A customer service assistant is the interface between the industry and the consumer, acting as a company’s first point of contact and advising the customer on a product or service.
A customer service assistant may work on the telephone, at a computer or behind a customer service desk, counter or till. They may be based in a shop, call centre, government office, bank or insurance company. The job of a customer service assistant could encompass a range of customer-oriented tasks, including handling complaints about a product or service, making sales (in a shop or call centre), or providing consumers with information.
There are plenty of perks for a customer service assistant. Having daily contact with customers can be stressful but it can also be very rewarding, when a customer is happy with the product or service provided. Centred around customers, the job can change from day-to-day and it provides good opportunities for making friends as there are usually a number of customer service assistants working together in a team. On the downside, it can be a physically demanding job (if working on the shop floor for example) and the pay is relatively low.
Customer Service Assistants should expect to start on a salary of £11 – 12,000 per annum with the potential to progress up to £18,000 with experience (depending on the industry). In some companies there may also be the chance to earn bonuses or commission with good performance or sales.
The job of a customer service assistant varies between companies but typical responsibilities include:
- Arranging services for customers
- Stocking shelves
- Providing information about a product or service
- Making sales
- Making referrals to other members of the team
- Handling enquiries (by telephone or email)
- Taking payments or issuing refunds
- Tidying up at the end of a shift
- Inputting data
- Solving problems
- Administrative duties
Customer service assistant jobs do not usually require specific qualifications, although a good command of the English language will be required by most employers. Depending on the industry, some employers may ask for GCSEs in English and Maths, and larger financial or business organisations may even ask for A Levels or NVQs depending on the specifications of the role.
It is possible to complete NVQ levels two, three and four in customer services, which would prove a definite advantage when applying for customer service jobs. With some industries it may be possible to get into the job through an apprenticeship scheme which provides on-the-job training in association with a particular company.
People skills are the most important requirement for a customer service assistant, more so than particular qualifications, as it is the assistant’s role to represent the company to the public. More specifically people skills encompass:
- The ability to communicate well with customers and with other members of the team
- A polite, friendly and tactful manner, when handling complaints or enquiries or solving problems
- A head for numbers (particularly if working in a financial industry)
- Administrative skills
- The ability to remain patient at all times
- The ability to work well under pressure
- Good stamina
- Enthusiasm for the job
- A good understanding of the way the company works
- A willingness and ability to listen to and follow instructions
- Good teamwork skills
- A commitment to equal opportunities
A customer service assistant is usually required to work on the ‘shop floor’ or on the phone in an office or call centre which means almost constant contact with members of the public. Dealing with customers means that the job can be varied and very rewarding but it also means that it can be quite stressful, particularly when a customer has a complaint or a problem that is difficult to solve. At times the job may involve repetitive or menial tasks (such as data entry, tidying changing rooms or speaking on the phone for long periods of time) and can often require the employee to be on their feet all day. It is a relatively low-paid job but there is potential for pay to increase with experience and age.
Typical working hours for a customer service assistant are between 35 and 40 hours a week Monday – Friday although some industries (such as the retail sector) may require weekend work. There is usually the opportunity for part-time work, although the hours and days of work may differ from week to week.
There is no specific experience needed to work as a customer service assistant but an enthusiasm for people is essential. Experience working alongside other people in any capacity will always be useful for getting a customer service job: this could include voluntary work or involvement with an organisation or society.
There are always plenty of job opportunities for people wanting to work as a customer services assistant as people are required to work with customers in almost every sector of the job world. Shops, services, financial organisations, leisure industries and most businesses will require a team of people to work in the customer service department so it is recommended that potential employees identify their preferred industry before they start looking for jobs.
There are usually plenty of opportunities for progression within the customer services industry once an employee has a significant amount of experience under their belt. In larger companies there is usually the chance of promotion to team leader and eventually, with enough experience, to an accounts manager or customer services manager. One of the best things about working in customer service is that it provides the employee with plenty of transferable skills. Communication skills and experience working with people are useful in almost any line of work so the job offers a whole range of opportunities for career progression, not directly linked to the customer service sector.
To help employees progress, some companies offer training schemes where customer service assistants can be assessed for NVQs level 2 and 3 either on the job or through day release to a college. Other companies are affiliated with the Institute of Customer Service who have their own qualification equivalent to an NVQ. Undertaking a relevant qualification will show managers that assistants are serious about their job and may offer the opportunity to fast-track to a managerial position, depending upon job performance.
Belinda Hirst is 18 years old and works as a part-time customer services assistant at the Stockport branch of Matalan, a popular high street retail store.She gives us the inside story…
"I have worked at Matalan for just over two years and it is my first proper paid job. As a customer services assistant my job varies depending on the time and day but typically I work on the till points, answer the phone, handle enquiries and aid in-store customers. Occasionally I stand on the fitting room supervising what the customers are trying on and other times I work in the back of the shop, opening up new stock and bringing it out to the shop floor. If I’m working at the end of the day, a big part of evening recovery is tidying the store, clearing stock and ensuring that all clothing is put back in its right place and size order. At the moment I get paid £4.60 per hour but that will go up to £5.65 when I am 19.
Doing this job, I love talking to the customers and working as a team with my fellow employees. The downsides are the lengthy shifts and early starts! I would advise anyone thinking of doing this job to make friends, and be talkative, friendly and polite to customers.
I didn’t need any particular qualifications for the job. I simply had my GCSE’s, having left high school a few months before I started at Matalan. I’m currently at University studying for a degree in English so I’m not sure I will be looking for a career in retail but there are plenty of opportunities to rise in the work place such as promotion to head cashier or manager. Overall, working as a customer services assistant is a good job which lets you meet lots of new and exciting people who will probably become your very good friends."