Customer service representatives handle customer complaints, process orders, and provide information about an organization’s products and services.


Customer service representatives typically do the following:

  • Listen to customers’ questions and concerns, and provide answers or responses
  • Provide information about products and services
  • Take orders, calculate charges, and process billing or payments
  • Review or make changes to customer accounts
  • Handle returns or complaints
  • Record details of customer contacts and actions taken
  • Review and select standard responses for answers or solutions
  • Refer customers to supervisors or more experienced employees

Customer service representatives answer questions or requests from customers or the public. They typically answer incoming phone calls, but some also interact with customers face to face, by email, or live chat.

The specific duties of customer service representatives vary depending on what kind of company they work for. For example, representatives who work in banks may answer customers’ questions about their accounts. Representatives who work for utility and communication companies may help customers with service problems, such as outages. Those who work in retail stores often handle returns, process cash refunds, and help customers locate items. Some representatives make changes to customers’ accounts, such as updating addresses or canceling orders. Although selling is not their main job, some representatives may help to generate sales leads while providing information about a product or service.

Customer service representatives typically use a telephone, computer, and other office equipment. Those employed in retail stores may occasionally use cash registers to process returns or orders.

Work Environment

Customer service representatives held about 2.4 million jobs in 2012 and were employed in nearly every industry. Many work in telephone call centers, credit and insurance agencies, banks, and retail stores.

The industries that employed the most customer service representatives in 2012 were as follows:

Administrative and support services 16%
Insurance carriers and related activities 12
Credit intermediation and related activities 9
Professional, scientific, and technical services 6

Representatives usually work in an office setting, sharing a large room with other employees. As a result, the work area can be crowded and noisy. Some workers may be under pressure to answer a designated number of calls while supervisors monitor them for quality assurance. In addition, the work can sometimes be stressful when they have to interact with difficult or irate customers.

In retail stores, representatives may spend hours on their feet assisting customers in person.

Work Schedules

Most customer service representatives work full time. About 1 in 5 worked part time in 2012.

Because many call centers are open around the clock, these positions may require early morning or late night shifts. Weekend or holiday work is also common.

In retail stores, customer service representatives are often needed to work during busy times, such as evenings, weekends, and holidays. Some companies hire additional workers during the holiday season when more customers are expected.

Education and Training

Customer service representatives typically need a high school diploma and receive on-the-job training to learn the specific skills needed for the job. They should be good at communicating and interacting with people and have basic computer skills.


Customer service representatives typically need a high school diploma.


Customer service representatives usually receive short-term on-the-job training, lasting 2 to 3 weeks. Those who work in finance and insurance may need several months of training to learn more complicated financial regulations.

General customer service training may focus on procedures for answering questions, information about a company’s products and services, and computer and telephone use. Trainees often work under the guidance of an experienced worker for the first few weeks of employment.

In certain industries, such as finance and insurance, customer service representatives must keep up-to-date with changing regulations.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Customer service representatives who provide information about finance and insurance may need a state license. Although licensing requirements vary by state, they usually include passing a written exam. Some employers may provide training for these exams.  

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Customer service representatives need strong communication skills to answer customers clearly. They must understand and communicate information effectively in writing, by phone, or in person.

Customer-service skills. Companies rely on representatives to help retain customers by answering customer questions and complaints in a helpful and professional manner.

Interpersonal skills. Creating positive interactions with customers is an essential part of a representative’s job.

Listening skills. Representatives must listen carefully and understand a customer’s situation in order to help them.

Patience. Workers should be patient and polite, especially when interacting with difficult or irate customers.

Problem-solving skills. Representatives must determine solutions to a customer’s problem. By resolving issues effectively, representatives contribute to customer loyalty and retention.


The median hourly wage for customer service representatives was $14.70 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.38 per hour, and the top 10 percent earned more than $24.00 per hour.

In May 2012, the median hourly wages for customer service representatives in the top four industries employing these workers were as follows:

Insurance carriers and related activities $16.44
Professional, scientific, and technical services 16.01
Credit intermediation and related activities 14.96
Administrative and support services 12.71

Although most customer service representatives work full time, about 1 in 5 worked part time in 2012. Because many call centers are open around the clock, these positions may require early morning or late night shifts. Weekend or holiday work is also common.

Job Outlook

Employment of customer service representatives is projected to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Overall employment growth should result from growing industries that specialize in handling customer service. Specifically, telephone call centers, also known as customer contact centers, are expected to add the most new jobs for customer service representatives. Employment of representatives in these centers is projected to grow 38 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Some businesses are increasingly contracting out their customer service operations to telephone call centers as they provide consolidated sales and customer service functions.

Employment growth of customer service representatives in all other industries will be driven by growth of those industries, as well as consumers’ demand for products and services that require customer support. Some companies will continue to use in-house service centers to differentiate themselves from competitors, particularly for inquiries that are more complex, such as refunding accounts or confirming insurance coverage.

However, some companies are increasingly using Internet self-service or interactive voice-response systems that enable customers to resolve simple problems, such as changing addresses or reviewing account billing, without speaking to a representative.

In addition, some businesses are expected to move customer service functions to other countries in order to cut costs, a practice known as offshoring. However, demand for customer service representatives in the United States should continue as companies adjust to consumers’ preference for U.S.-based customer support.  

Job Prospects

Job prospects for customer service representatives are expected to be good due to employment growth and the need to replace workers who leave the occupation each year. Job opportunities should be best in telephone call centers.

There will be greater competition for in-house customer service jobs in the insurance and finance sectors—which often have higher pay—than for jobs in the telephone call center industry.

Candidates with good customer service and computer skills should have the best job prospects.

For More Information

For more information about customer service representatives, visit

International Customer Management Institute