Customer Service Representatives: The Gurus of Guidance

A young man in a tie speaks to a customer via a headset.

Customer service skills are needed in essentially every industry.

Suzanne Berstler has a simple strategy for making people happy as a customer service representative.

“The main thing I always tried to do is put myself in their shoes,” says Berstler, a 2014 graduate of Neumann University. “I’d think, ‘How would I like to be treated if I was on the other end of the phone?’”

Berstler adds that everyone should work in a customer service capacity at some point.

“It definitely teaches you how to react in a positive way,” she said, “It also teaches you how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and how to help that person.”

Customer service skills are needed in essentially every industry, which is why there are more than 2.4 million customer service representatives, or CSRs, in the United States. Insurance is one of the largest employers of CSRs, with about 12 percent of all customer service professionals working in the insurance industry.

No matter the field, the assets of a great CSR tend to be universal: strong communication skills, a helpful and professional manner, an ability to listen carefully and create positive interactions, and a proficiency at solving problems. That’s why, here at MyPath, we call them the Gurus of Guidance.

While you can certainly make a career out of being a great CSR, these positions are also well known as crucial platforms for growing into high-level positions. Many famous leaders started their careers in customer service positions. One reason is that such positions provide a chance to get a really deep understanding of a company’s business and interactions with customers.

“Working as a CSR gives you a chance to interact with a lot of people and really learn the brand you’re working for,” Berstler says, who herself transitioned to a marketing role after starting her career in customer service for The Institutes, the leading non-profit provider of professional education for the risk management and property-casualty insurance industry, which powers the MyPath initiative.

Job openings for customer service positions are expected to increase faster than average job growth percentages over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also notes that these positions are typically divided between in-house CSRs — those who are employed by and handle customer care for a single company — and those who work in third-party call centers and manage calls for other companies.

In-house reps tend to handle more complex situations and therefore earn higher salaries overall. Of the industries that employ the most CSRs, the insurance industry has the highest median salary, at about $35,000 a year. On the higher end of the pay scale, the top 10 percent of CSRs earn about $50,000 a year.

Berstler says her experience as a CSR was well worth it in a number of ways. She not only learned a lot about resolving problems and representing her organization, but she had a lot of positive and interesting conversations with others.

“Typically, 90 percent of the people I talked to were very pleasant,” she says. “There were those other people who just weren’t happy, no matter what you said. But that helps you in the long run because it teaches you to deal with difficult situations. You have to think on your feet. And I think that builds character.”