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What does a Service Worker do?

By Tara Kelley
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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The day-to-day tasks of a service worker depend almost entirely on the job description, since a lot of different work can fall under this title. In general, though, a person in a service-oriented position spends the bulk of his or her time serving others, be it through answering customer questions, serving food, or handling and processing client orders. Broadly speaking, any person who provides service to other people, typically in the areas of comfort, shelter, and food, can be considered to have a service sector job. These workers can be found in a variety of areas, including food service, customer service, family, social, and, human service, and community service. Entry-level service positions typically require only a high school diploma, but there are usually a number of opportunities for advancement in most companies; additionally, many people find that the skills they learned while working in service can help them launch successful careers in other sectors.

Breadth and Scope of Title

It can be quite difficult to set out the specific things a worker in a service job does in part because of how very many jobs can fall under this grouping. A person working the cash register at a fast food restaurant necessarily has a different list of tasks and requirements than someone working at the front desk of a busy hotel or manning the phones for a cable television helpline. There are some things most people with the “service” title have in common, though. All typically interact directly with clients and customers, for one thing. They usually also serve as the larger company’s “face” to the public, and are often the first person clients interact with when they have questions, problems, or needs.

As the job title suggests, workers usually also provide some specific service directly to customers or clients. Sometimes the service is obvious, like processing a phone payment or changing a reservation, but it can also be more nuanced, like providing referrals to therapy or job resource help. No matter the industry, workers typically have to be intimately knowledgeable about whatever service it is they provide in order to offer as comprehensive a service as possible. In terms of the day-to-day duties of the average worker, it’s often easiest to look at the job on a sector-by-sector basis.

Food Service Jobs

Food service companies typically require their workers to prepare, package, and sell food. In the for-profit sector, jobs range from flipping burgers to taking orders to serving beverages. Food service employees in the non-profit sector are usually found preparing and serving food in schools. They can also be found working in churches, hospitals, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers.

Customer Service Positions

Most companies that interact with clients or consumers at all have customer service divisions, sometimes in call centers all over the world. Employees in these divisions answer phones, respond to e-mails, and take note of complaints, problems, and comments. If the problem requires some outside service, for instance an Internet customer needs a modem repaired or an insurance client needs a claims adjustment, the service worker is usually the person responsible for coordinating and arranging for the quick resolution of the problem. In retail stores, these people often process returns and product exchanges, too.

Social and Human Services

Most government organizations around the world include a certain number of family services, and workers in these divisions can have a range of different jobs to do. Many work to process things like entitlement benefits, and they can sometimes also act as liaisons between needy families and local resources.

Social service and human service staff have jobs that are related, but are often more narrowly focused on specific issues. These sorts of workers may spend the bulk of their time helping people who have social, psychological, emotional, and physical issues, for instance. A social worker might also manage a drug abuse program, provide counseling to young mothers in a shelter, or provide job training for a disabled person.

Community Service Workers

Community service staff generally do not get paid for their work, since they volunteer their time to provide a service to their community. Sometimes the person willingly volunteers, and sometimes the person is required to volunteer for a school project or as a punishment for a crime. This sort of community workers can be found in schools reading to children, in museums giving tours, in food kitchens serving food, and on the side of the road picking up trash.

Upward Mobility and Job Prospects

Service-sector jobs aren’t usually very high paying, but the barriers to entry are relatively low. People usually need a high school diploma or the equivalent, but there aren’t usually any other formal training or education requirements. The skills that people learn in these sorts of jobs — teamwork, handling adversity, and managing multiple tasks at once, to name just a few — are often useful in many other career paths. People who start out in service jobs often advance to managerial positions or jobs in other sectors that build on their skills.

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Discussion Comments
By popcorn — On Jun 27, 2011

I believe that every young person should do a stint as a customer service representative as I think it teaches invaluable work skills. Those in customer service learn how to handle people, work on a team and most importantly, and get a sense of the value of money.

I have found that once a teenager starts earning their own keep they tend to handle problems better overall, and often feel more self-confidence as they are earning money for their future.

Often fast food places and shops at the mall are the best places to go when looking for that first job. Also, some places like McDonald’s also offer lucrative college scholarships for teenagers that work for them. It is certainly something to look at.

By lonelygod — On Jun 26, 2011

@KaBoom - I always found it shocking too, how rude people could be to those in the customer service industry. I found that while I was working my way through university at a local book store that a lot of people talked down to the people working in the store, assuming they were uneducated or something because they weren't in a full-time career yet.

Our store actually made a point of choosing people working on degrees or that already had one, so that the workers would be more knowledgeable about their area of the store. We even had a man with an MBA working in the business books section because he needed some extra part-time income while remodeling his home and he loved reading.

I think people need to realize that those in the service industry are often doing double duty somewhere else. A little courtesy goes a long way for people making their way up.

By indemnifyme — On Jun 25, 2011

@KaBoom - You're right, working in customer service can be a pretty thankless job. I think sometimes people think anyone in the service industry is below them and it's OK to treat them like garbage.

However one interesting thing I've noticed since the recession is that a lot of people who were formerly employed in more prestigious positions now work in the service industry. I notice more adults working as servers at my local diner when before it used to be mostly teenagers. I wonder if people will finally start to be a little polite when they realize it could have been them!

By KaBoom — On Jun 25, 2011

One thing no one has mentioned yet is how rude people can be to service workers. I've worked several different jobs in the service industry in both food service and call center customer service. I never cease to be amazed at how rude and unpleasant some people can be to service workers.

I think it's a little ridiculous considering the fact that we all know someone who works as a service worker. I know I wouldn't want anyone to be unpleasant to my friend or family member in the service industry so why behave this way to another person's friend or family member?

By cupcake15 — On Jun 25, 2011

@Bhutan - That is really nice that you sister cares so much about needy people like that. I am sure they are happy for the legal help. I also wanted to say that working in the field of social work is another great profession that allows you to help people.

Social workers help families deal with the fact that their family member was diagnosed with a devastating disease. They are usually there to support the family and the patient emotionally.

They also get involved in child welfare cases and offer input that affects where the child will be placed. It is really a selfless career that must bring a lot of good to a lot of people. I remember when my mother was dying, the social worker at the hospital was amazing. It felt like I had a friend to talk to. It was really nice.

By Bhutan — On Jun 25, 2011

@Subway11 - I know what you mean. I have done charity work with some children’s charities and it is the most amazing experiences that I have ever had. I wanted to add that some family service worker jobs can also be in the field of public interest law.

My sister is a public interest lawyer in New York City. She represents people that have problems with their landlords and are about to be evicted. She defends these people free of charge and helps stop their evictions and usually gets the evictions overturned.

Many of these people are living in rat infested apartments and in really deplorable living conditions. My sister sometimes has to visit her clients in their home to make it easier for them because many have to work irregular hours and cannot visit her office in the middle of the day.

It makes her feel good to help these people and as a matter of fact she was given an award for her service that was presenteed to her by the New York Bar Association. I was really proud of her.

By subway11 — On Jun 25, 2011

@Mutsy - I know what you mean. I did the same thing while in school and I also had fun and made a lot of friends.

I always wanted to be a youth service worker. I think that it would be great to work in a camp and mentor a lot of young kids while working. This is a really rewarding job that allows you to bond with younger kids and helps them make friends and feel accepted.

Sometimes kids go to camp and really have trouble making friends and I always thought it would be great to help them out so they develop confidence in themselves to continue to make friends even when they leave the camp.

A youth service worker also gets to work for nonprofit organizations that devote their time to enriching the lives of young kids that may lead troubled lives. Sometimes the youth service worker might be the only person in the kid’s life that really makes a positive difference. Many of these kids may be battling problems with teen pregnancy or drugs and really need direction in their lives. It is a very rewarding field whether you decide to work in a regular summer camp or devote you time to a youth related charity.

By mutsy — On Jun 25, 2011

I think that many people start out working in a food service industry as a means of gaining skills. I remember working in a fast food restaurant when I was in high school and I really learned a lot about time management and serving customers.

I also learned what happens when an order is incorrect and how it could affect a customer. I used my food service worker resume when I got out of college in order to secure my first high paying job. It helped that I worked while I was in school and the employers really liked that I worked to support myself while in college.

I really liked working in the food service industry because I was able to also learn how to excel in customer service which is not easy to do because I had to learn to put a smile on my face even though I did not feel like it.

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