What It Takes To Be In Customer Service

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Chris Vodola is a Client Development Manager at StellaService, which measures and rates the customer service performance of online retailers. As part of the Client Development team, Chris works closely with retailers to leverage StellaService's objective data and analytics platform -- Stella Metrics -- to make meaningful improvements in the service operation.

Vodola has more than 15 years of customer care operational experience and has led teams within several consumer goods organizations including The Estée Lauder Companies, Nestlé Waters and Colgate-Palmolive. He joined the StellaService team from Bluefly.com, where he served as Director of Customer Service and Operations.

AOL Jobs asked him what it takes to be a customer service rep in the digital era.

What skills do you need?

A career in customer service is not for everyone. It's about listening, empathizing, seeking to understand problems and having the ability to find solutions. More important than that is genuinely enjoying that process. The only basic requirements for a new entry-level hire are being likable (I've never hired someone I didn't like) and knowing how to use a computer, because you'll be using it to either talk to your customers, use systems to solve problems, or just take record of the interactions you're having.

How do you acquire these skills?

One amazing way to gain people skills is to work in retail, even if it's only a few months. I worked at the local Staples Copy Center the summer after high school graduation and learned more about customer needs, deadlines and the stresses that come with them than I learned in any classroom or course. Retail doesn't happen behind a digital wall either. It's face to face -- there's no running and hiding behind a phone or laptop!

What can you expect to earn?

This can vary a great deal. Customer Service Reps at the entry level generally earn anywhere from $12 to $20 an hour, but should be adjusted up or down based on the market location. The more flexible and available you are the more money you'll earn long-term. Employers need dependable, available reps and in some cases will pay a premium to keep them. Most supervisors I've ever met started at the ground floor and earned respect by being trustworthy, likable and dependable. They can go on to earn full-time salaries anywhere from $30k to even as high as six figures for upper management.

How have customer expectations changed (or not)?

At their core, no matter how much technology we have in arm's reach, customers are human. We all just want to get from point A to point B without aggravation, but empathy helps grease the path. Sometimes point B is landing flowers into mom's hands by her birthday, and other times it's having a working internet wi-fi connection. What HAS changed is how quickly we expect to get to point B. Not long ago, we had to call a toll-free number and navigate a massive sequence of phone prompts to even start our trip. Today, that helper is often just a tweet or Facebook post away, and the more customers get that type of instant connection and resolution, the more they'll demand it. And if they don't get it from you, they'll find it elsewhere!
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