Customer service ---> Gainful employment
December 14, 2011 8:45 PM   Subscribe

Help me transition out of my customer service "career"

I'm in need of any and all tips to transition out of my customer service career. I believe my main issue is that I lack a clear understanding of my options since I don't "know what I want to be."

I have worked for the same company for about 4 years now. Initially I was hired to handle customer service for one large business account and while that job was decent, it was a bit boring most of the time and there was no room for advancement or even exposure to other opportunities in the company since I worked on-site at the large account rather than at a site belonging to my company. This job was also a long commute for me and the price of getting to and from work took up a lot of my budget (about $400 per month). The job site was in an area were I couldn't afford to live closer to. The things I liked most about the job were the freedom to make my own schedule and being able to do the majority of my work unsupervised.

About 5 months ago I applied and got a new position in the same company. I now work in one of their offices a lot closer to my home. However, I hate this job with the fire of a thousand suns. I was brought into the office to handle increased customer service volume due to another location closing and now being handled out of the location I am in. The workflow is far too much for the 5 of us in the office to handle and we are consistently 2 weeks behind. WE have been working 10 hours on our shortest days and also asked to come in on weekends. I usually work with no break at all. I feel like there is nothing being done to address our concerns with the volume of work we are getting. I feel like there is no room for advancement in my position and that I will get "stuck" if I stay too long, burnt out and unable to pool my energies to find another job.

That is all on top of the fact that I don't want to be stuck doing customer service forever. My most recent job searching has yielded a few instances of the catch 22 of needing experience, but not finding any employment to gain experience. I currently make around $16 per hour and would need to make at least that much (working at least a 40 hour week). I am in Philadelphia and will need to stay in the area. I've exhausted my strong references, but I suppose I could try to network with new people.

My previous jobs have been in retail stores, temp service jobs (such as "sales assistant") and waitressing. I have a BA in English. I'm moderately handy with tools. I'm fluent in the MS Office Suite.

What position titles should I be looking for to apply? ARe there any companies known for taking on people with a generic skillset so they can gain experience in a particular field? I just don't really know where to go from here and my current job is so miserable that the only option I can really think of is to go back to waitressing for a while. The only thing I want to be is not in my current job. Help!
posted by WeekendJen to Work & Money (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly I'm not familiar with opportunities in Philadelphia (and if they exist in quantity the way they do in the Bay Area and NYC), but in the tech world, customer service = "client services" and plenty of people with your background are doing it. If you can speak reasonably well with both engineers and less-savvy clients, you're golden. I'd look especially for firms involved with digital advertising.
posted by telegraph at 8:48 PM on December 14, 2011

I have a very similar skillset to you, as well as having a BA in English. I transitioned from very traditional customer service jobs in retail stores into the private finance sector pretty easily. I would suggest looking into some insurance or finance related positions, or from larger employers in the area.
posted by erstwhile at 9:22 PM on December 14, 2011

My most recent job searching has yielded a few instances of the catch 22 of needing experience, but not finding any employment to gain experience.

Two things. 1) It is important to understand that the qualifications in a job advert are a wish list, not a minimum barrier to entry. People are basically trying to staff positions with capable folks, and guessing at what will deliver those candidates. This is pretty directly related to... 2) You need to look back over your customer service roles and pull out specific skills that translate to other roles. I have no idea what your customer service job actually entailed, but things like generating spreadsheet sales reports, hitting targets, using CRM software, training customers, etc are all skills people with other jobs will hire you for if you market yourself correctly.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:04 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're willing and/or able to take some risk with your career, you could go the temping route. Generally, it's stressful in many ways, not the least of which is that you're never guaranteed to get a position when the last one ends, the threshold for firing/terminating the assignment is much lower, and you generally don't get benefits.

However, it does open up the opportunity to do work in which you don't have much experience, because you're just filling in, and if you have the skills, that's generally enough. Plus, many temp agencies (at least the ones I've encountered around here in Boston) will help to train you in skills you'd need on assignments they have.

That, plus the fact that a lot of companies use temps as long-term job interviews, and many temp agencies also place permanent hires (for which they get a nice fee, so they'll push for you to go permanent if you want to and the company you're temping at wants you to), it can be a good way of getting your foot in the door.

Also, temping lets you try out a variety of industries and positions (generally administrative, unless you have a specific set of skills), which can help to solve the "what do I want to be when I grow up?" problem.
posted by xingcat at 4:41 AM on December 15, 2011

OK, I am going to push back and question if you really don't want to do customer service or if you just don't want to keep doing it in the sector, specific role, or company you are in? Because a true customer service ethic can be built on as a cornerstone asset in your new job search. What field doesn't need good customer service, either with internal or external customers? Do some job research. Look for companies that are noteworthy for customer service in more than a skin-deep way and jobs that have service as one of the primary requirements to see if there are any roles or organizations that would appeal to you. Target a few stellar companies and work to get a job there.

Play on your customer service experience ... turn some of the related skills into assets that can be translated to other roles.... be ready to talk about examples of problem solving, persistence and going the extra mile to solve a problem, and outstanding service that you have done in your current job. Line up references that will illustrate your service ethic and attributes - actual testimonials would help.

If you don't want to stay in retail, research jobs in the sectors that have the fastest or best opportunities for growth.

I am pointing to a comment I made in a prior thread on how I successfully transitioned from a limited career path to a new field - it required a lot of effort, but it worked. There may be some other advice in that thread that is helpful to you, too. Good luck.
posted by madamjujujive at 4:56 AM on December 15, 2011

Since every field entails customer service your background is a perfect stepping stone to a career transition. Step one is to decide what field you might like to be in..IT for example...step two is to apply for a csr srvice job with a large employer in that field where you will be able to have employment now but also job opps in the company that you might apply for once you have picked up relevant skills. Step three of course is to pick up relevant skills and knowledge ...self study works great for this as does training at your workplace using the free training usually available at your company. If u want to do something with your degree then technical writing is an obvious answer. Pays very well and you could segway into it by going to work in a csr service job in a smaller IT company and volunteering to write their tech docs in order to build a portfolio. I am speaking as someone who has a degree in psych and successfully transitioned to IT industry. You can do it!
posted by TestamentToGrace at 5:17 AM on December 15, 2011

Where is your BA from? Many colleges offer career counseling to alums if you are looking for advice about changing careers.

That said, I agree it sounds like you just don't like you current job--if you are thinking of going back to waitressing you must not fundamentally dislike customer service! I'd look for a similar gig in another company--especially if you need to keep making $16/hour, it might a lot easie to find a similar role where you think the future possibilities are bright than to switch fields entirely.
posted by _Silky_ at 6:18 AM on December 15, 2011

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