Customer Service Assistant/Manager

The Job and What's Involved

Almost all organisations employ customer services assistants and managers. Although their duties vary according to their employer's business, their work involves dealing directly with customers and acting as a link between the customer and other departments in the organisation.

While some customer services staff work with customers face to face, others (such as contact centre employees) deal with customers on the phone, and some (such as those employed on IT helpdesks) do most of their work by email. Some jobs require customer services staff to use two or three of these methods of communication.

Customer services staff are often the first point of contact a customer has with an organisation, so it is essential to create a good impression. The work may be demanding and sometimes challenging.

A customer services assistant's job may involve:

  • Answering customer enquiries or passing them on to the appropriate department.
  • Giving information and helping to solve customer problems.
  • Selling products and taking orders.
  • Arranging services for customers, for example, booking hotel rooms or arranging car hire.
  • Dealing with complaints.
  • Taking information from customers and entering it on a database.
  • Taking payments by cash, cheque or credit card.
  • Issuing refunds, if appropriate.
  • Making sure that the customer's experience is a positive one.

Customer services managers are responsible for managing a team of customer services assistants. Their work may involve:

  • Training customer services assistants.
  • Setting targets and motivating staff to meet them.
  • Dealing with difficult or sensitive enquiries.
  • Arranging work rotas and making sure that there are always enough staff to cover the services.
  • Making sure everyone understands the organisation's standards and policies.
  • Making sure everyone understands the legal implications of their work (for example, consumer legislation or data protection).
  • Keeping staff up to date with changes in policies and legislation.
  • Helping to recruit customer services assistants.
  • Conducting job appraisals and dealing with any staffing issues that arise.

Full-time customer services assistants and managers usually work around 37 hours a week, but actual working hours vary from employer to employer. Staff may work on a rota or shift pattern to cover early mornings, days, evenings, weekends and bank holidays, and in some organisations, a 24-hour service. Part-time work is often available for customer services assistants, and occasionally at management level.

Customer services staff usually work in clean, well-lit buildings, which often have air conditioning. They may spend most of their day sitting or standing in one place. Depending on the type of work they do, they may use a telephone headset and/or a computer. The work environment is often extremely busy.

Customer services staff who have face-to-face contact with customers may wear a uniform provided by their employer.

Starting salaries for customer services assistants may be around £10,000 to £12,000 a year.

Entry-level customer service managers may earn £15,000 to £25,000. An experienced customer service manager may earn £25,000 to £40,000.

Some companies pay staff a basic salary plus commission on sales and a bonus for meeting targets.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 75,000 customer services staff in the UK, and there is a shortage of skilled applicants. They work in many different employment sectors including retail, manufacturing, banking, insurance, travel and tourism, telecommunications, IT and the public sector (for example local authorities and the NHS). There are opportunities all over the UK.

Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers, Connexions centres and Jobcentre Plus offices. Many recruitment consultancies and online recruitment services handle vacancies for customer services staff. Some employers, such as shops, advertise vacancies on notice boards on their premises, while larger organisations may have a vacancy section on their website.

Education and Training

There are no formal entry requirements to become a customer services assistant. However, some employers may require some GCSE's/S grades, or the equivalent, especially English and maths. Previous experience of working with people is particularly useful.

In some schools it may be possible to study for a Level 1 or 2 BTEC award in Customer Service. Level 1 is equivalent to two GCSE's at grade D-G and Level 2 to two GCSE's at grade A-C. The BTEC award takes one year.

Candidates with more GCSE's/S grades, or higher qualifications such as A levels/H grades, or the equivalent, may be able to progress more quickly or enter customer services manager training schemes.

Some people enter this career through an Apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is mainly on the job under the supervision of more experienced colleagues, combined with in-house or external courses.

Customer services staff may be able to work towards NVQ's/SVQ's in Customer Service which are available at Levels 1 to 4.

Other qualifications in customer service at Levels 1 to 3 are offered by many awarding bodies including BTEC and City & Guilds. Qualifications in customer service which relate to specific employment sectors are also available.

The Institute of Customer Service (ICS) is the professional body for customer service and offers support and guidance to members throughout their careers. There are three ICS professional awards. Candidates must demonstrate in their day-to-day work that they are able to meet requirements in four key areas: You and Your Customer; You and Your Organisation; You and Your Colleagues; You and Your Development.

The ICS Communications Award focuses on the skills needed to build relationships with customers, the wider purpose of the work, the way this affects the needs of the organisation and the importance of teamwork.

The ICS Solutions Award focuses on solutions (including one-off solutions) to customers' problems. Candidates must also demonstrate how they inspire confidence in customers and give practical support to other members of their team.

The ICS Innovations Award focuses on customer loyalty and retention. Candidates must demonstrate how they seek new ways of improving customer service, and how they motivate and influence others.

There are two courses specifically aimed at customer services management:

The Warwick Business School offers the Warwick Diploma in Service Leadership which is aimed at middle and senior managers in customer service. Candidates attend eight three-day modular workshops held over 18 months. They study eight core modules and complete eight short work-based assignments.

The University of Leicester offers a two-year MSc/Postgraduate Diploma in Customer Service Management. The entry requirement is normally a good second class honours degree or a recognised professional qualification, plus at least two years' relevant managerial experience.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A customer services assistant should:

  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Be polite, confident and friendly.
  • Understand the needs of customers.
  • Be able to remain patient, calm and polite in difficult situations.
  • Have problem-solving skills.
  • Be flexible and quick thinking.
  • Be able to follow instructions.
  • Be good at teamwork and able to work on their own initiative.
  • Be accurate and pay attention to detail, even when under pressure.
  • Have good numeracy and computer skills.
  • Be smart and well-groomed if working face to face with customers.

Your Long Term Prospects

People with good customer service skills are in high demand by employers, and there are many career opportunities available to them.

Experienced customer services assistants may be promoted to supervisory or managerial roles. Customer service managers may be promoted to more senior positions or move to another employer for more pay and responsibility.

The skills gained in customer services roles are recognised in many different employment sectors, so experienced staff may progress to a range of different careers.

Get Further Information

Customer Contact Association,
20 Newton Place, Glasgow G3 7PY
Tel: 0141 564 9010
Website: www.cca.org.uk

Customer Service Manager
Website: www.customerservicemanager.com

Customer Service Network, Creative Industries Centre,
Wolverhampton Science Park, Glaisher Drive, Wolverhampton WV10 9TG
Tel: 01902 311641
Website: www.customernet.com

Institute of Customer Service (ICS),
2 Castle Court, St Peter's Street, Colchester, Essex CO1 1EW
Tel: 01206 571716
Website: www.instituteofcustomerservice.com

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