What Does a Customer Service Representative Do?

Written by Coursera • Updated on Sep 23, 2021

Customer service representatives play a key role in company success by directly helping customers. Find out if a customer service job is right for you.

A customer service representative in a blue and white striped shirt speaks with a customer on her laptop.

Customer service representatives work directly with customers to provide assistance, resolve complaints, answer questions, and process orders. If you enjoy helping people, a job as a customer service representative could be a good fit. In this role, you'll find career opportunities in almost every industry, ranging from brick-and-mortar retail stores to call centers to your own living room. 

Learn more about what customer service representatives do on a daily basis, and how you can become one.

What does a customer service representative do?

As a customer service representative, your main job is to serve customers. Customer service reps work for most any business that engages with customers, including retail stores, banks, and insurance companies. Their primary tasks may include greeting and communicating with customers in person, by phone, or by computer via chat or email. Specific duties will vary depending on the company and industry where you work, but they may include:

  • Answering customer questions about the company, products, or services

  • Resolving customer complaints

  • Directing customers to the right department or supervisor 

  • Taking orders or processing payments 

  • Making changes to customers' accounts

  • Handling returns and exchanges

  • Addressing billing concerns

  • Keeping records of customer interactions

  • Selling products and services

Where do customer service representatives work? 

Customer service representatives work in a variety of environments and across many industries. They may communicate with customers in person or via phone, chat programs, or email, and work. There are currently about three million customer service representative jobs in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics [1]. Industries that employ the highest percentages of customer service reps include the following:

Largest employers of customer service repsPercentage
Retail trade14%
Insurance and related businesses13%
Business support10%
Wholesale trade7%
Professional, scientific, and technical6%

One role within customer service expected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030 is that of a computer support specialist. Working in IT support can not only lead to more job opportunities, but higher pay as well. Customer support specialists across all industries made a median salary of $35,830 in 2020 in the US, while computer support specialists made $55,510—close to a $20,000 difference [2].

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Google IT Support

Google

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9 tips for getting a job as a customer service representative

If you're ready to start exploring your career as a customer service rep, these tips can help you build the experience and education you need for the job.

1. Develop your workplace skills.

Workplace skills are crucial to being an effective customer service representative. You’ll often be tasked with interacting with customers with a positive attitude and empathy to resolve their problems. Stay calm and diplomatic under pressure, and you’ll be better able to deal with difficult or stressed customers. Other important traits for customer service representatives include flexibility, an eye for detail, and the ability to learn and remember quickly.

2. Build your computer skills.

Customer service representatives can spend long hours at a computer. You'll likely need typing and data entry skills, as well as familiarity with programs like Microsoft Word and Excel. 

Take courses through a local community college or vocational school, or learn at your own pace with an online course. Here are some options to get you started:

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Customer Service Fundamentals

Knowledge Accelerators

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Everyday Excel

University of Colorado Boulder

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Create Customer Support Data with Google Sheets

Coursera Project Network

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3. Consider certification.  

Certification isn't necessary for many customer service jobs, but it may be required for some advanced positions. Earning an industry certification can also validate your skills to recruiters and hiring managers. Some common certifications in customer service include: 

  • Certified Customer Experience Professional (Customer Service Institute of America) 

  • HDI Customer Service Representative 

  • Certified Customer Service Professional (National Customer Service Association) 

4. Train for a particular industry.  

Many positions offer on-the-job training for new hires, which can entail working alongside a senior employee. Certain industries may require more intensive training. You may even encounter specific rules, depending on factors like the state or industry you work in. This is often the case in finance and insurance customer service careers. 

5. Take a communication course.

Communication is often a crucial aspect of the work. You can improve your written and verbal skills with courses like Improve Your English Communication Skills offered by the Georgia Institute of Technology. 

6. Gain some customer service experience. 

Employers may like to see that you have experience working with people. Consider gaining some experience with other positions that entail working with the public. This could include working as a cashier, server, or sales associate in a store. Volunteering with your community can also bring you valuable customer service experience.

7. Learn a second language.

Being bilingual can be helpful in speaking with customers who may not speak English as their first language. Learning a second language can help your application stand out above the others. Mandarin and Spanish rank among the most in-demand.

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Learn Mandarin Chinese

Shanghai Jiao Tong University

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Learn Spanish: Basic Spanish Vocabulary

University of California, Davis

SPECIALIZATION

8. Finish your education.

A postsecondary degree isn't required for most customer service jobs. However, many employers may want you to have a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent. Consider joining volunteer clubs or other activities that will allow you to gain customer service experience.

9. Practice for your interview. 

When you're ready to apply for a job, make sure you're prepared for the interview by reviewing questions you might encounter in an interview. These might include:

  • Describe a time when you successfully solved a problem for someone. 

  • How would you handle an upset customer? 

  • What would you do if you didn't know the answer to a customer's question?

  • Describe a situation where you had to remain calm during a chaotic situation. 

  • What would you do if you had to work with someone you didn't like?  

Next steps

Start building the skills you need for a role in IT customer service with the Google IT Support Specialist Professional Certificate on Coursera. Learn at your own pace from industry experts at Google.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Related articles

Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Customer Service Representatives, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/customer-service-representatives.htm#tab-1." Accessed September 23, 2021.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Computer Support Specialists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-support-specialists.htm." Accessed September 23, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Sep 23, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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