If you’re in customer service, you’re aware that you have to play several different roles, each day. You know it’s a job that comes with lots of responsibilities — and one that requires a wide variety of skills.
As a result, customer service agents must often wear many hats. They’re on the front lines, acting as the public face of your company. That means customer service reps are in a position to deliver some major value to your customers and to your organization.
If you’re a new customer service rep (CSR), or if you’re considering changing careers and wondering if you have what it takes, you’ll want to know everything that’s involved so that you can be prepared.
And if you’re a new manager or business owner, you’ll want to make sure that you understand and appreciate the full scope of the work your team is doing for you. That’s because if you give your team the tools and training they need to do their jobs well, you will see the result in your bottom line:
- Customers reward companies that provide prompt and personal customer service. An article by HBR suggests that when companies respond quickly to complaints, even if there’s no fixing the problem (as in a missed flight), buyers are willing to spend more with that company in the future.
- And research by Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company found that increasing customer retention rates by just 5% can increase your profits by 25% to 95%.
Are you intrigued? Excellent.
This comprehensive guide will help you understand the many customer service roles and responsibilities, skills, and jobs that exist.
The wide variety of customer service roles and responsibilities in organizations
In an organization that puts customer satisfaction first, customer service is really everyone’s job, no matter how much they interact one-on-one with customers on a daily basis. But naturally, both for organizations and individuals, it makes sense to have job roles and responsibilities spelled out.
Here are some of the many customer service roles and responsibilities. Every individual won’t necessarily take on all of these roles, but it is likely that most agents will touch on many of them, especially as they become more experienced.
This is a CSR’s primary responsibility and the one most people think of first. A troubleshooter solves customer problems and answers questions, maybe over the phone, through chat or email, on social media, or in person — wherever they meet the customer. The troubleshooter is most often an organization’s first line of defense. They handle damage control, know the product or service inside-out and know how to come up with the best solution possible as quickly as possible. They take ownership of the problem, communicate with the customer as well as with other departments, and inform customers of what they can expect, unless the issue is outside their control and they need to escalate it. They may have to do some research if an issue is highly technical or simply outside of their scope of responsibility. Finally, the troubleshooter may be responsible for making sure that issues are handled if they need to escalate them.
A good CSR keeps an eye on their customer service metrics, a.k.a., key performance indicators (KPIs). They follow up with customers, make sure their issues are resolved, and collect feedback on how their experience could have been improved. There are individual KPIs as well as organizational ones. Every customer service rep should keep an eye on their own metrics, of course (known as operational metrics), but also raise a flag if they notice issues that could affect the whole organization and suggest solutions when they are able. Often, agents find improving their metrics to be a fun challenge.
Creative problem solver
The creative problem solver role goes above and beyond troubleshooting. It requires coming up with inventive solutions when the rep is in new territory. Maybe they personally have never seen this problem before, or maybe it’s a new one for the organization. Either way, they’re dealing with an issue the first time or helping a client or customer with a unique challenge. It could also be that the problem is standard but the customer’s challenge isn’t. They may have a unique situation — maybe they understand technology more or less than the average person, or they are using your product in an unusual way. In this case, the CSR can anticipate when a customer will need a little extra TLC to help them go away happy. Either way, the right solution requires moving beyond the standard playbook to provide support outside of the usual scope of troubleshooting.
Coach and mentor
Coaches and mentors guide, teach, and train newer team members. This could include formal training, such as spending a week or two full-time with a new employee, or informally, helping out with questions on an ad hoc basis after training is completed. Of course, as new agents gain experience, they will also help others hired after them. Peer-to-peer sharing is important, along with more formal training programs, to pass on institutional knowledge and to build a sense of teamwork and camaraderie. Mentors may not directly train others, but they will help with advice and contacts that promote their mentees’ career growth.
In the champion role, agents represent the customer within but also outside of their own department. They are the voice of the customer in the company, providing insights into new product development, bug fixes, and feature requests. They know customers best: their challenges, their feedback, what they like best about your products, what they struggle with the most, and the improvements or additions that they request most often. While everyone in the company has a responsibility to serve customers, no one else is closer to them. Naturally, customer service becomes the liaison. If you try to introduce new products or improve on existing ones without involving your customer service team, you’re taking a potentially costly risk.
The most successful customer support representatives strive for continuous improvement. They become efficiency experts, always looking for ways to improve various workflows. That could mean creating or suggesting new email templates or canned chat messages, developing and contributing to FAQs or a knowledge base and improving or adding to training plans or documentation. They will learn to use the more advanced features and capabilities of your support software. They’ll always be thinking of ways to either avoid problems from recurring or to help other agents solve them more quickly when they do come up.
Succeeding in customer service often means juggling many tasks and larger projects at once. Agents need to learn to manage their time, watch their own metrics and SLAs, and keep their promises. They also may need to enlist help from other departments and coordinate assistance from others in the company while avoiding duplicate efforts and confusion. They juggle many tasks at once and keep them all moving forward, finding necessary resources and keeping everyone in the loop.
Customer service reps are often responsible for up selling, down selling, and cross-selling. That’s not just because they’re in the right place at the right time, but also because sales is not simply about twisting a customer’s arm to get more money. It’s about offering better or additional solutions when there’s a legitimate need and ultimately making customers happier. There’s no better time to suggest an upgrade than when you have someone with an issue and you know that a related product or service could easily help fill the gap. Your customers will be happier because they’re getting a better result, and the company benefits because that customer’s lifetime value has grown. It’s a win-win situation. Often, succeeding at sales is simply about making a helpful suggestion at the right time.
Being a mind reader doesn’t mean being clairvoyant. Instead, CSRs are proactive solution seekers. You see, not every customer is going to complain: 25% of customers will never reach out at all, simply because it’s too much hassle. Additionally, many customers believe companies won’t care or won’t fix their problems to their satisfaction even if they do complain. An experienced agent will be better able to read between the lines. Maybe they can anticipate that a change will cause more problems than expected or know that errors have unintended consequences. Maybe they’ve developed the ability to ask the right questions when a customer is too polite to discuss the full impact of an issue. Either way, this skill involves making a leap of intuition and judgment. It comes with time and experience, and it’s one that should definitely be honed since it’s a key to delighting your customers — anticipating what they will love before they’ve even asked for it.
Not everyone who does contact your Help Desk will be easy to deal with. Some people might be annoyed or irritated, others may be downright angry or irate. It’s important that agents don’t let these attitudes get to them. Customer service reps are experts in conflict resolution and de-escalating situations, working toward the best outcome possible, even up to letting certain customers go if necessary (and hopefully smoothing the way as much as possible.)
A good customer service agent is someone who listens to and cares about their customers. That’s because great customer service is not just about solving the problem at hand. It’s also about recognizing and acknowledging the emotions that go along with it – whether it’s frustration, anger, confusion, or disappointment. It’s about listening actively and showing empathy. It involves helping to defuse the most difficult situations but also soothing ruffled feathers and reassuring customers who are disappointed. it’s a chance to win back someone’s faith in your business and create even more loyalty as a result of the service recovery paradox.
Customer service agents are an essential part of a team. One person’s attitude can affect everyone, and someone who is positive and supportive can lift the whole group. A good rep doesn’t hesitate to pitch in to help where needed or to offer moral support to colleagues when they can. Every bit of effort lifts the morale and makes what can be a tough job more rewarding and enjoyable for everyone. With the right attitude, a CSR can also encourage customers when they need it, assure them that they’re dedicated to finding the best solution and (if needed) helping them to implement it.
Subject Matter Expert
Last but not least, CSRs have hard skills — measurable and specific knowledge and abilities. They gain product and service knowledge and expertise in the company’s offerings through training and/or on-the-job experience. They’re also adept at using support software as well as other related technologies and tools.
Filling all these roles and responsibilities sounds like a pretty tall order, doesn’t it? So next, let’s look at the common customer service jobs that encompass these roles.
Typical customer service jobs in organizations
Some organizations will differentiate between customer support and customer service, others may use the terms interchangeably. This can depend on the size of your organization or your industry. In smaller companies, customer support and service roles are often combined. Most positions, outside of supervisory or managerial roles, are considered to be entry-level — and excellent stepping-stones to more responsibility.
In membership-based organizations, like some financial institutions, insurance companies, fitness clubs, or any other organizations requiring an application process to join, the term “member” may be substituted for “customer.” Depending on how exclusive the membership is, service and support are often provided at a higher levels of care.
Similarly, some companies will substitute the term “care” for “support” or “service.” Most times, the basic job responsibilities are the same. The different terminology is used to reflect a company’s focus and values.
Customer Service Representative/Agent/Associate
This is one of the most common, catch-all job titles. On the front line, these team members work directly with customers but are more proactive than reactive. They reach out to let customers know about products and services, upcoming discounts and sales, and company news. They may also be responsible for up-selling and cross selling. They typically have a quota of calls or e-mails per day.
Customer support reps may do all of the above, but also respond to customer issues or tickets. They need excellent communication skills, empathy, and persuasion.
Remote Customer Service Representative/Agent/Associate
These team members require skills and have the same duties as CSRs above, but they work virtually. That means that they must be highly self-directed and motivated and communicate well not only with customers but also with their colleagues and managers.
Remote customer support agents will also troubleshoot and respond to customer issues or tickets.
Customer Service Specialist
A specialist position also involves more outreach than responding to issues. In addition, they require some leadership, management skills and training as they may need to step in to fill in for a manager or supervisor at times.
Customer Service Engineer/Analyst/Technican
Engineers proactively solve technical issues with software, hardware, or applications. They don’t wait for customers to contact them with problems — instead they offer tips and solutions in advance. To be successful in this job, an engineer needs a strong background and degree in computer systems, engineering, and technology, in addition to good communication skills and persuasiveness.
Customer Service Supervisor
Supervisors manage and oversee junior team members or a portion of a larger department. There are often several supervisors under a manager. They will answer employee questions and smooth over disagreements. They need excellent interpersonal and leadership skills as well as experience in the industry and in supervision. They must also be good collaborators with people at all levels of the organization as they are a key part of the team.
Customer Service Manager
Managers make sure that the customer service team is contributing to achieving the organization’s higher goals. They supervise, train and track team progress. They usually have the final say in conflicts or complaints with customers or other employees. They must be excellent communicators, teachers, and trainers. They require training in crisis management, as well as in handling complaints, conflicts, and employee misconduct.
Helping your customer service team succeed
By now, you should have a much better idea of the many roles that your customer service agents play in your organization, what their main responsibilities are, and what specific jobs they will fill to help your team succeed.
It may seem like a lot (and it is!) but remember that these various customer service roles, responsibilities, and positions can be spread throughout your team. Also, your team will grow stronger as they gain valuable experience and knowledge.
You’ll never regret the investment you make in building a strong customer service team. Your customers will be happy (and loyal!), your employees will feel valued and rewarded, and it will all show in your bottom line.