Is Customer Service a Good Career?
Customer service jobs are everywhere. Here’s why you should think twice about getting one.
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When you think of risky jobs, you probably think of people like firefighters, law enforcement, loggers, or coal miners. Here’s another one: customer service representative.
And not because Karen is going to reach through the phone and live up to her promise to strangle you. Customer service is risky because it’s simultaneously one of the most in-demand and quickly-disappearing jobs right now.
Here are five facts about customer service jobs you should know:
1. They’re easy to get
Customer service jobs are consistently one of the most accessible jobs on the market. Requirements are minimal. College degrees are preferred but not required.
Since most customer service jobs consist of answering calls, emails, and chats, you typically don’t need much prior experience—each company will have to train you on their particular products and CRM system anyway.
All you really need to be able to do is navigate a computer comfortably and talk on the phone.
Because of how easy they are to get, customer service jobs are a popular choice for low-skilled workers.
2. There’s a lot of them
Do a quick search on LinkedIn, and at the time of writing you’d find over 111,000 job listings for “customer service representative.”An initiative by Microsoft recommended “Customer Service Specialist” as one of 10 careers that have the highest number of job openings and require skills that can be learned entirely online.
Combine this with how accessible customer service jobs are, and it’s easy to see why a lot of people find them attractive.
3. Automation is changing customer service
In addition to being in-demand, customer service is becoming increasingly automated. An article by IBM titled “10 reasons why AI-powered, automated customer service is the future” outlines many of the factors driving that automation.
For example, AI is obviously cheaper and more scalable, but in many cases can also provide a more efficient and personalized experience.
This doesn’t mean that there will be no human customer service agents in the future. According to a study by NICE inContact, only 33% of consumers found that chatbots and virtual assistants made it easier to get their issues resolved. We all know how frustrating using an automated answering service can be.
Instead, automation will increasingly be incorporated into how customer service representatives do their jobs.
For example, many automated systems handle lower-level issues and then escalate to a human representative if the question becomes complex or the customer becomes upset.
That same system can then help the human representative work faster, doing things like pulling up the customer’s information and quickly finding answers to questions.
But more automation will mean fewer jobs, even if humans are still an important part of the process.
Customer service jobs are expected to decrease by 2% over the next 10 years, losing over 50,000 jobs. COVID has sped things up, with economic hardship forcing companies that were already automating to adopt money-saving software faster.
It’s a field that’s shrinking, not growing.
4. The pay is bad
The minimal skills required to work in customer service mean the jobs are easy to get, but also that they pay poorly.
Often, customer service roles are paid hourly, not a salary, with average rates at $14.22—not minimum wage, but not much better either. Assuming you worked full time, or 2080 hours in a year, it would add up to $29,577. That’s not a lot to live on.
5. There are very few paths for advancement
Worse than the pay is the fact that customer service is often a dead-end job, and not because the industry is shrinking.
You don’t acquire many marketable skills other than how to take verbal punches over and over. Very little of what you’re learning how to do will transfer over to anything else besides another customer service job.
If you work hard and demonstrate a lot of leadership potential, you might eventually be promoted to customer service manager and oversee a team of customer service agents, making around $58,000 per year. But again, what next?
- You’re not learning how to analyze data, make business decisions, or create forecasts.
- You’re not coding an app, building marketing campaigns, or learning how to sell.
- You’re not in a position where you can network with other people in the business world.
You’re wearing a headset, answering basic questions and handling people’s frustrations and complaints.
Learning how to talk to people on the phone and stay calm under pressure are good skills to have, but there are plenty of other jobs that teach you those skills and a lot more—for example, any entry-level phone sales job.
You’ll learn to sell, which can take you almost anywhere, plus you’ll earn commission.
Most of us have to work at least a few low-paying jobs starting out, but some are better options than others.
Customer service jobs are easy and accessible, but they aren’t the start of a good career. You don’t learn many transferable skills, there is really no progression path, and automation is shrinking the number of jobs available.
Time is the most valuable resource you have. Pick jobs that will ladder up to your goals—even if you aren’t making a lot of money.