Beyond Retail: Why Customer Service Skills Matter in Practically Any Career
By Ashley Brooks on 03/15/2021
If a large portion of your working life has been spent in customer-facing retail roles, it can be easy to sell that experience short. Customer service roles in a retail environment can often be thankless—or worse. The daily grind of this work has you considering a career shake-up, but you also worry if you’re actually cut out for the types of jobs that require a college education.
You can’t help but wonder if a resume full of customer service experience will stack up when the time comes after graduation to apply for one of these jobs. Is any of it useful? After all, college is a big investment, and you don’t want to put money and effort into earning a degree just to have the whole thing be a flop.
Believe it or not, the strong customer service skills you’ve developed are useful—and needed—in a huge variety of “college” jobs. If you combine your existing customer service experience with the right degree program—and properly highlight both—you could be a hot commodity among employers looking to hire.
Why do customer service skills matter so much, even outside of retail? Rasmussen University Career Services advisor Maureen Weber is here to explain the importance of this soft skill and the industries that are most in need of your customer service superpowers.
What are customer service skills?
Customer service skills fall under the umbrella of soft skills. These are the transferable skills that can be used in any industry to help you work well with other people and solve problems.
You might be surprised to find that when it comes to landing a job, soft skills can be more important than technical skills. A recent Zety survey found that 61 percent of hiring managers and recruiters believe soft skills like customer service are more important than technical skills!1
“We hear from employers that they can teach hard skills but cannot teach soft skills or do not have the time to teach soft skills,” Weber says. “They want employees to be career ready.”
Customer service skills are a heavy hitter among soft skills. Rather than one specific skill, it’s more like an entire group of soft skills packaged together. “A customer service skill set entails many qualities, such as communication, active listening, problem-solving, empathy and adaptability,” Weber says.
Those are a lot of skills employers don’t want to have to teach their new hires! While customer service skills might come naturally to you, there are plenty of people lacking this crucial skill set—which means you could catch the attention of employers in any field that interests you.
Why customer service matters in every industry
There isn’t a career field that can say customer service skills don’t matter. From healthcare to design and everything in between, employers rely on workers who are able to communicate well with others, listen attentively and maintain a positive attitude.
“I believe that stellar customer service is important in every career,” Weber says. “Customer service brings value to every business and reflects positively on each company.” Your customer service skills can be an asset in whichever career field you pursue—you just need to know how to show them off throughout the application and interview process.
“There are several things a candidate can do to leverage their customer service experience to help them land a job in a new career field,” Weber says. First, she recommends researching a potential employment opportunity to find out what their customer service needs might be.
“Second, tailor your resume to emphasize the customer service skills that the employer is seeking,” Weber says. Look for details in the job posting that hint at the organization’s customer service needs, and make sure those skills are front and center in both your resume and cover letter. Consider questions like “Does this job require public-facing communication? Is this role part of a team? Does this position require me to anticipate the needs of others?” for good starting points.
Last but not least, you should be prepared to talk about your customer service experience during the interview. “The candidate should think of times they provided stellar customer service and what skills were utilized,” Weber says. Be prepared with specific examples, and practice sharing the stories ahead of time so you sound polished in the interview.
Another helpful tip to keep in mind: Do not rule out examples based solely on the context they come from. Good hiring managers understand candidates with limited direct experiences may have to stretch a bit to highlight what they bring to the table, but they still value seeing examples of your thought process and the underlying skills being put to use.
Top roles for customer service skills
So you know that customer service skills are important, and you even know how to leverage them to land a job in a new field. But one important question remains: How do customer service skills play out in different roles?
Let’s explore what it looks like to put your customer service skills to use in some of the industries you may be considering.
Marketers are the business professionals who connect with potential and current customers to encourage sales by showing how their company can help solve a problem. Their roles are essentially behind-the-scenes customer service professionals!
Marketers use customer service skills all day long: empathizing with customers as they create sales copy, using persuasive language and friendly rapport to close sales deals and listening to customer concerns so they can address any problems with their product.
An organization’s employees are the “customers” human resources workers serve. They make sure the workplace is a positive, satisfying environment, and they serve as a safe place where employees can have questions answered and concerns addressed.
Conflict resolution and problem-solving come up often in the HR department. HR pros put these customer service skills to work as they resolve issues between employees, make decisions about employee benefit packages and recruit new employees to their organizations.
Nurses are constantly interacting with others, sometimes during intense medical situations. “Nurses work with a variety of customers: patients, family members, doctors and staff,” Weber says. “Utilizing top-notch customer service skills will make the patient feel cared for and family members heard, as well as be conducive to teamwork.”
Nurses use customer service skills as they keep patients calm, maintain a positive attitude and communicate with clients and healthcare teams in a way that’s easy for everyone to understand.
Any field that involves lots of interaction with clients will have plenty of need for customer service skills, and that includes the design field. Whether a designer works in house at a company or an agency or on their own as a self-employed business owner, they’ll need to use their customer service skills to meet clients’ expectations throughout the design process.
Strong communications skills are a must-have for design professionals who have to make sure they’re properly interpreting clients’ needs and expectations. Being able to positively frame setbacks and maintain a focus on keeping clients satisfied are also important in this field.
You might be surprised to see this field on the list, but criminal justice professionals must all work together to ensure that the law is upheld fairly and justly. “In the criminal justice field, there are many diverse ‘customers’ to interact with, such as clients, advocates, attorneys, family members, law enforcement and judges,” Weber says.
Regardless of which criminal justice role you take on, it requires strong customer service skills to collaborate with such a broad array of people in the chain of criminal justice. Weber believes that criminal justice professionals who demonstrate experience with customer service are at an advantage for developing positive relationships with others, and therefore, improving outcomes for everyone involved.
Where will your customer service skills take you?
The facts are clear: Your customer service skills can take you places when it comes to searching for a new career. Although these in-demand soft skills give you a strong start, you might need additional education or training to be qualified for the career you’re dreaming of.
If you’re ready to begin seriously narrowing down your education options, our article “6 Things Adult Learners Should Look for in a College Program” can provide a helpful starting point.
1Zety, Top Skills Employers Look For 2021, [accessed February, 2021] https://zety.com/blog/skills-employers-look-for