Making a Difference to People's Days
You might not have had much contact with some careers yet – very few of us meet astronauts on a daily basis, for example – but you’re almost certain to have encountered people working in customer service. The sector employs people in shops, contact (or call) centres, bars and restaurants, garages … anywhere there are customers, in fact. It’s a job that helps the world go round.
Types of Apprenticeship
There’s lots to choose from, with apprenticeships for Customer Service Trainees, Assistants and Agents; or higher up, you could be a Manager, Team Leader or Co-ordinator.
About Customer Service
There’s no one single ‘customer service’ employer, because customer service forms a part of almost every business out there. It’s a very important thing to people who buy products or want help with a service (like getting broadband, for example) and it really affects how we think about a brand or a company. Get bad customer service and you tend to think the whole company is bad.
What can I do?
You can make sure people don’t have a bad experience by providing good customer service. That can come in all shapes and sizes. For a start, you could be in a face-to-face role anywhere that welcomes customers directly onto the premises: that includes shops, cafes, bars, and leisure facilities such as gyms and cinemas. They all need customer service professionals to greet, serve and answer questions from consumers.
We don’t buy everything we need in person, though, so you might be based in a contact centre where you’ll take calls from customers and help them with their purchases. Or they might not be buying, but looking for assistance with something they already have: their mobile phones, bank accounts, gas and electricity services or other utilities, for example.
Similarly, have you ever had an online chat with someone who helped you? It might have been for shopping, booking a trip or even sorting your Netflix account. Behind those chat windows are more customer service pros, so there are lots of ways to get in touch and interact with the public when you’re in the industry; which means there can be lots of opportunities, too.
Customer Service Skills
The one thing people want when they come into contact with customer services, whether that’s at the chemist or trying to get the internet working again, is to feel that they’re being listened to. So you’ll need to be a good listener and to care about helping people get what they want; and you’ll also need to be good at explaining their options to them. Great communication skills are a must.
It’s not an easy job as you might be dealing with frustrated, confused or even worried people who need to solve a problem, and it will be up to you to help them. You’ll need specialist knowledge of your company’s products or services and all of their computer systems (or tills, in a shop), too, but don’t worry: that’s what your apprenticeship is for.
Customer Service Careers
You could apply your customer service expertise to all kinds of jobs, which could include working as a:
- Call Centre Operator
- Shop Assistant
- Personal Shopper
- Banking Customer Service Adviser
Depending on the employer there’s usually a clear path to promotion once you complete your apprenticeship, moving up from customer service assistant or trainee to supervisor, team leader and then into more senior management roles. Remember, some of the most powerful business people in the world often started on the shop floor in a customer service role, so don’t be afraid to aim high.
To start getting in idea of apprenticeships and jobs in your area, visit CareerMap. You can also get information from the National Careers Service, or People1st can tell you more about the retail industry. You can also visit the Institute of Customer Service for more information.
Alternatively, you might be able to get (or perhaps you already have) a job in the customer service sector with an employer who offers apprenticeship schemes. Speak to them and see if it’s the right thing for you.
As well as apprenticeships, routes into customer service include:
- Vocational qualifications / A Levels
- Scottish Vocational Qualifications
- Foundation Degrees (England and Wales only)
- Bachelors Degrees
Earn and Learn
Apprenticeships are a great way to get into customer service if you like the idea of helping people, developing some good ICT skills and becoming a clear, confident communicator.
Customer service apprentices train by working for an employer, getting paid while they develop the skills they’ll need for the future. They also go to college, either on day release or through online study, to pick up nationally-recognised qualifications; the industry itself offers further qualifications too, so there’s always a chance to learn and grow.
Apprenticeships in the industry include:
- Customer Service Trainee
- Customer Service Agent
- Customer Service Team Leader or Manager
You might be an apprentice for the local branch of an international company, be based in a major contact centre talking to people all over the world, or work for an independent employer providing a really personal service to a small customer base. The beauty of customer service is that pretty much every industry needs it, so you’ll have lots to choose from.
Life as a Customer Service Apprentice
Ready to talk? You’d better be. Customer service is all about communication and you’ll work hard to improve the way you listen, speak and perhaps even write to customers as you go through your apprenticeship.
What will I be doing?
In a word? Helping. But the way you do that will vary and there’s no one single working day that describes a customer service role. You could work in retail, for example, which would mean keeping shop hours (usually around nine am to six pm) and working at weekends; or you could work in a contact centre, which might mean shift work, including nights.
Whatever you do, you’ll almost certainly be part of a team, which is one of the perks of customer service as it can offer quite a sociable working environment. In some roles you’ll be face-to-face with customers so you’ll need to be smart and polite at all times; in others you’ll spend time speaking on the phone so you’ll need to be alert and speak clearly. You’ll quickly learn a lot about people, how to handle them and what to do to give them the best service you can, and your team will help you along the way.
Alongside this you’ll gain technical skills relevant to the job at college, be in charge of your money and take responsibility for your timetable – it will be up to you to manage your studies and make it to work or college on time. In return, people who apply themselves can move ahead very quickly in customer services as it attracts a lot of part time workers who go on to other things, leaving lots of opportunities for anyone looking to build a career.