Bureau of Labor Statistics

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.

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Table 1. Largest occupations that typically require customer service skills, 2016

Employment, 2016 and projected 2026; median annual wage, 2017; and education, experience, and training typically required in these occupations            

Occupation Employment, 2016 Employment, projected 2026 Median annual wage, 2017 Education typically required to enter

Retail salespersons

4,602,500 4,682,100 $23,210 No formal educational credential

Cashiers

3,555,500 3,524,900 $21,030 No formal educational credential

Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food

3,452,200 4,032,100 $20,180 No formal educational credential

General office clerks

3,117,700 3,086,000 $31,500 High school diploma or equivalent

Customer service representatives

2,784,500 2,920,800 $32,890 High school diploma or equivalent

Waiters and waitresses

2,600,500 2,783,000 $20,820 No formal educational credential

Stock clerks and order fillers

2,008,600 2,109,600 $24,470 High school diploma or equivalent

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products

1,469,900 1,546,300 $56,970 High school diploma or equivalent

General maintenance and repair workers

1,432,600 1,545,100 $37,670 High school diploma or equivalent

Receptionists and information clerks

1,053,700 1,149,200 $28,390 High school diploma or equivalent

Note: At the entry level, none of these occupations typically requires work experience in a related occupation. Sales representatives and general maintenance and repair workers typically need moderate-term on-the-job training to attain competency; all others typically require short-term on-the-job training.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

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.

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Table 2. Fastest growing occupations that typically require customer service skills, projected 2016–26

Percent employment growth, projected 2016–26; employment, 2016; median annual wage, 2017; and education, experience, and training typically required in these occupations

Occupation Employment growth, projected 2016–26 (percent) Employment, 2016 Median annual wage, 2017 Education typically required to enter On-the-job training typically required to attain competency

Nonfarm animal caretakers

24 241,500 $22,950 High school diploma or equivalent Short term

Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food

17 3,452,200 $20,180 No formal educational credential Short term

Web developers

15 162,900 $67,990 Associate's degree None

Dispensing opticians

15 77,600 $36,250 High school diploma or equivalent Long term

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers

15 332,900 $47,080 Postsecondary nondegree award Long term

Appraisers and assessors of real estate

14 80,800 $54,010 Bachelor's degree Long term

Archivists

14 6,800 $51,760 Master's degree None

Curators

14 12,400 $53,770 Master's degree None

Skincare specialists

14 61,300 $30,080 Postsecondary nondegree award None

Barbers

13 56,400 $25,650 Postsecondary nondegree award None

Note: At the entry level, none of these occupations typically requires work experience in a related occupation.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

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.

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Table 3. Highest paying occupations that typically require customer service skills, 2017

Median annual wage, 2017; employment, 2016 and projected 2026; and education, experience, and training typically required in these occupations

Occupation Median annual wage, 2017 Employment, 2016 Employment, projected 2026 Education typically required to enter Experience typically required to enter On-the-job training typically required to attain competency

Sales managers

$121,060 385,500 414,400 Bachelor's degree Less than 5 years None

Construction managers

$91,370 403,800 448,600 Bachelor's degree None Moderate term

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products

$78,830 343,600 361,300 Bachelor's degree None Moderate term

Logisticians

$74,590 148,700 159,000 Bachelor's degree None None

Gaming managers

$72,930 4,500 4,600 High school diploma or equivalent Less than 5 years None

Captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels

$70,920 38,800 42,200 Postsecondary nondegree award Less than 5 years None

Web developers

$67,990 162,900 187,200 Associate's degree None None

Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents

$63,780 375,700 398,900 Bachelor's degree None Moderate term

Artists and related workers, all other

$63,540 12,800 13,500 No formal educational credential None Moderate term

Computer network support specialists

$62,340 198,800 215,200 Associate's degree None None

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

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.

About the Author

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

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

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