How to Become a Customer Service Specialist

By Robert Half on October 14, 2017 at 9:40pm

Customer service representatives are in high demand in companies that need professionals to connect with people, providing information and solving problems.

The job titles vary slightly, with some companies hiring for customer care specialists and others for call center representatives. What these roles have in common is their dedication to a user’s positive brand experience.

If you have stellar communication and problem-solving skills, combined with an aptitude for technology and data entry, you could have a fulfilling career as a customer service specialist.

Strong customer service matters

These administrative professionals serve as a major point of contact between companies and their consumer base. Due to the front-line nature of this job, customer service specialists’ words and actions play an outsized role in how the public perceives the brand.

In contrast to salespeople, who aim to complete transactions, customer service professionals focus on interactions with consumers after they’ve purchased a good or service. A good post-sale experience increases brand loyalty, creates positive buzz for the company, and results in repeat business and a healthy bottom line. A lackluster or negative experience, by contrast, hurts a brand’s reputation and, as a consequence, its share of the market.

Indeed, an OfficeTeam survey emphasizes the significant role these professionals play. Among the workers surveyed, 59 percent said it takes just one or two bad customer service experiences for them to decide not to deal with a company again.

Customer service does it all

These professionals are not just on the receiving end when customers contact a company. They also proactively solicit feedback to make sure customers are happy with their new product or service.

The vast majority of businesses — retail, healthcare, hospitality, technology, insurance and more — offer customer support. The types of contact depend on the particular industry and job description. Specialists offer customer service mostly by phone and via online means (email, online chat), and occasionally in person. They may work in a company’s sales or marketing department, or their employer could be a call center or other third-party agency.

The job responsibilities include:

  • Answering customer inquiries
  • Leading customers through the sales process
  • Offering product or service descriptions, recommendations and quotes
  • Entering orders and other data
  • Following up with customers after a purchase
  • Getting feedback via phone calls and customer satisfaction surveys
  • Troubleshooting technical issues
  • Resolving complaints, including issuing refunds
  • Researching complex issues and collaborating with coworkers and managers for resolutions
  • Working with other departments to improve products or services

Note that customer service representatives are not telemarketers and do not make cold calls.

What you need for the role

When hiring customer service representatives, companies look for candidates with killer communication skills. These specialists should be able to listen actively, express empathy and speak to anyone with ease. They also need an aptitude for quickly learning the industry they are in, and the ability to translate technical jargon into easy-to-understand language. Especially desirable are applicants who can do all of the above in English and another language.

Customer service specialists must be comfortable with technology, including in-house tracking systems and telecommunications platforms. Such professionals should also be able to multitask: simultaneously enter data, look at a screen, and listen to and speak with customers.

Employers prefer candidates with at least one year of customer service experience, but this profession is highly accessible for entry-level workers, as most companies provide industry- and software-specific training.

For most customer service roles, a high school diploma or equivalent is sufficient. A manager for a customer service department or call center may be required to have an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in business administration or another relevant field.

What’s more important, soft skills or hard skills?

Computer hardware and software play a large role in customer service jobs, but those skills are relatively easy to teach. More difficult for employers to train for are superb interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence.

Employees with a high emotional quotient (EQ) — analogous to intelligence quotient (IQ) — can easily build rapport, express genuine empathy and understand the perspective of others. They listen actively and respond with warmth, making consumers feel valued and understood.

What’s more, they are skilled at controlling their own emotions so that they deescalate a situation rather than make it worse. This is a key trait of excellent customer service specialists — who often find themselves speaking with unhappy consumers.

During a job interview for these roles, hiring managers often focus on a candidate’s ability to solve problems and satisfy clients. Questions touch on how you deal with conflict and difficult people. Prepare for such interviews by thinking of specific situations, in both your personal and professionals worlds, where you successfully turned around a negative situation. Show off your people skills with friendly eye contact, positive body language and an engaging sense of humor.

What's the customer service specialist salary?

Companies understand the power of excellent customer service, which is why certain businesses have stopped outsourcing this role to overseas providers and brought these jobs back to the U.S. It’s difficult to communicate effectively with customers, especially by phone, if the representative doesn’t have a firm grasp of idioms, regional accents or reference points. These and other factors lead to an above-average growth rate for customer service jobs.

According to the 2019 OfficeTeam Salary Guide, the starting salary midpoint for a call center representative is $32,500. Customer service representatives are predicted to see a salary midpoint of $30,750. The salary midpoint for customer service managers is $45,250 and for call center managers, $51,250; add more to this figure for managers supervising more than 20 employees.

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