How to Build Your Customer Service Career Path
by Drew Hendricks

A customer service representative is integral to any company in every industry. They are the face of the brand, the liaison between the corporation and the individual, and as such, every business’ future rests on their success. If you’re friendly, passionate about helping others, knowledgeable, and patient, then you might want to consider a full-time career in customer service. This field is endlessly growing, and unlike other careers, offers you plenty of flexibility and options. Every single company, from the smallest office to the largest Fortune 500, is currently looking for the right service agents to help them build their brand’s image, customer base, and truly provide their customers with problem resolution options that make them happy.

When you’re building a solid path to a customer service career, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with options. Unlike other routes that have a specific trajectory (for example, you finish law school, then you become a lawyer), this industry allows you to branch out and work for many different industries. There are also a lot of different parts of the job itself. You can look for a leadership position, stay a specialist, work behind the scenes out of an office, or place yourself at a front desk as an official representative. To build a productive career, you have to understand your worth as a customer service agent and how your skills add value to businesses.

The days of hiring untrained interns to answer phones are nearly over with – companies want experienced, highly-trained specialists that will work with them for a long time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment will grow faster than the average for all customer service occupations between 2016 and 2026. Depending on where you work, the company’s size, and your experience, salary rates will fluctuate, but statistics show that companies are now willing to invest more and pay higher salaries to their customer service departments. When you’re creating your five-year plan, or simply your next job move, it’s important to understand the types of roles you’ll be filling, the value you provide, the skills you’ll need, and the decision you’ll have to make as you build your career.

Technology and the Growth of Customer Service
We’ve reached a point in our world’s economic growth that there are more options for consumers than ever for services, merchandise, and anything else they’d like to spend money on. With the help of government regulations and sectors like the Better Business Bureau, there’s more pressure than ever for companies to deliver on their advertisements and products. Finally, the far-reaching effects of technology made it simpler than ever for buyers to reach out and spot businesses that have less-than-stellar reputations. These progressions have changed the scope of the way customer service is viewed by enterprises and individuals alike.

Since the view of customer service has shifted, there’s a particular understanding that traditional roles don’t have the same meanings as they did in past decades. What used to be viewed as a cost (employees, call center, telephone service, etc.), is now considered as the face of the company. A customer service team is a vital component of business, sales, and marketing. These individuals provide a valuable insight on overall customer satisfaction that each company then takes into account when creating products or service changes. Additionally, there’s less outsourcing now for these sectors. Instead, companies opt for individuals that can work closely with other departments so that they remain informed and helpful. A certain level of self-service that empowers clients to fix simple problems themselves, leaving the more complex questions for the human experts on the other line.

Most companies by 2019 understand the importance of a web presence, complete with chatbots and agents that answer emails. These new service options have opened up a host of new career options for those in the field. But the most crucial factor in this is that the standards have changed. Clients expect to call and get in touch with a representative that can help them resolve a problem quickly. If a brand doesn’t have those channels readily available, they’ll lose that business.

Job Possibilities for Customer Service
Now that every company is looking to build a better customer service department, the term itself is pretty general. Technology made it possible and necessary for every business to have a department dedicated to communicating with their consumers. From individuals that answer Facebook messages, to those at a call-center in an office building, customer service has a wide variety of options for those working in the field.

The first step to deciding your next move is narrowing down those options. Would you prefer to work from home? Do you have digital skills that would make you an asset for a company that does the bulk of its communications online? Do you prefer face-to-face interactions, or would you prefer a desk job? These are all critical questions to address before you narrow down your job search options. Then, you should assess your own interests and skills to decide what industry you would be happiest in. Depending on your previous experience or education, your knowledge adds a particular benefit for businesses. Whether you are interested in technology, fashion, or even research, you can find a position fit for you.

While customer service refers to any interactions with clients, you’ll find that job titles will range. The most popular types of customer service jobs include:

• Call center agent
• Concierge
• Client relations associates
• Client services coordinators
• Front desk/receptionist
• Social media customer care specialists
• Digital/chat agents

While these jobs have been around for centuries, technology has changed the entire field. What used to be considered a dead-end service job in a retail store now requires a highly-regarded specialist that understands consumer psychology and is trained to resolve disputes.

Building a Resume
This is one of the fields that’s seeing a lot of growth, which also means that companies are looking to hire within strict parameters. Once an entry-level job where you didn’t need experience, is now quite competitive. Luckily, there’s also room for promotions and movement within this sector. So even if you’re starting from the very bottom, with some hard work, you can find yourself in a leadership position with a full resume in a few years.

It’s important not to underestimate what you can learn at any level as a customer service agent. Whether you start in sales for a retailer or managed a team of associates, any leadership and intrapersonal skills are relevant. Once you have some experience under your belt you have the opportunity to either go on as a specialist and get better jobs in that area or move on into a management role. While you can switch back and forth, you should have a pretty good idea where you would excel and what you want to do.

To build the best customer service resume, you should have worked at a variety of companies as an agent. If you’re looking to get the expert jobs and be known as a specialist, you should pick an industry and stick with it so that you can build up the knowledge that would make you an asset to those companies. Those looking to hold the bigger corporate jobs can do so. Companies that have multiple departments look for those that can train, lead, and manage a staff. Once you’ve figured out what direction you want to go in, you can begin building up a resume that will help you get the career you want.

Necessary Skills
Customer service agents have to be good with people, but that’s not the end of it. Just being friendly and well-meaning isn’t enough. A career in this industry requires technical skills, intrapersonal skills, and problem-solving abilities. Whether you’re working from home on a headset, or you’re on the front desk in an office, there are certain qualities companies look for.

Taken from job descriptions on Indeed.com, there are a few common factors that businesses seek out when it comes to hiring a new specialist:

• Experience in customer service (1-3 years)
• Exceptional computer/typing skills
• Attention to detail
• Ability to multi-task
• Great communication skills
• Ability to work quickly
• Critical and problem-solving ability
• Be able to grasp changes in policies quickly
• The means to remember and provide pricing, product information, warranty information, etc.
• Active listening skills
• Flexible schedule
• Comfortable working in a fast-paced, high-volume environment
• Excellent language skills

Remember, if you’re looking to go into a specialty industry for the higher salaries (pharmaceutical or tech company rep), you’ll have to be able to demonstrate a certain level of knowledge in the subject area.

Most of these jobs don’t require a specific college diploma, although some companies prefer those with a four-year degree. Job experience and training is a must to move forward as a successful customer service representative.

The Value of Customer Service Agents
The way companies approach customers can make or break a business. Across the United States, corporations lose nearly $1.6 trillion yearly due to poor customer service, while businesses that invest in their customer service departments make between 4 and 8 percent more revenue than competitors in their industries. It doesn’t take a considerable amount of statistics though to realize that people want to be treated well and will invest with those brands that adhere to that.

If you’re passionate about the idea that businesses should appreciate, value, and help their customers and you know you can use your skills to better a brand, then you will likely enjoy and excel in the customer service career field. This desire is more valuable than ever before, so don’t forget how crucial your role is in any company. Quality customer service is imperative, and with the current growth in the market, you can find a company that truly appreciates what you have to offer.