[Updated 9/1/2017: This post has been updated to include fresher numbers.]
The average salary for a customer service agent is a whopping $22,360 according to Glassdoor.
However, that doesn’t really tell you what you should be earning.
One thing messing up Glassdoor’s data is all the call center workers. Working at a call center, you’re likely to be paid hourly, not salary. And you should expect to make between $10 to $15 per hour, depending on geography.
Just changing the keyword from “customer service agent” to “customer support” bumps the average salary to $34,580. Not tons of money, still. But you see a lot more salaried jobs in that list.
Help Scout surveyed customer support professionals and found the average salary in 2017 is $57,686, down from $68,540 in 2016. However, that doesn’t mean customer support reps are getting paid less. This year’s data includes more non-manager and international respondents which likely lowered the average.
Here’s how the salaries break down by title:
Salary by title (Source)
So how do you avoid the $10/hour jobs and find the $57,686 jobs?
Here are some tips:
Learn how to fix things
“Some of my favorite hires were people who were delivering sandwiches and working food service jobs,” Marybeth Alexander, Chief Executive Owl at KnowledgeOwl, tells me. “Some of those people are now full-stack developers.”
Customer support means helping people solve their problems. It’s delivering under pressure. It’s working quickly and efficiently and always staying friendly. There are tons of jobs that prepare you to do that, and not all of them have “customer” in the title.
To call center or not to call center?
In most industries, you start at the bottom and move your way up. But for customer support, this transition gets a little more complicated.
Matt Dale, Support Team Coordinator at Illuminate Education, warns that if your call center job is just reading scripts, you may not be learning the skills you need to succeed in higher paying customer support roles. “I’d actually rather hire someone with food/retail experience or something related to troubleshooting, like car repair,” Dale says.
Chelsea Stroh, Customer Support at Recruiterbox, recommends, “If you want to work in customer service, some of the best experience you have is restaurant and retail. You learn A LOT.”
But not everyone is down on call center experience. Matt Searle, Support Operations Manager at Vend, says that some of his company’s best hires have come from call centers. “They had the skills, knew the work ethic, were comfortable talking on the phone and loved being here because the culture was 1,000,000x better.”
Melissa MacAlister, Director of Partnerships at StellaService, agrees. “If you find the folks who are super grateful to NOT be in a call center anymore, they will really appreciate a place with great culture and can have great work ethic/skills.”
The startup solution
If you choose to avoid the call center route, another way to gain experience is to work for a startup. In fact, Stroh suggests job seekers target startups, if they want to move up the ladder. “[Startups] are frequently looking for people with less traditional work histories.”
MacAlister says, “I’ve seen many people who began as one of the company’s first agents move up really quickly into leading CS teams or taking on other functions within the company.”
Of course, you need to take into account your appetite for risk. Startups tend to fail, and if finding out you don’t have a job next week seems catastrophic, it might not be the choice for you.
Bring more to the table
For customer support pros who want to earn more money, Help Scout’s survey shows it’s worthwhile to develop some technical skills. Glassdoor data bears this out as well. The average Support Engineer makes $70,000.
Any kind of implementation skills will help you be more valuable to the company and rely less on others to get problems solved, both of which should lead to higher earnings.
Hang in there
The longer you work in support, the more you earn.
According to Help Scout, remote work is on the rise. And it pays. Full-time remote customer service workers make $62,604 on average, whereas the average non-remote worker earns $53,344.
Remote work can also stretch your salary by allowing you to live in an inexpensive city or further from the city center. Remote work makes it feasible to earn money like you live in a high-cost area while living in a low-cost area. Win win!
Move into management
Kayako ran their own survey of support professionals. They found the average customer support manager earns between $45,000 and $60,000. Unlike in most fields, customer support managers who work alone actually earn more than those who manage a team of agents.
The average salary for a customer service agent might be $22,360, but going from “customer service agent” to “customer support” can get you $34,580, or even $57,686.
Tips for earning more in this field include:
- Learn how to fix things
- Consider starting at a call center
- Consider a startup
- Bring more to the table
- Hang in there
- Work remotely
- Move into management
What other tips do you have for people starting out in customer service or customer support? Let me know in the comments!
Looking for Customer Service software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Customer Service software solutions.