Strong verbal communication and listening skills are important.
Customer service representatives are employed by many different
types of companies throughout the country to serve as a direct
point of contact for customers. They are responsible for ensuring
that their company’s customers receive an adequate level of
service or help with their questions and concerns. These customers
may be individual consumers or other companies, and the nature
of their service needs can vary considerably.
All customer service representatives interact with customers
to provide information in response to inquiries about products
or services and to handle and resolve complaints. They communicate
with customers through a variety of means—by telephone; by
e-mail, fax, or regular mail correspondence; or in person.
Some customer service representatives handle general questions
and complaints, whereas others specialize in a particular
Many customer inquiries involve routine questions and requests.
For example, customer service representatives may be asked
to provide a customer with their credit card balance, or to
check on the status of an order that has been placed. Obtaining
the answers to such questions usually requires simply looking
up information on their computer. Other questions are more
involved, and may call for additional research or further
explanation on the part of the customer service representative.
In handling customers’ complaints, customer service representatives
must attempt to resolve the problem according to guidelines
established by the company. These procedures may involve asking
questions to determine the validity of a complaint; offering
possible solutions; or providing customers with refunds, exchanges,
or other offers, such as discounts or coupons. In some cases,
customer service representatives are required to follow up
with an individual customer until a question is answered or
an issue is resolved.
Some customer service representatives help people decide
what types of products or services would best suit their needs.
They may even aid customers in completing purchases or transactions.
Although the primary function of customer service representatives
is not sales, some may spend a part of their time with customers
encouraging them to purchase additional products or services.
(For information on workers whose primary function is sales,
see the statements on sales and related occupations elsewhere
in the Handbook.) Customer service representatives
also may make changes or updates to a customer’s profile or
account information. They may keep records of transactions
and update and maintain databases of information.
Most customer service representatives use computers and telephones
extensively in their work. Customer service representatives
frequently enter information into a computer as they are speaking
to customers. Often, companies have large amounts of data,
such as account information, that can be pulled up on a computer
screen while the representative is talking to a customer so
that he or she can answer specific questions relating to the
account. Customer service representatives also may have access
to information such as answers to the most common customer
questions, or guidelines for dealing with complaints. In the
event that they encounter a question or situation to which
they do not know how to respond, workers consult with a supervisor
to determine the best course of action. Customer service representatives
use multiline telephones systems, which often route calls
directly to the most appropriate representative. However,
at times, the customer service representative must transfer
a call to someone who may be better able to respond to the
In some organizations, customer service representatives spend
their entire day on the telephone. In others, they may spend
part of their day answering e-mails and the remainder of the
day taking calls. For some, most of their contact with the
customer is face to face. Customer service representatives
need to remain aware of the amount of time spent with each
customer so that they can fairly distribute their time among
the people who require their assistance. This is particularly
important for customer service representatives whose primary
activities are answering telephone calls and whose conversations
often are required to be kept within set time limits. For
customer service representatives working in call centers,
there usually is very little time between telephone calls;
as soon as representatives have finished with one call, they
must move on to another. When working in call centers, customer
service representatives are likely to be under close supervision.
Telephone calls may be taped and reviewed by supervisors to
ensure that company policies and procedures are being followed,
or a supervisor may listen in on conversations.
Job responsibilities can differ, depending on the industry
in which a customer service representative is employed. For
example, a customer service representative working in the
branch office of a bank may assume the responsibilities of
other workers, such as teller or new account clerk, as needed.
In insurance agencies, a customer service representative interacts
with agents, insurance companies, and policyholders. These
workers handle much of the paperwork related to insurance
policies, such as policy applications and changes and renewals
to existing policies. They answer questions regarding policy
coverage, help with reporting claims, and do anything else
that may need to be done. Although they must know as much
as insurance agents about insurance products, and usually
must have credentials equal to those of an agent in order
to sell products and make changes to policies, the duties
of a customer service representative differ from those of
an agent in that customer service representatives are not
responsible for actively seeking potential customers. Customer
service representatives employed by utilities and communications
companies assist individuals interested in opening accounts
for various utilities such as electricity and gas, or for
communication services such as cable television and telephone.
They explain various options and receive orders for services
to be installed, turned on, turned off, or changed. They also
may look into and resolve complaints about billing and service
provided by utility, telephone, and cable television companies.
Although customer service representatives can work in a variety
of settings, most work in areas that are clean and well lit.
Many work in call or customer contact centers. In this type
of environment, workers generally have their own workstation
or cubicle space equipped with a telephone, headset, and computer.
Because many call centers are open extended hours, beyond
the traditional work day, or are staffed around the clock,
these positions may require workers to take on early morning,
evening, or late night shifts. Weekend or holiday work also
may be necessary. As a result, the occupation is well suited
to flexible work schedules. Nearly 1 out of 5 customer service
representatives work part time. The occupation also offers
the opportunity for seasonal work in certain industries, often
through temporary help agencies.
Call centers may be crowded and noisy, and work may be repetitious
and stressful, with little time between calls. Workers usually
must attempt to minimize the length of each call, while still
providing excellent service. To ensure that these procedures
are followed, conversations may be monitored by supervisors,
something that can be stressful. Also, long periods spent
sitting, typing, or looking at a computer screen may cause
eye and muscle strain, backaches, headaches, and repetitive
Customer service representatives working outside of a call
center environment may interact with customers through several
different means. For example, workers employed by an insurance
agency or in a grocery store may have customers approach them
in person or contact them by telephone, computer, mail, or
fax. Many of these customer service representatives work a
standard 40-hour week; however, their hours generally depend
on the hours of operation of the establishment in which they
are employed. Work environments outside of a call center also
vary accordingly. Most customer service representatives work
either in an office or at a service or help desk.
For virtually all types of customer service representatives,
dealing with difficult or irate customers can be a trying
task; however, the ability to resolve customers’ problems
has the potential to be very rewarding.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most customer service representative jobs require only a
high school diploma. However, due to employers demanding a
higher skilled workforce, many customer service jobs now require
an associate or bachelor’s degree. Basic to intermediate computer
knowledge and good interpersonal skills also are important
qualities for people who wish to be successful in the field.
Because customer service representatives constantly interact
with the public, good communication and problem-solving skills
are a must. Verbal communication and listening skills are
especially important. Additionally, for workers who communicate
through e-mail, good typing, spelling, and written communication
skills are necessary. High school courses in computers, English,
or business are helpful in preparing for a job in customer
Customer service representatives play a critical role in
providing an interface between customer and company, and for
this reason employers seek out people who come across in a
friendly and professional manner. The ability to deal patiently
with problems and complaints and to remain courteous when
faced with difficult or angry people is very important. Also,
a customer service representative needs to be able to work
independently within specified time constraints. Workers should
have a clear and pleasant speaking voice and be fluent in
English. However, the ability to speak a foreign language
is becoming increasingly necessary, and bilingual skills are
considered a plus.
Training requirements vary by industry. Almost all customer
service representatives are provided with some training prior
to beginning work, and training continues once on the job.
This training generally covers customer service and phone
skills, products and services and common customer problems
with them, the use or operation of the telephone and/or computer
systems, and company policies and regulations. Length of training
varies, but it usually lasts at least several weeks. Because
of a constant need to update skills and knowledge, most customer
service representatives continue to receive instruction and
training throughout their career. This is particularly true
of workers in industries such as banking, in which regulations
and products are continually changing.
Although some positions may require previous industry, office,
or customer service experience, many customer service jobs
are entry level. Customer service jobs are often good introductory
positions into a company or an industry. In some cases, experienced
workers can move up within the company into supervisory or
managerial positions or they may move into areas such as product
development, in which they can use their knowledge to improve
products and services.
Within insurance agencies and brokerages, however, a customer
service representative job usually is not an entry-level position.
Workers must have previous experience in insurance and are
often required by State regulations to be licensed like insurance
sales agents. A variety of designations are available to demonstrate
that a candidate has sufficient knowledge and skill, and continuing
education and training are often offered through the employer.
As they gain more knowledge of industry products and services,
customer service representatives in insurance may advance
to other, higher level positions, such as insurance sales
Customer service representatives held about 2.1 million jobs
in 2004. Although they were found in a variety of industries,
about 1 in 4 customer service representatives worked in finance
and insurance. The largest numbers were employed by insurance
carriers, insurance agencies and brokerages, and banks and
About 1 in 8 customer service representatives were employed
in administrative and support services. These workers were
concentrated in the business support services industry (which
includes telephone call centers) and employment services (which
includes temporary help services and employment placement
agencies). Another 1in 8 customer service representatives
were employed in retail trade establishments such as general
merchandise stores, food and beverage stores, or nonstore
retailers. Other industries that employ significant numbers
of customer service representatives include information, particularly
the telecommunications industry; manufacturing, such as printing
and related support activities; and wholesale trade.
Although they are found in all States, customer service representatives
who work in call centers tend to be concentrated geographically.
Four States—California, Texas, Florida, and New York—employ
30 percent of customer service representatives. Delaware,
Arizona, South Dakota, and Utah, have the highest concentration
of workers in this occupation, with customer service representatives
comprising over 2 percent of total employment in these States.
Prospects for obtaining a job in this field are expected
to be excellent, with more job openings than jobseekers. Bilingual
jobseekers, in particular, may enjoy favorable job prospects.
In addition to many new openings occurring as businesses and
organizations expand, numerous job openings will result from
the need to replace experienced customer service representatives
who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.
Replacement needs are expected to be significant in this large
occupation because many young people work as customer service
representatives before switching to other jobs. This occupation
is well suited to flexible work schedules, and many opportunities
for part-time work will continue to be available, particularly
as organizations attempt to cut labor costs by hiring more
Employment of customer service representatives is expected
to increase faster than the average for all occupations through
the year 2014. Beyond growth stemming from expansion of the
industries in which customer service representatives are employed,
a need for additional customer service representatives is
likely to result from heightened reliance on these workers.
Customer service is critical to the success of any organization
that deals with customers, and strong customer service can
build sales and visibility as companies try to distinguish
themselves from competitors. In many industries, gaining a
competitive edge and retaining customers will be increasingly
important over the next decade. This is particularly true
in industries such as financial services, communications,
and utilities, which already employ numerous customer service
representatives. As the trend toward consolidation in industries
continues, centralized call centers will provide an effective
method for delivering a high level of customer service. As
a result, employment of customer service representatives may
grow at a faster rate in call centers than in other areas.
However, this growth may be tempered: a variety of factors,
including technological improvements, make it increasingly
feasible and cost-effective for call centers to be built or
relocated outside of the United States.
Technology is affecting the occupation in many ways. The
Internet and automated teller machines have provided customers
with means of obtaining information and conducting transactions
that do not entail interacting with another person. Technology
also allows for a greater streamlining of processes, while
at the same time increasing the productivity of workers. The
use of computer software to filter e-mails, generating automatic
responses or directing messages to the appropriate representative,
and the use of similar systems to answer or route telephone
inquiries are likely to become more prevalent in the future.
Also, with rapidly improving telecommunications, some organizations
have begun to position their call centers overseas.
Despite such developments, the need for customer service
representatives is expected to remain strong. In many ways,
technology has heightened consumers’ expectations for information
and services, and availability of information online seems
to have generated more need for customer service representatives,
particularly to respond to e-mail. Also, technology cannot
replace human skills. As more sophisticated technologies are
able to resolve many customers’ questions and concerns, the
nature of the inquiries to be handled by customer service
representatives is likely to become increasingly complex.
Furthermore, the job responsibilities of customer service
representatives are expanding. As companies downsize or take
other measures to increase profitability, workers are being
trained to perform additional duties such as opening bank
accounts or cross-selling products. As a result, employers
may increasingly prefer customer service representatives who
have education beyond high school, such as some college or
even a college degree.
While jobs in some industries, such as retail trade, may
be affected by economic downturns, the customer service occupation
is generally resistant to major fluctuations in employment.
In May 2004, median annual earnings for wage and salary customer
service representatives were $27,020. The middle 50 percent
earned between $21,510 and $34,560. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $17,680, and the highest 10 percent earned
more than $44,160.
Earnings for customer service representatives vary according
to level of skill required, experience, training, location,
and size of firm. Median annual earnings in the industries
employing the largest numbers of these workers in May 2004
are shown below.
|Agencies, brokerages, and other insurance
|Depository credit intermediation
|Business support services
In addition to receiving an hourly wage, full-time customer
service representatives who work evenings, nights, weekends,
or holidays may receive shift differential pay. Also, because
call centers are often open during extended hours, or even
24 hours a day, some customer service representatives have
the benefit of being able to work a schedule that does not
conform to the traditional workweek. Other benefits can include
life and health insurance, pensions, bonuses, employer-provided
training, and discounts on the products and services the company
Customer service representatives interact with customers
to provide information in response to inquiries about products
and services and to handle and resolve complaints. Other occupations
in which workers have similar dealings with customers and
the public are information and record clerks; financial clerks,
such as tellers and new-account clerks; insurance sales
agents; securities, commodities, and financial services sales
agents; retail salespersons; computer support specialists;
and gaming services workers.
|Sources of Additional Information
State employment service offices can provide information
about employment opportunities for customer service representatives.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07