Customer Service Jobs and Careers
Customer service used to mean sitting at a counter answering customers' questions, but these days this area of work encompasses a huge variety of roles.
Customer service personnel work in call and contact centres, on remote help desks, in retail stores, in front of monitors answering emailed queries, in back offices, in reception areas and in information offices.
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Despite the diversity, or perhaps because of it, customer service is increasingly recognised as a profession in its own right, with career levels from representatives and assistants to supervisors and executive level managers. The continuing expansion of telecommunications means that employment in the customer services sector will continue to increase, even though the current recession may have slowed the hiring rate slightly.
Working Environments: Call Centres
Call centres, or contact centres as they're also known, provide telephone services for customers of large businesses and corporations. Sometimes the staff are employed directly by the business, while sometimes they're employed by an agency that runs the call centre.
Call centres' functions fall into one of two areas: either 'inbound' or 'outbound' calls. Outbound staff usually deal with chasing of customer payments, sale of mail order products, customer care or telemarketing. Inbound staff are usually responding to customers' calls with enquiries about product orders and related information and sales support.
Working Environments: User Help Desks
The dramatic expansion of telephony, internet services and IT generally mean that the need for readily available help and support has grown equally fast. Many of the people using digital systems are not IT-savvy, so frequently require advice to both understand and operate the designed functions and to cope with problems that arise.
Help desks are a development of the past 15 years, existing both within companies and organisations where bespoke systems are being used by employees, and as part of provider companies responding to the need for assistance from customers using their products. Many respond to telephone calls, while others respond to calls and emails.
It's the Help Desk staff's remit to ensure that the end users have the best possible experience with the organisation's products. These customer service representatives must be able to deal with confused callers in order to ascertain the real nature of the problem. They also need to prioritise the importance of incoming calls, particularly where company users' problems may have wider, drastic effects.
These staff need to be able to talk and convey information clearly, while possessing a full understanding of the technical system in question. This kind of customer service is also present in the Technical Support department of companies where there is no sale of technical products, but the technology is a back-up for another kind of service, such as online banking with a financial institution.
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Working Environments: Over-the-Counter
A retail customer support representative is usually working in a store. Their role involves providing information on any of the products on sale, or sometimes a particular area of the store, or a particular brand. The more closely related the representative's role is to a particular brand, the more likely the role is to be actively sales oriented. In this case, income may be linked to commission on sales.
Most customer service representatives are approached by customers or are contacted by telephone. Sometimes they may need to work later evenings or at weekends, depending on the stores' opening times.
There are many other situations where customer support is provided, face to face. Commercial environments such as retail banks are locations where representatives support customers and respond to queries.
Type of Person Suited to Customer Service Jobs
Customer service is without doubt a 'people job', so you need to be generally friendly towards fellow human beings and have good verbal communication skills. As with any work involving people with questions, demands and complaints, you need to have high levels of patience and self-control.
You have to be able to work under pressure, without becoming stressed or losing any of your customer handling skills. It's also important that you're able to adhere strictly to company policies when it comes to your responses. This means following your training to the letter.
As customers are not always clear, or indeed are confused, you need to be sharp enough to see the real concern behind their question. Learning through training sessions will help you with this - you must be open to receiving training and positive feedback too.
The ability to work under pressure is important, particularly if you're faced with a sea of faces asking questions, or a fast succession of phone calls. You need to be efficient in dealing with each customer, while continuing to be polite and friendly.
Team work is nearly always a strong aspect of the role. Working hours may involve shifts, particularly in call centres or on helpdesks. You need to be willing to work variable hours, as well as be punctual and dependable.
Training for Customer Service Work
Nearly all customer service training takes place within the employing companies and organisations - in other words, it is in-house. Training is outsourced to external training providers who specialise in customer service work.
Training is designed to provide new employees with an understanding of the organisation and its products, while becoming confident in their work, particularly when it comes to handling customers and managing their own reactions to them. It is customised to the working environment and tailored to the representatives' roles.
Applying for Customer Service Jobs
Before applying, update your CV to focus on the personal qualities and abilities listed earlier in this article. It's a good idea to visit employment agencies in the High Street to discuss customer service openings, so that you can gain a better idea of how well you match the person requirements. Doing so will also give you chance to check your IT and keyboarding skills in a test scenario. These test results will improve your chances of employment.
Many call centre positions are advertised on specialist jobs websites or pages, while others, particularly retail or front-of-house, are advertised on general jobs' sites.
If you are considering call centre jobs, be sure to identify whether the jobs are inbound or outbound. If an advert mentions commission or OTE (On-Target Earnings), then sales and cold calling are usually involved.
If applying for inbound positions, then prepare to take some test calls at the interview stage. Practise your courteous manner and have a think about what makes a polite telephone response. These preset tests are undertaken with a digital answering machine and an onscreen script with prompts.
Always ascertain what kind of training is provided before accepting a job offer. While customer service is a great field in that you can gain entry level positions with little by way of experience or qualifications, you have to be sure that you'll be adequately supported once you're in the position. This work can be highly stressful if the right training isn't provided.
Job Sites for Customer Service Jobs
Customer service jobs can be found at the Institute of Customer Service Jobs Site
Call centre jobs may be found on some dedicated websites, such as:
Most employment agencies that list office or commerce jobs will include customer service centre vacancies. Agencies include www.reed.co.uk/customerservice/
General jobs sites include: