Customer services

Customer service is the main line of communication between an organisation and its clients or customers. Get it right and your customers will keep coming back; get it wrong and you won’t be in business long!

You can enter this work with GCSEs, but, if you are aiming for management, higher qualifications will probably be needed.

Any organisation that provides or sells goods or services will have customers or clients.

Customer care involves knowing what people want and how to meet their requirements. Good customer service is important, whatever the size or nature of the organisation whether that is a retail business, leisure centre, travel company, bank, manufacturing firm or hotels. It even applies to an organisation where one department offers a service to another.

What it takes

To work in customer service you will need:

  • good communication skills

  • a polite, patient and sympathetic manner

  • the ability to deal well with customers in person and/or on the telephone

  • cool head, to deal with difficult enquiries

  • reliability

In a large organisation, most customer service work is over the telephone. You may deal with routine orders and customer enquiries and provide information and advice, but you must also be able to cope with the customers who are not getting the service that they expected! Some jobs require technical knowledge.

Contact/call centres

Customer service work is often handled through contact/call centres. An organisation’s contact centre receives all incoming enquiries form its customers. Organisations which deliver their customer services in this way include financial services providers (banks, insurance firms etc), mail order companies, ferries and airlines.

Financial services

Financial institutions place a great deal of importance on the service they offer their customers. Through contact centres they may deal with account queries, pay bills for customers, process small loans, or sell insurance and pensions over the phone.

In high street branches of banks and building societies, customer service assistants are the front line staff. They need to have a friendly yet persuasive manner and must work accurately and methodically and be confident with figures.

The retail industry

In the retail business, much of the day to day customer service work is still face to face. Most supermarkets and large retail stores have a customer service desk when individual queries are answered. It might be simply a question of ordering an item for a customer that is out of stock, but more likely it is a matter of replacing goods or issuing refunds.

There are no set entry requirements. Some employers look for people with a good general education; others require or prefer applicants with GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and maths. Training is normally on the job, perhaps through in house courses, to learn about the companies products and services and how to deal with the various enquiries. Staff may work towards NVQs in customer services.

Employers look for young people with a good general education who have the ability to complete the training.

Alternatively a full time college course such as an administrative course that includes customer service could provide a starting point before looking for work.

Those employed in customer service can become members of the Institute of Customer Service ('ICS') and work towards ICS qualifications.

Pay and prospects

Promotion is available in large organisations to supervisor or team leader, and then with further qualifications and experience it may be possible to progress into management. Customer service managers are part of the management team in a business. Managers have often worked previously in different departments so have a good understanding of the organisation and their customer’s needs. Customer service assistants might earn £11,000 to £16,000 per year depending on their experience, qualifications and the responsibility of a particular job.