Demand for customer service representatives is growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, industry job growth is at a steady six percent per year, close to the average for all occupations in the U.S.
The landscape: According to Glassdoor, the average customer service agent earns $22,360 per year. When Help Scout surveyed another group of customer support professionals this year, however, they found that the average salary was $57,686, down from $68,540 in 2016.
Interpreting the data: This shift doesn’t mean customer support reps are getting paid less. This year’s Help Scout data includes more non-manager and international respondents, lowering the average.
If you’re looking to get started in the customer service field or are on the hunt for a new customer service job in 2018, follow these four strategies to get the role you want.
1. Avoid scams
Your first order of business is to avoid wasting time, money, or energy on job posting scams.
Because customer service is a broad category, there are numerous opportunities for scammers posting and promoting fake jobs. This is especially true when it comes to work from home jobs.
Generally speaking, scammers are out to:
- Get paid by job seekers
- Commit check fraud
- Gain access to personal information for identity theft
It’s common for scammers posing as recruiters or potential employers to ask job seekers for money to guarantee their place, buy training materials, or cover placement expenses. Most of the time, after you hand your money over, you never hear from them again.
Another red flag is a potential employer or recruiter asking for your credit card or bank account information early in the hiring process. They may say it’s so they can set up direct deposit or sign you up for health insurance, but scammers use such information for nefarious purposes. Don’t fill out a credit report form or hand over bank information until you’ve been hired and started working.
The other big risk is advance-fee scams. If an employer gives you a check and tells you to send some part of it back to them, do not deposit the check. Report them to the Better Business Bureau.
The Federal Trade Commission has some advice for avoiding job scams. If any conversations happen over the phone, make sure you receive all agreements on paper or via email before proceeding. Be cautious if the pay or benefits seem suspiciously generous.
If the employer found you and reached out about a job via email, The Balance recommends Googling the company’s name, email address, and verbatim paragraphs from the email. “Scammers may change the company name but reuse the other parts of the email, and it’s possible you’ll find an identical email posted online.”
2. Think in terms of value, not tasks
I’m no expert, but I’ve been working full-time for a decade. I’ve had four jobs and interviewed countless candidates for roles at those companies.
In my opinion, this is the single most overlooked piece of advice for resume and cover letting writing: don’t provide a laundry list of tasks completed at your previous job. Instead, demonstrate the value you provided.
Even career coaches and professional resume writers are guilty of this. Just watch the following video:
On the Help Scout blog, writer Chris Bowler provides a bulleted list of tasks associated with a customer service role:
- Putting out fires by responding to customers via email, live chat, and Twitter
- Helping new customers implement your product
- Writing documentation that answers questions about your product
- Measuring signs of churn and reaching out before it’s too late
- Reporting on customer feedback and identified bugs to the rest of the team
It would be easy (and likely correct) to list off these tasks as a way of informing a prospective employer about your job history. Don’t forget: the list you provide is likely true of almost every customer service professional out there.
To make your resume, cover letter, and interviews stand out, communicate how you completed these tasks in a way that provided value to the company. Consider the following ways to list the same experience as “value added” instead of “tasks completed”:
- Responded to customers via email, live chat, and Twitter 60% faster than the team average
- Increased paid subscriptions by 10% by aiding new customers’ product implementation
- Avoided phone calls by writing documentation that answered common questions about our product
- Lowered churn by 25% by measuring signs of churn and proactively reaching out to customers before they left
- Created a new customer feedback and bugs reporting system that improved customer retention by five percent
I know which person I’d rather bring in for an interview.
3. Take responsibility for a KPI
The problem with focusing on value provided instead of tasks completed is that it’s difficult to say you lowered churn by 25% if you’re not measuring churn or your contribution to lowering it.
On the Kayako blog, Sarah Chambers offers an example from when she worked on the customer support team at Payfirma. Chief customer office Sunan Spriggs made customer service responsible for reducing churn. “I remember protesting strongly,” Chambers wrote. “Sales are selling to the wrong people, the product has missing features, marketing isn’t giving us customer success content!”
Spriggs responded calmly. “Exactly. And those are the things you’re responsible for fixing.”
It’s never an easy task to get other departments to do work that will help you meet your team’s goals. Chambers notes that “Even if it wasn’t ‘fair’ it was effective. We were committed to reducing churn, so we did. The projects that teams or individuals are committed and accountable for get their attention.”
Whether it’s reducing churn or average response rate, or raising your CSAT or NPS scores, the point is to take responsibility for at least one KPI. Start measuring it today, make changes, and see how those changes impact the result.
4. Butter up your colleagues for referrals
All else equal, a resume with a recommendation from someone inside the company is more likely to get you an interview than one without.
“A thoughtful recommendation gives context to your resume and adds a stamp of approval from someone the hiring manager knows and trusts. It’s a personal introduction that connects you with the company on a level that’s deeper than the rest of the application process allows. A referral says, ‘This is someone to pay attention to.'”
The secret to getting those referrals? Start before you need them.
In Harvard Business Review, Jane E. Dutton and Julia Lee recommend making a habit of verbally building up your colleagues. This will make your existing working relationships better, and carry over even if your colleagues leave to join other companies.
A former colleague who remembers you fondly is much more likely to recommend you for a role at another company. Dutton and Lee offer a few suggestions for building goodwill with your colleagues.
When you’re introducing a new hire to your team, talk them up! Mention their interesting and impressive characteristics and accomplishments. People tend to remember beginnings and endings better than the middle, and this is a great way to build rapport right from the start.
A job hunt may not be fun, but it’s a good way to learn new skills or boost your pay. Carry these four tips into 2018 to get a leg up on the competition in the coming year.
If you want to learn more about the customer service field before you dive in, check out Customer Service Salaries: How Much Should You Be Making? and The 3 Customer Service Job Interview Questions You’ll Definitely Hear.
Looking for Customer Service software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Customer Service software solutions.