Careers in Customer Services

Read this article for information on employment trends in the 21st century, requisite skills to compete in the customer service job market, and tips from the world's top CEOs on how to fit in. Also explore the embedded links to other resources that you may find useful.

Employment Trends

The good news is the demand for skilled customer service representatives is expected to grow at a healthy rate through the first decades of the 21st century, powered by the numbers of products and services that demand customer support. The bad news is the job market will be highly competitive, and you will have to be as good at serving yourself with skill development as you are at serving customers to rise through the ranks.

Here are some interesting projections, courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook:

  • Employers hiring customer service workers will typically be expecting at least a high school diploma.

  • Some of the characteristics common in successful customer service workers are strong communications abilities, communication technology skills, interpersonal relations, and problem-solving skills, and all require lots of patience.

  • Some of the larger employers of customer service workers include administrative and support services (15 percent), retail trade (11 percent), credit activities (9 percent), wholesale trade (8 percent), and insurance carriers (7 percent).

  • Customer service workers may require special licenses to answer questions about insurance or financial services. Typically these licenses require passing a written exam, with preparation often provided by the employer.

  • The median hourly wage for customer service workers is around $14.64 per hour (as of 2010) in the United States, which works out to be about $30,500 per year for those working full time.

For much more detail on the outlook for customer service workers, including job prospects, necessary qualifications, working conditions, pay, and so forth, visit the BLS Marketing Career Outlook pages dedicated to customer service representatives. As you review the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, you might benefit by researching retail, marketing, social work, and similar fields, drawing upon your abilities in communications, sales, training, technical support, and related interests.

BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook:

As you advance in a customer service position, you might be looking to grow into other related professions. Please spend 1.5 hours touring the Occupational Outlook Handbook for career information in the following occupation groups and subcategories:


  • Sales Agents
  • Cashiers
  • Information Clerks


  • Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing
  • Public Relations Specialists
  • Sales Managers
  • Training and Development

Community and Social Service

  • Health Educators
  • Social and Human Service Assistants
  • Social Workers

21st Century Job Skills

While it is difficult to predict with certainty the rapid technological innovations for decades to come, we can be sure the workplace and requisite skills will be in constant flux. Yet, there are fundamental abilities that are certain to be essential now and in the future. These skills include the abilities to thrive in a global workplace, communicate across multiple cultures, manage diverse international teams, and employ communication technologies to coordinate networked teams in decentralized settings.

Google’s “Project Oxygen” conducted extensive data-mining on the company’s best international managers and identified eight characteristics of its most effective leaders. These are traits you might work to develop in yourself, if you hope to rise into top positions within your own field and organizations:

  • Be a good coach, providing supportive suggestions to your workers, along with any criticisms.
  • Empower your team, rather than micromanaging and usurping team members’ individual initiative.
  • Express interest in your workers’ well-being, and get to know them as people and families apart from the workplace.
  • Be results-oriented, motivating your team toward success with a focus on removing obstacles to productivity.
  • Be a good communicator and listener, and be responsive to the team’s concerns.
  • Help your workers with career development, using the same tools that have helped your own career to advance.
  • Have a clear vision, and keep the team moving forward toward shared goals.
  • Keep your technical skills sharp, so you can demonstrate rather than just direct.

Wisdom of Successful Leaders

The best lessons on how to achieve success frequently do not come from textbooks but from the mouths of those who are successful in their given field. Not long ago, The New York Times conducted interviews with chief executives on the qualities most essential for achieving success, for both workers and leaders. The five most critical X-factors, along with quoted CEO perspectives, are:

  • Passionate curiosity: the best CEOs are not always the smartest but are typically the best learners.
  • Battle-hardened confidence: “Tell me what adversity you faced, what you did about it, what did you learn … the people I hire fall down, dust themselves off, and keep fighting the next day.” – Nancy McKinstry, CEO of Wolters Kluwer
  • Team smarts: “More than talent, I most need people who can build a team, manage a team, recruit well, and work with their peers.” – Susan Lyne, Chairman, Gilt Groupe
  • A simple mind-set: “Be concise, get to the point, make it simple. Bosses are not impressed with complexity.” – Adam Bryant
  • Fearlessness: “I have to have people who aren’t afraid of change but have an appetite for it.” – Mindy Grossman, CEO of HSN


  • Career opportunities in marketing and related fields should remain solid, but practitioners must be prepared for stiff competition.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook provides extensive information on careers, using related skills in fields of communications, research, management, entertainment, public outreach and education, etc.
  • Among the traits helping managers and teams to succeed are the abilities to be a good coach, empower the team, support workers’ well-being, focus on results, communicate and listen well, encourage career development, provide a clear vision, and keep skills sharp.
  • The most successful leaders have a passionate curiosity, confidence, team smarts, a simple mind-set, and fearlessness.

Source: Steven R. Van Hook and Saylor Academy
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Last modified: Thursday, January 9, 2020, 9:07 AM