The good news is the demand for skilled customer service representatives is expected to grow at a healthy rate through the first decades of the twenty-first century, powered by the numbers of products and services that demand customer support. The bad news is the job market will be highly competitive, and you will have to be as good at serving yourself with skill development as you are at serving customers to rise through the ranks.
Here are some interesting projections, courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook:
- Employers hiring customer service workers will typically be expecting at least a high school diploma.
- Some of the characteristics common in successful customer service workers are strong skills in communications and communication technology, interpersonal relations, problem-solving, and all encompassed by lots of patience.
- Some of the larger employers of customer service workers include administrative and support services (15%), retail trade (11%), credit activities (9%), wholesale trade (8%), and insurance carriers (7%).
- Customer service workers may require special licenses to answer questions about insurance or financial services. Typically these licenses require passing a written exam, with preparation often provided by the employer.
- The median hourly wage of customer service workers is around $14.64 per hour (as of 2010) in the United States, earning fulltime pay of some $30,500 per year.
For much more detail on the outlook for customer service workers, including job prospects, qualifications necessary, working conditions, pay, and so forth, visit the BLS Marketing Career Outlook pages regarding customer service representatives. As you review the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, you may benefit by researching retail, marketing, social work, and similar fields, drawing upon your abilities in communications, sales, training, technical support, and related interests.
Twenty-First Century Job Skills
While it is hard to predict with certainty the rapid technological innovations for decades to come, we can be sure the workplace and requisite skills will be in constant flux. Yet, there are fundamental abilities that are certain to be essential now and in the years to come. These skills include an ability to thrive in a global workplace, communicate across multiple cultures, manage diverse international teams, and employ communication technologies to coordinate networked teams in decentralized settings.
Google’s “Project Oxygen” conducted extensive data-mining on the company’s best international managers and identified eight characteristics of its most effective leaders. These are traits you might work to develop in yourself, if you hope to rise into top positions within your own field and organizations:
- Be a good coach, providing supportive suggestions to your workers, along with any criticisms.
- Empower your team, rather than micromanaging and usurping team members’ individual initiative.
- Express interest in your workers’ well-being, and get to know them as people and families apart from the workplace.
- Be results-oriented, motivating your team towards success with a focus on removing obstacles to productivity.
- Be a good communicator and listener, and be responsive to the team’s concerns.
- Help your workers with career development, using the same tools that have helped your own career to advance.
- Have a clear vision, and keep the team moving forward towards shared goals.
- Keep your technical skills sharp, so you can demonstrate rather than just direct.
Internships are a valuable tool for career development. They allow you to learn valuable skills while putting them to practical use in the field, to demonstrate your abilities in a low-stake position while making useful connections, and to decide if it is really the kind of work you want to dedicate your life to anyway.
As you arrange your internship position, there are a number of useful tips you might keep in mind:
- Negotiate a good title for your resume: for example, rather than intern, try customer service program coordinator, technical support developer, or such.
- Investigate if the field is a good career fit: check the company out, while the company is considering you. Is this what you want to dedicate your life to?
- Develop industry and company connections: the most valuable payoff is the people you meet, the references you gain, and the leads you get.
- Be low maintenance, observe, and contribute: many managers may dislike interns; interns sometimes take more work to manage than they give. Don’t do that.
- Treat it as a real job: always give your best; you never know who is watching.
- Volunteer for a non-profit: it can be more interesting work, offering a greater diversity of assignments and having less pressure to generate revenues.
Customer service—like most specialized fields in business and public affairs—requires a high degree of interpersonal interactions and social skills. As you network with other jobseekers and colleagues in your networks, you may find some useful tips, and even share some of your own. The following suggestions may help with stressful situations of customer interactions, staff meetings, presentations, and just small-talk schmoozing at office parties.
- If you have a difficult time with public speaking or interpersonal interactions, you may want to find a Toastmaster’s organization near you for some low-stress and supportive practice.
- When preparing for job interviews and performance evaluations, expect hard questions and draft out your responses in advance—especially for the questions you may not want to answer.
- Do not be afraid to admit that you do not know the answer to a question; instead, offer to find the answer and get back to the asker as soon as possible.
- Do not rush when answering any questions. Do not feel obliged to fill the quiet after a tricky question. Just pause, think, and then answer.
- Always dress your part, projecting a cool, clean-cut professional image. Dress up or down as the circumstance dictates.
- Project enthusiasm for your ideas and goals. That attitude is contagious. Remember that if you are not excited about yourself, then the listener never will be.
- Do not be untruthful, but also do not feel the need to be hurtful. Do not say someone looks unwell, sick, or tired. This will do nothing to further conversation and only make the person uncomfortable. Remember silence is an option.
The business world can be challenging to break into, highly competitive, and frequently unforgiving. Fortunately, there are many support systems in place, including social networks that provide a means to share tips, job leads, case studies, and mutual support for colleagues facing common problems. Successful professionals will make use of these resources as well as share their own employment leads, tips, and best practices.
By business networking and postings on social networks, you may also help employers to find and recruit you!
There are professional and personal networks serving international users, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn; with many similar networks serving professionals at a national level. The PDF reading below gives samples and links to some of these. It’s worth your time to visit such networking sites, then set up your own account and profile.
PDF file of this lesson: Career Resources