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What is a Customer Service Representative?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A customer service representative is a professional who works either directly with or directly for the customers and prospective customers of a given company. Representatives are often seen as the outward “face” of their company because they are usually the first people customers talk to when they have a question or concern. Sometimes they are problem solvers, and other times they are trying to initiate sales; they may also simply help clients find information. They may work in many different kinds of companies, and their job descriptions can be quite varied. All have one thing in common, though, which is helping connect outside people with inside information.

Types of Work

Any company or service that depends on customer support typically has a dedicated customer service or customer care department. This includes retailers, land management companies, and public service and utilities providers. Job descriptions can vary to such an extent that it may be helpful to think of customer service representatives by other job titles they might alternately be called, including the following:

No matter the title, this person’s primary job is customer happiness and satisfaction. He or she is usually the first one to answer the phones at a company’s headquarters, for instance, and is usually also the person behind a service desk at a store or business branch office.

What the Work Requires

Job requirements to be a customer service representative vary tremendously. People who tend to be most successful at their work have excellent manners, can handle problem customers, and usually possess excellent telephone skills. Many of these workers also have basic to advanced computer skills, and a number of them possess high-level office skills.

Representatives often have multiple means of communicating with customers. They must usually be able to field requests for information over the telephone, through fax, and in writing in either standard mail or e-mail. In large e-commerce companies, customer care representatives may do little more than respond to customer e-mail. They may also facilitate in-person meetings through various conferencing or messaging methods, some of which may happen over the Internet.

Sales Staff

In many cases, the representative is essentially a sales person. Companies in the retail sector, whether in traditional shops or online, typically hire these employees to help customers navigate the merchandise that is available. This often involves help over the phone or advice and recommendations given on the sales floor. People in these roles take orders for purchases; answer questions about products, prices, or shipping; and listen to any complaints or concerns the buyer might have.

Unsolicited advertising or marketing may also fall under the customer service representative’s job description. Many companies build their customer bases by directly reaching out to potential buyers, usually over the phone. The people who execute these calls are frequently referred to as telemarketers, but their function is essentially one of customer service.

Problem Solvers

Service representatives may also be called on to handle disagreements or settle disputes between customers and the parent company. Calls placed to most service-oriented businesses, like utilities companies, insurance companies, or banks, are usually first routed to a customer service representative. If that person is unable to resolve the problem or does not have the expertise or power to come up with a solution, the call is often transferred to a manager. Representatives don’t make the rules and are usually limited by their company in terms of what they can do.

Training and Education

Most of the time, customer service staff members are considered entry-level employees. This means that they do not need a lot of training or expertise to get started in the work. A high school diploma or equivalent is usually required, but more advanced training is usually optional. Depending on the company, though, there may be exceptions: computer software manufacturers may require support staff to have basic computer training, for instance, or assistants at a legal firm may need to have some college coursework that is relevant to the sorts of questions they will be answering. A lot of what the job requires depends on the specifics of the given situation.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon269199 — On May 17, 2012

Yes, that is totally true! And I feel so sad when I cannot help the customer because my superiors said to me that his customer's warranty is out of date or something like that.

By anon174683 — On May 11, 2011

Where i am working, i am a receptionist so i need more help because sometimes a have a fear of answering the phone, or making a call or talking to someone in english, not because I don't know, but because of fear so help me.

By vanstootie — On Jun 02, 2010

All I want is someone coherent who can give me what I want, when I want it. And I don't want to press '1' and press '2' endlessly to get to that person. That's crappy customer service IMO.

By wwfan — On Jun 02, 2010

As a manager of several toll free lines, I'm a firm believer that you can teach anyone the particulars of a program or product...but you can't teach customer service work ethic. If you don't have a person with patience, cool temper, and an ability to reason and repeat information, it doesn't make any difference how well they know the company program/product.

Consequently, I can't stand when a CSR is rude or indifferent on the phone. It shows poor training and poor supervision.

By DocZ — On Oct 13, 2009

The quality of a company's customer service representatives is one of the elements that is most important to me - when customer service treats you with respect and really tries to be helpful, it makes my impression of a company much better. I'm sure that it's an incredibly difficult job, and it's always nice when someone does it well.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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