Customer service is a great field to get into, especially since it's more critical than ever for organizations to adopt a customer-centric mindset. If you're already in a customer service role and want to advance in your career, or you're evaluating whether a customer service role is right for you, read on to learn all you need to know about this popular career path.
Having a Customer Service 'Background'
You might be wondering if you can be competitive in the job market for service and support roles. As with any career, customer service requires certain background experiences, skills, and knowledge to be successful. Here are some of the things that recruiters and hiring managers might be looking for:
Soft Skills for Customer Service
- Active Listening
- Conflict Resolution
Hard Skills for Customer Service
- CRM Experience
- Persuasive Writing
- Documentation Skills
- Product Knowledge
- Phone System Experience
However, some people may be more receptive to certain positions based on their personalities. Therefore, it's important to consider who you are as an individual when considering a career since you put so much of yourself into that job.
Below, we discuss role progression, specific roles, responsibilities, and how they fit into the customer service career path. If you're more interested in diving straight into your personality type, click here.
Customer Service Career Growth
Rep or Associate (Entry-Level)
Reps are on the front line, answering customer questions and responding to complaints.
Specialists also work one-on-one with customers, but they may have additional subject matter expertise that equips them to handle escalations. In some organizations, specialists may also reach out to customers to up-sell or cross-sell.
Team Lead (Mid-Level or Managerial)
Team leads supervise individual contributors on the team and work with their own book of customers. They implement processes and initiatives to support the team at large in addition to handling any people ops tasks.
Managers typically support a whole team or department, providing training, setting goals, and improving operational efficiency from a macro level.
In customer service, a director or other senior/executive management member drives the mission, vision, and strategy of customer service, communications, and experience.
How to Master Your Customer Support Career
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How Can You Grow Your Career in Customer Service?
One of the best ways that you can grow your career in customer service is by understanding the different roles that are out there and developing skills that align with them. Here's an example of the most common positions you'll find along a customer service role progression:
Customer Service Representative
A customer service representative is a frontline employee on the customer service team. They're responsible for reaching out to existing and potential customers with product offers, information about the company, and general updates. Rather than responding to customer communication, their work is more proactive because it aims to solve problems before the customer recognizes them.
Customer service reps typically work in offices or call centers and report to a customer service manager. They use phone calls, live chats, email, and social media to communicate with customers. Sometimes, they may be assigned to a specific account or work with other service team members to help every customer.
The customer service representative role tends to be an entry-level position on customer service teams. However, since customer service is still a relatively new field, the significance of this position may vary for each company. Once customer service reps master this position, they tend to move on to specialized customer support or customer success roles.
- High school diploma
- Customer support experience or experience as a Client Service Representative
- Track record of over-achieving quota
- Strong phone contact handling skills and active listening
- Familiarity with CRM systems and practices
- Customer orientation and ability to adapt/respond to different types of customers
- Excellent communication and presentation skills
- Ability to multi-task, prioritize, and manage time effectively
- Manage large amounts of incoming phone calls
- Generate sales leads
- Identify and assess customers’ needs
- Build sustainable relationships through open and interactive communication
- Provide accurate, valid, and complete information
- Meet sales targets and call handling quotas
- Handle customer complaints, provide appropriate solutions and alternatives, and follow up to ensure resolution.
- Keep records of customer interactions
- Process customer accounts and file documents
- Follow communication procedures, guidelines, and policies.
- Engage customers
Median Salary: $35,459
(Remote) Customer Support Representative
A customer support representative acts as the first point of contact on a customer service team. They're responsible for responding to customer inquiries via phone calls, emails, live chats, and direct messages on social media. Customer support differs from customer service because of its responsive communication to customer needs — it's more reactive than proactive.
Remote customer support reps complete the same responsibilities as customer support representatives but away from the office. They may work from home or another preferred workspace and have more freedom to travel, care for their families, work other jobs, and get degrees while employed.
While this position is often entry-level, it's common for customer support reps to stay in this role for many years because some companies are highly dependent on their support teams and can't afford to constantly train new reps. So instead, they focus on incentivizing their support reps to prevent potential turnover.
At other companies, this position is often a stepping stone to taking on more advanced customer service or support roles. Support reps who are passionate about the product may pursue a specialization where they can be experts in a specific area. Reps that are more interested in working directly with consumers can shift their focus towards a customer success career path.
- Experience using help desk software and remote support tools
- Previous remote work is a plus
- Understanding of how CRM systems work
- Excellent communication and problem-solving skills
- Multi-tasking abilities
- Excellent time-management skills
- Organized and patient
- Timely response to customer queries via phone, email, or chat
- Help customers use specific products or features
- Analyze and report product bugs or errors
- Inform customers about new features and functionalities
- Gather customer feedback and share it with relevant teams
Median Salary: $36,791
Customer Support Specialist
A customer support specialist is a customer service worker who has mastered a specific aspect of the product or service. These employees have a proven record demonstrating their expertise in either customer support or customer success. They act as a reference for other team members and solve advanced problems that pertain to their focus.
The specialists that work in customer success are used to handling sensitive customer service cases. These employees diffuse stressful situations and work with frustrated customers to prevent potential churn. Specialists in this role tend to apply to managerial positions on their customer success teams.
Customer support specialists handle support cases that the average rep would struggle with. Since they focus on a specific product or feature, they can quickly solve the advanced problems customers face.
These specialists also have a few more options to consider at this point in their customer service career path. For example, they could pursue a more technical role and become a product expert or choose a leadership position as a customer service manager.
- Experience in a customer service role
- Familiarity with the customer service industry is a plus.
- Experience using help desk software and remote support tools
- Understanding of CRM systems
- Excellent communication and problem-solving skills
- Multi-tasking abilities
- Bachelor’s in information technology
- Respond to customer queries via phone, email, or chat
- Identify customer needs and help customers use specific features
- Analyze and report product malfunctions
- Update internal databases with information about technical issues and valuable discussions with customers
- Monitor customer complaints on social media and provide assistance
- Share feature requests and effective workarounds with team members
- Inform customers about new features and functionalities
- Follow up with customers to ensure their technical issues are resolved
- Gather customer feedback and share it with product, sales, and marketing teams
- Train junior customer support representatives
Median Salary: $50,984
A product expert or product engineer solves customer problems beyond a frontline rep's training. They possess extensive knowledge of the product and solve the company's most challenging support cases. These employees work on major bugs, glitches, and product flaws that can't be addressed in a normal customer service case.
The next career step for a product expert would most likely be a developer role. Developer positions fall outside the realm of customer service and are more geared towards a career in product management.
- Master's degree in a related field preferred
- Extensive experience in the field
- Portfolio of successful past projects
- Excellent verbal and written communication skills
- Strong knowledge of industry and market trends
- Passionate about creating solutions to customer problems
- Able to work efficiently with minimal supervision
- Able to travel to suppliers as required
- Develop product ideas based on customer audience interests
- Identify customer problems and create functional prototypes offering a solution
- Coordinate prototype submissions with relevant personnel for approval
- Perform market analysis on competing products and brands
- Analyze market and industry trends and conditions
- Analyze feasibility, cost, and return on investment for product ideas
- Manage the budget requirements for projects
- Oversee the mass production of successful prototypes
Median Salary: $73,586
The implementation specialist ensures that each customer they work with has a positive experience with the product. They do this by assisting in implementing and executing the product or solution on a project-by-project basis. For example, they may handle onboarding before passing the customer on to their longer-term representative.
The implementation specialist must have deep knowledge of the product and champion it as they handle customer expectations.
- Bachelor's degree in computer science, engineering, computer information science, information technology, or a related field
- Previous experience working as an implementation specialist
- Technical knowledge
- Proficiency in Microsoft Office applications and SQL database management systems
- Ability to multitask effectively
- Ability to work independently and as part of a team
- Strong analytical and problem-solving skills.
- Excellent organizational and time management skills
- Exceptional communication and customer service skills
- Attention to detail
- Meet with clients following the sale of software packages to collect data and other information required to customize software systems.
- Create a project plan for each client, detailing the tasks that need to be completed for the timely installation of customized software systems.
- Communicate with clients throughout the software customization process to obtain feedback and approval.
- Customize software systems based on clients’ individual needs and specifications.
- Educate clients on how to use purchased software systems and customized system features.
- Create a specialized document for each client that details all customizations.
- Install customized software systems and all necessary components.
- Ensure that the project team is aware of key deliverables and project milestones.
- Provide cost and time estimates to clients who require additional customizations.
Median Salary: $57,094
Customer Success Manager
A customer success manager works one-on-one with customers as partners. They help customers with product onboarding, implementing tools, and creating sales and marketing campaigns. These employees have diverse customer success backgrounds and years of experience working with customers.
Customer success managers follow up with their customers regularly, checking on their progress and acting similarly to a trusted advisor. Additionally, they ensure their customers get the most from the company by finding ways to optimize the product or service within the customer's workflow.
Once customer success managers master managing their customers, the next step in their career is to manage their fellow employees as a customer service manager.
- Communications or marketing degree preferred
- Proven work experience as a Customer Success Manager or similar role
- Experience working with brand image and promoting value through customer experience
- Exceptional ability to communicate and foster positive business relationships
- Technical skills
- Accountability and personal organization
- Experience managing a diverse group and training each according to company standards
- Establish clear client retention goals
- Process milestones for the clients and employees to work toward
- Assist customers with setting up and navigating programs or software
- Promote the value of the product
- Upsell services and products with the brand image
- Promote value through customer experience
- Assist in creating training courses and educational materials
- Review customer complaints and concerns and seek to improve the customer experience
Median Salary: $71,341
Customer Service Manager
A customer service manager leads a customer service team which can sometimes include both the success and the support teams. They hire and train new reps on their team and act as a resource whenever reps have questions. They also set goals for their team based on the company vision and regularly check up on each rep to ensure they're hitting numbers.
Customer service managers might handle the records of their customers and employees and set the tone for a positive, successful team. However, they generally oversee the entire customer service team and interfere in customer interactions only when necessary.
While this is a prestigious position for most customer service teams, there's still one more step a customer service manager can take in their career. The best customer service managers can strive to become their companies' VP of Customer Success or Chief Customer Officer (CCO).
Bachelor’s degree in business administration or related field
At least 10 years of experience in customer service
Proven work experience as a customer service manager, retail manager, or assistant manager
Experience providing customer service support
Knowledge of management methods and techniques
Knowledge of customer service software, databases, and tools
Awareness of the latest technology trends and applications
Ability to think strategically and lead
Strong client-facing and communication skills
Advanced troubleshooting and multi-tasking skills
- Improve customer service experience, create engaged customers and facilitate organic growth
- Take ownership of customers' issues and follow problems through to resolution
- Develop service procedures, policies, and standards
- Keep accurate records and document customer service actions and discussions
- Analyze statistics and compile accurate reports
- Recruit and mentor customer service agents and nurture an environment where they can excel
- Keep ahead of industry developments and apply best practices to areas of improvement.
- Control resources and utilize assets to achieve qualitative and quantitative targets
- Adhere to and manage budget
- Maintain an orderly workflow according to priorities
Median Salary: $60,057
Customer Service Operations Manager
A customer service operations manager is responsible for the overall operations and efficiency of the customer service department. This may include labor management, operational procedure, interviewing and training new hires, and performance reviews.
A customer service operations manager may be in charge of the budget and be involved in strategic planning for the department. This may include analyzing trends, performance, and processes and creating forecasts for executive management.
- Bachelor’s degree in business administration, management, or a related discipline
- At least five years of experience in customer service or a related field
- Effective communication skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Ability to develop effective strategies to resolve customer issues
- Specify and build tools to improve the speed and quality of support.
- Onboard and train new support team members.
- Analyze support workflows and make suggestions to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
- Work closely with product teams to give input into product changes relating to the customer service department.
- Assist with the design and rollout of new support channels and service offerings.
- Manage schedules of team members according to customer demand and service level agreements.
- Develop and maintain standard operating procedures.
- Prepare performance reports by collecting and analyzing data from customer service functions.
- Identify and remove obstacles to deliver consistently high levels of service.
- Forecast and budget for customer service and track the actual performance against budget.
- Lead and support customer service teams through required changes.
- Work closely with senior management to help customer service deliver on their components of overall company goals and objectives.
Median Salary: $77,207
VP of Customer Success or Chief Customer Officer
The VP of Customer Success or Chief Customer Officer works alongside the rest of the executive board. They head all the customer teams within their company. Their main responsibility is to understand the customer inside and out and represent the customer's vision to the rest of the executive board.
They design new programs for the company based on data to constantly improve the customer experience. They also make sure the company has a customer-centric focus by creating an employee culture that's devoted to customer success.
- Master’s degree in business administration or Bachelor’s degree in business administration, marketing, or computer science
- Problem-solving skills
- Project management
- Strong relationship-building skills
- Review customer satisfaction surveys to identify areas for improvement in the customer experience
- Explain new products to customers and help them understand how they work.
- Coordinate with customer service representatives to answer questions or solve problems for existing customers
- Help develop training materials for internal customer support staff
- Work with product managers and engineers to identify new product features and functionality
- Maintain relationships with customers by attending trade shows, networking events, and other social functions
- Monitor customer feedback about product quality and customer service standards
- Monitor customer satisfaction with existing products
- Work with customer service representatives to address any issues that arise
Median Salary: $170,336
Director of Customer Experience
The Director of Customer Experience is responsible for the strategy, planning, and execution of customer experience as an organization builds a customer-centric culture. They will have a deep understanding of each team/department within the customer service arm of the organization, as well as the customer journey for each buyer segment.
They will be able to set goals based on the organization's customer experience metrics and see support initiatives enacted across all teams to meet those goals. They may also work toward fostering alignment between teams and departments to enhance the customer journey.
- Master’s degree in business administration or Bachelor’s degree in business administration, marketing, or a related field
- Minimum of 10 years of experience in a customer-facing role
- Effective communication skills
- Active listening
- Problem-solving skills
- Conflict-resolution skills
- Manage a team of customer service agents
- Develop a company’s brand image by managing the organization’s public image and reputation
- Manage marketing campaigns to increase awareness of products or services in target markets
- Implement new technologies that improve customer service
- Establish strategic partnerships with vendors and suppliers to improve the effectiveness of the company’s offerings
- Oversee all aspects of the customer experience, including customer service, sales, marketing, shipping, billing, and fulfillment
- Work with executive management to create an action plan to improve customer satisfaction based on feedback from surveys and focus groups
- Develop and implement training programs for employees to improve customer service skills and knowledge of company policies
- Develop strategies to increase customer loyalty by improving customer satisfaction levels
Median Salary: $95,523
Not sure which path is right for you? In this next section, we break down six personality types to help you decide which customer service path fits your needs.
The Six Holland Personality Types
John L. Holland was an American psychologist who pioneered important research in occupational work, personalities, and environments, as the National Career Development Association wrote. His work influenced many career counselors and gave them the tools they needed to guide people in the right career direction.
He established the hexagon shape to represent the six types of career psychology he outlined. According to Career Key, Holland organizes people into one of six career personality types: Realistic, Social, Investigative, Artistic, Conventional, and Enterprising.
It's typical to focus on your two personality types that have the highest percentages. In addition, you may write your Holland Code: the first letter of each personality type in the order of highest to lowest association with yourself. For instance, based on the Holland Codes test, my Holland Code is AESICR.
You can take a Career Key Discovery® test for a cost to learn about your personality types. However, Holland Codes also offers a free, written version of the test. After taking one of the career tests, read below to find out what customer service career aligns best with your top personality type.
1. Realistic: "The Do-er"
Practical · Mechanical · Rational
Those who identify as realistic would be successful as remote customer support representatives.
Realistic personalities enjoy participating in activities that involve hands-on, practical problem-solving. They enjoy being outdoors in nature and working with tools, machinery, and wood. They prefer to work outside, alone, and without paperwork.
As a remote customer support representative, you would be free to work outdoors or in any workspace that feels comfortable and practical, rather than confined to a desk. You wouldn't have to work closely with others, as your interactions with customers and employees would be virtual. Since realistic personalities enjoy problem-solving, you would thoroughly enjoy navigating the practical issues customers have with their new products and services. Your rational, level-headed mind is ideal for handling a range of customer problems with cool composure.
2. Social: "The Helper"
Helpful · Friendly · Trustworthy
Those who identify as social would be successful as customer service representatives.
Social personalities enjoy working closely with, communicating with, and teaching people. Social people love helping others and providing them with some kind of service. They enjoy providing information to people and prefer to do so without using any tools or machines. They value helping others solve their problems and find joy in doing so.
As a customer service representative, you would have the opportunity to spend every day communicating with new, interesting customers. You would be able to help them by actively listening and finding solutions to their various problems. This field requires outstanding communication skills, patience, and kindness — qualities you hold dear. You would get to build relationships with these customers. Being charismatic and trustworthy would help you improve customer conversations, making you a great asset to the customer service team.
3. Investigative: "The Thinker"
Precise · Scientific · Intellectual
Those who identify as investigative would be successful as customer support specialists or product experts.
Investigative personalities enjoy working with complex ideas and participating in activities that require vast amounts of thinking. They enjoy discovering new facts and solving mental problems. Investigative personalities are good at math and science and greatly value these fields. They veer away from trying to persuade or sell to people.
As a customer support specialist or product expert, you would get the opportunity to solve more complex, thought-provoking problems. You would get to learn a lot of interesting facts about computer systems and put them to the test when working with customers. Since you enjoy math and science, you would love the opportunity to incorporate both these skills into this very analytical field.
Investigative personalities tend to shy away from emotional persuasion and instead build logical, fact-based arguments. In customer support, you would never have to feel like you're persuading people or leading them astray since the communication method is responsive. Your scientific mind would be immensely helpful in fostering a more insightful customer support team.
4. Artistic: "The Creator"
Expressive · Original · Independent
Those who identify as artistic would be successful as customer success managers.
Artistic personalities enjoy working with creative forms, patterns, and designs. They enjoy working freely with no clear rules and having opportunities for self-expression. They're interested in artistic activities in their free time, like music and theatre, and like bringing that lively, individualistic energy into their workspace.
As a customer success manager, you would get the freedom to work collaboratively with customers. That means fewer boundaries and set rules and more fluidity. There are no scripts or formalities in this role. Rather, you would work with customers as partners, guiding them and learning from them. You would get the chance to help them plan exciting campaigns and set them up for success with programs you build together. In this role, you would be able to exercise your exceptional creativity and individuality and hone it in specific customers to help inspire them.
5. Conventional: "The Organizer"
Orderly · Detail-Oriented · Methodical
Those who identify as conventional would be successful as customer service managers.
Conventional personalities enjoy following a structured routine every day. They prefer working with data and hard facts rather than creative, abstract ideas. They enjoy following a strict line of authority and would be overwhelmed by too much freedom. They're good at keeping records of data, numbers, and patterns and setting clear goals.
As a customer service manager, you would get the opportunity to be more involved with numbers than customer service representatives since you would handle data on your employees and customers. You would manage records of customer interactions with your reps and store them in an organized fashion. As the manager, you would get to set detailed goals for your team and build them a daily routine to maximize their success. Your strong organizational skillswould help you be the most efficient, precise manager possible.
6. Enterprising: "The Persuader"
Energetic · Ambitious · Sociable
Those who identify as enterprising would be successful as the VP of Customer Success or Chief Customer Officer.
Enterprising personalities enjoy proactively starting their own projects. They're comfortable stepping into a leadership role and making decisions for others. They're confident and willing to take risks to make necessary improvements. They have strong persuasion skills and can easily sell ideas and products. In their free time, they enjoy keeping up with politics and business and value success in these fields.
As the VP of Customer Success or Chief Customer Officer, you would get the opportunity to lead your entire customer team and make decisions to constantly improve the customer experience. You would get to take thrilling risks by shifting the company vision to be more customer-centric. Since you're so persuasive, you would be successful in convincing the rest of the company of the importance of being customer-focused and in convincing customers why they should choose your business. Your interest in business and leadership, combined with your ambition and energy, would make you a great choice for this role.
Is customer service right for you?
Using Holland's six personality types is a fascinating way to analyze your personality traits through a career-focused lens. It's important to note that no one is one specific personality type. We are all combinations of several different types, with one that typically stands out as the highest percentage. While you may be most successful in a career path that falls into your top personality type, you can also find success in a career that aligns with your second or third type. What's important is finding a career you love that helps you show off your strongest qualities and improve your weaker ones.
Editor's note: This article was published in October 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.