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Customer service skills: Occupational employment, outlook, and wages

| September 2018

These days, it may seem like robots can do it all. But humans still outperform machines in at least one important skill area: customer service.

Customer service skills include communication, patience, and knowledge of your company’s products or services. You also should be friendly and understanding. In some occupations, you may need the ability to diagnose and fix problems or to make sales. 

Lots of jobs involve customer service. In fact, occupations that require these skills accounted for about one-fourth of all employment in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s based on an analysis of profiles from the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) that identified customer service skills as an important quality.

Occupations in which customer service skills are important include some that are projected to add many jobs or to have rapid employment growth over the 2016–26 decade. Others paid well above $37,690, the median annual wage for all occupations in 2017.  

Many jobs

The OOH identified customer service skills as important in 7 of the 10 occupations employing the most workers in the economy in 2016. As table 1 shows, retail salespersons topped the list of the largest occupations related to customer service in 2016, employing more than 4.6 million workers.

Table 1.

Four of the occupations in table 1 (retail salespersons, cashiers, combined food preparation and serving workers, and waiters and waitresses) typically require no formal educational credential at the entry level; the other six typically require a high school diploma or equivalent. Sales representatives and general maintenance and repair workers, the two highest paying occupations in the table, require moderate-term on-the-job training in addition to a diploma.

Together, the occupations in table 1 are projected to account for more than 27 million jobs by 2026.

Fast growth

Often, large occupations (such as those shown in table 1) are projected to add many jobs because they already employ millions of workers. Table 2 illustrates projections another way: It shows occupations related to customer service in which employment is expected to grow faster than the 7-percent average for all occupations.  

Table 2.

Combined food preparation and serving workers appears in both tables 1 and 2. Although its rate of employment growth is not expected to be as fast as that of nonfarm animal caretakers, because it is a much larger occupation, it is projected to add nearly 10 times as many jobs as nonfarm animal caretakers.

The education typically required to enter the rapidly growing occupations shown in table 2 ranges from no formal educational credential (for combined food preparation and serving workers) to a master’s degree (for archivists and curators).

Of the occupations presented in table 2, half had median annual wages that were higher than the median wage for all occupations. Web developers, the highest paying occupation in the table, also was among the highest paying occupations in which customer service skills are important.

High wages

Table 3 shows the highest paying occupations that require customer service skills; sales managers made more than triple the median annual wage for all occupations in 2017.

Table 3.

With higher wages come higher entry-level requirements: Most of the occupations in table 3 typically require at least a college degree and, for some, experience or on-the-job training.

The occupations in table 3 are projected to have about 2 million jobs overall by 2026.

For more information

The occupations highlighted in this article are among those in which BLS economists determined that customer service skills are an important quality for workers. More information is available in the OOH about these occupations, as well as hundreds of others. The OOH describes job duties, outlook, pay, and more—including which qualities, such as customer service skills, are important in each occupation.

With data from the BLS Occupational Requirements Survey, you can identify occupations that align with your work preferences. You also may find occupations of interest by entering “customer service skills” as your search term in the O*NET OnLine occupation search tool.

William Lawhorn is an economist in the Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, BLS. He can be reached at lawhorn.william@bls.gov.

Suggested citation:

William Lawhorn, "Customer service skills: Occupational employment, outlook, and wages," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 2018.

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