How to Become a Customer Service Specialist

By Robert Half on March 17, 2022 at 6:00am

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.

The timing is good, because companies are seeing an increased customer demand and rising workloads — and they’re competing for skilled customer support talent across all industries. The job titles may vary slightly, with some managers looking to hire customer care specialists and others specifying call center representatives, with remote, hybrid or in-office work arrangements.

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

Customer service 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, can hurt a brand’s reputation and, as a consequence, its potential profitability.

Take a look at our customer service job openings and submit your resume here.

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 (e.g., email and online chat), and occasionally in person. They may work remotely or onsite for 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 for customer service jobs, companies look for candidates with good 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 and data entry, including in-house tracking and ticketing, customer relationship management systems and telecommunications platforms. These professionals should also be able to multitask, such as simultaneously entering data, looking at a screen, and listening to and speaking with customers.

Employers prefer candidates with at least one year of customer service experience, but this profession is highly accessible for entry-level workers, including recent college graduates, as many companies provide industry- and software-specific training and clearly defined career paths.

For many entry-level customer service roles, a high school diploma or equivalent is sufficient but employers increasingly seek candidates with a college degree. In particular, 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 examples, in both your personal and professional worlds, where you successfully turned around a negative situation. Show off your people skills with friendly eye contact, positive body language and engagement.

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.

You can find starting salaries for a call center specialist, customer service specialist, customer service managers and call center managers and other customer service and call center jobs, using the latest Salary Guide from Robert Half. You can also fine-tune listed salary ranges to your location.

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