s dive in.

Responsibilities

The main responsibilities are:

  • Listening and responding to customer queries
  • Providing information about products and services
  • Taking orders and overseeing billing or payments
  • Reviewing or making changes to customer accounts
  • Handling returns or complaints
  • Recording details of customer contacts and actions taken
  • Researching answers or solutions as needed, or others who can help

For more junior roles, the above pretty much covers it. But in more senior customer service roles, the following responsibilities are also included:

  • Supervising the team
  • Dealing with escalations
  • Handling finances
  • Performing team member evaluations
  • Training new hires
  • Dealing with internal complaints

Salary

Let’s talk numbers.

Here are the average early career (1-4 year) salaries across the UK for the four main roles, according to Payscale.

Representative

Bilingual Representative

Team Leader

Manager

And here are the average-mid career (5-9 year) salaries across the UK for the four main roles, again according to Payscale. 

Representative

Bilingual Representative

Team Leader

Manager

Hours

A typical full-time customer service job will be 9am – 5pm or similar. However there are also a lot of part-time roles, which vary much more (e.g. 2pm-10pm). This is usually the case when a company, such as Metro Bank, offers 24hr customer service.

For part-time or temporary customer service roles, the rate is often hourly, rather than per year. In this case, the hourly rate is typically around the £10/hr mark, but this varies hugely depending on experience, hours and location.

Pros and Cons

Of course this list doesn’t cover everything, and customer service jobs vary hugely from company to company. Regardless, here is a quick overview.

Pros:

• Often no experience needed

• Room for growth/promotion

• An opportunity to further your problem solving skills

• An opportunity to further your interpersonal skills

Cons:

• High pressure/responsibility in representing the company’s image

• Irregular shifts/overtime due to having to resolve issues that day

• Work can be emotionally draining

• Starting pay is comparatively low

Getting Started in Customer Service

 

Chances are you’re reading this because you’re considering a career in customer service. 

 

In this section we’ll cover what you’ll need to have in order to do this: skills, personality traits, education and qualifications.

 

Stay tuned.

Skills

Here we’ll cover the three most important skills. Without these, it’s time for a career re-think. For a full list of skills, check out the representative job description

1. Communication

Communication is key. A customer service professional must be able to communicate ideas clearly and effectively, and be an excellent listener. 

2. Adaptability

Every customer is different. There will always be unforeseen issues, technical difficulties and complaints. You must be able to think on your feet and solve problems you haven’t encountered before independently. 

3. Conflict Resolution

Sometimes things can get heated. Can you keep your cool? Being able to de-escalate a situation is an integral part of customer service and one of the most important skills employers look for. 

Personality Traits

Aside from the practical skills you need, a career in customer service is really about people. So it’s just as important that you have the right personality traits for the job.

1. Empathy

The ability to empathize with customers is another essential. You need to be able to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and walk a mile. You need to understand why they are frustrated, annoyed or upset as this will enable you to find a solution more sensitively.

2. Patience

Patience is an essential for these roles. There will be occasions when a solution is hard to find, or new problems arise unexpectedly. In these situations, patience is a virtue. There isn’t always a quick fix.

3. Creativity

Those new problems arising unexpectedly, they need creative solutions. There will be customer questions that aren’t in the manual and you will need to think on your feet. Plus, lateral thinking will help you to avoid asking your supervisor what to do every five minutes.

Qualifications and Education

You will notice when looking at job descriptions that there are, broadly speaking, no qualifications required to work in customer service. The requirements are mainly skill-based, rather than qualification-based.

However for most jobs, a Bachelor’s degree can help get your foot in the door. 

There are also customer service-specific qualifications which can help your application. The IoCS has some great courses in communication, solutions, innovation, and more.

That covers everything you need to start applying. Next up, how to apply – and how to make sure your application is successful.

Applying to Customer Service Jobs

 

If you like what you saw in the previous chapter, then let’s talk about applying.

 

In this chapter, we’ll cover what to include in your customer service CV, and the most common customer service interview questions.

 

With these tips and tools, you’ll be starting your new job in no time.

What Should a Customer Service CV Include?

As we covered in the previous chapter, these kinds of jobs are less about qualifications and more about skills. So in your CV, you need to show you’ve got the skills. Here are some examples:

1. Excellent Telephone Manner

This is an absolute essential, especially for call centre jobs. For example, your CV could include something along the lines of “Consistently displayed excellent telephone manner with potential and current customers.

2. Computer Skills

Gone are the days when customer service was purely phone-based. An ideal customer service candidate is skilled in softwares such as Zendesk or Hootsuite

However, if you’re just starting out, an intermediate knowledge of Microsoft Office wouldn’t go amiss.

3. Problem Solving

Your new job will present you with unexpected problems and whoever reads your CV needs to know you can provide solutions.

Try including something along the lines of “Able to handle diverse customer enquiries and escalate complaints smoothly and efficiently”.

However, these are just three of the skills you need to show off. For more skills, how to show them and even a downloadable pdf example CV, you need to check out our Customer Service CV Tips and Example.

Customer Service Interview Questions

Here are three of the 10 most common customer service interview questions, and how to answer them.

1. What does customer service mean to you?

Your answer can be almost anything. What matters is how you answer. You need to show the interviewer your positive attitude (an essential) and your willingness to adapt, learn and grow. How you tackle this question is especially important if they ask it first.

2. What about this role appeals to you?

Make your answer as specific as possible. Not just this company, not just this role, but this role, at this company.

Give the impression that this role makes perfect sense given your career trajectory. As if it was part of your plan all along. As with question one, preparing an answer for this before the interview is essential. One of the worst interview mistakes (according to employers) is a lack of knowledge of the role or company, so make sure to avoid that pitfall.

3. What’s the best customer service you’ve ever received?

Now isn’t the time for a long rambling story.

Now is the time for you to prove you know what good customer service really means. Your potential employer knows what it means. They want to ensure that your opinion aligns with theirs.

Their ideal answer would be a short example of an experience that aligns your values with the company’s.

In the upcoming chapter we’ll step it up a notch and talk about progressing to the next level.

Career Progression

 

If you’re already happy in your customer service role, it’s worth thinking about taking your career to the next level.

 

Here are some top tips to help you get promoted in customer service.

How to Get Promoted

1. Be a Role Model

Since customer service is the main way a company conveys it’s brand, to get promoted you need to be a figurehead of that brand. You need to be someone your colleagues come to as a resource, who can solve problems others can’t. You need to motivate not only yourself, but others too.

2. Discover Possible Areas of Improvement

Take an honest look at how you’re doing at work. Look for areas to improve on, accumulate new skills and build on new experiences.

Try keeping a notebook and add any new methods/solutions you’ve found. Assessing oneself can be brutal but extremely beneficial in the long run.

3. Be Valuable

Working your way to a promotion isn’t about putting in the hours day in day out. It’s about making those hours count. It’s about being indispensable. Find out how to make your company look good and they might just make you a team leader.

If you want to know more, The Muse has 13 tips for getting promoted.

Summary

OK that was a lot to take in, so let’s recap:

• Customer service is the act of helping current or future customers

• It is present in almost every industry and is key to most companies’ success

• The four most common customer service roles are (bilingual) representative, team leader and manager

• The three most important skills are communication, adaptability and conflict resolution

• The three most important personality traits are empathy, patience and creativity

• Usually no qualifications are required, although a bachelor’s degree can help your chances

• A great customer service CV should focus on showing key skills

• The three most common customer service interview questions are:

  • What does customer service mean to you?
  • What about this role appeals to you?
  • What’s the best customer service you’ve ever received?

• The main responsibilities are listening to, responding to and resolving customer queries quickly and efficiently

• Entry level salaries start around £18k, and progress up to £30k+ with seniority and experience

• The best ways to get promoted are: being a role mode, discovering new areas for improvement and being a valuable member of the team

That covers everything, now it’s over to you!

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