“The customer is always right!” So, why are customer service salaries so wrong?
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Given the lengths businesses go to in promoting customer satisfaction, why have salaries for customer service employees stagnated?
Over the past five years, the number of UK workers employed in the customer service sector has decreased by 130,000 (source: The Office of National Statistics).
Now, even if we take out the number of retail jobs lost as part of the of big-name high street casualties, there has still been a significant (and worrying) exodus from the sector.
As a specialist customer service Recruiter, I am on the front line helping my clients attract and retain talent into their customer service teams and I have seen, first-hand, the effects that this alarming trend is having.
But why is this happening?
There’s no hiding from the fact that, for many people, a job in customer services is not a career and very often it is seen (and treated) as a stop-gap (or jobs for the casual labour market like students over their summer breaks).
I passionately disagree with this sentiment but I am also aware that we are light years behind the likes of the United States where customer services is seen as a worthy platform for workers to use their talents and to progress. They are proud to do their jobs and they are respected and valued as a result.
The average salary for a Customer Service Advisor in the UK is £21,494 which is £14,000 under the average national wage of £35,423. Given that customer service jobs are far from easy and they often involve dealing with angry and demanding customers, guests or visitors, perhaps it is not surprising that jobseekers are voting with their feet.
Furthermore, there are very few recognised qualifications in customer service - certainly none that my clients have ever requested of me to find on a resume - and yet my colleagues at Plus One Personnel who recruit accountants can be asked to supply candidates with any one of five or six recognised accountancy qualifications by their clients.
Gaining qualifications often requires deferred gratification and that is reflected in the rewards of higher salaries and defined career paths - two things that the customer service industry clearly lacks - so maybe some universally-recognised qualifications in customer services skills is what my specialist sector needs?
However, it does strike me as strange that as our consumer culture evolves and customers of businesses expect higher & higher standards in terms of customer service, salaries for those people expected to deliver those services have stagnated. This is especially peculiar given the dwindling pool of talent. Surely this should push salaries up right? No, it doesn’t appear so.
In a time where an unhappy customer can take to the internet and tell the world about their bad experience with a few clicks of a mouse, why are so many companies still undervaluing the very people whom they rely upon to protect their brand?
Unlike customer service salaries, basic levels of pay for sales positions have increased over the past five years which seems a little inconsistent to me (the average Sales Executive earns £26,300). Yes, sales roles are hard (I know because I am a sales person) and they are often stressful with the omnipresence of targets hanging over our heads but the same can now be said for an increasing number of customer service positions. At least sales people have the solace of commission or bonuses to motivate them – what does an average Customer Service Advisor get? Not very much, I can tell you.
I’m not commercially naïve and I understand that sales people are valuable because they generate revenue however, good customer service professionals can help keep customers which helps avoid a loss of revenue - so where is the difference? More and more, the customer services candidates I place are expected to up-sell and cross-sell services and products against targets and yet they are rarely rewarded for doing so.
Is our ‘old friend’ technology having an impact on the situation?
Possibly. I’ve heard for years that ‘the robots are coming’ and who amongst us hasn’t dealt with an automated voice when trying to complain about an experience with a company? However, phone-based customer service roles will always exist and they even seem to be making a comeback - A report released in 2018 by the Institute of Customer Service found that almost half of UK consumers (48%) would stop using – or switch – organisations if they were forced to speak to robots over people. It’s no coincidence that First Direct Bank, which has UK-based humans performing their phone-based customer service, consistently wins the top industry award from the ICS.
In another recent survey of more than 75,000 consumers conducted by the Customer Contact Council, there was a clear finding that reducing the effort a customer has to go through to solve their issue is the main factor for ensuring customer loyalty.
Could you imagine an automated message service calming down an apoplectic bride-to-be who has been sent the wrong colour shoes two days before her big day?
The reality is that my candidates are often problem-solvers, therapists, counsellors, diplomats, verbal punch bags and salespeople all rolled into one.
So … my question to business leaders and owners across the UK is, when will the ever-decreasing number of hard-working customer service men
and women in this country be paid a salary that reflects their true value and importance?
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