My 5 years in retail have taught me well. Although there were trials and tribulations, my time in customer service was a spectacular triumph as I acquired skills that have helped me through my academic, professional and personal life. I encourage you to work a job in customer service, even if only part-time and short-term, to hone skills you may be overlooking in your day-to-day rhythm.
Because I was able to meet incredible people both on and off my team, I was constantly learning. I had to adjust to various personalities and adapt to different types of communication, but I also learned a lot about myself, my skills and how to promote myself. At times, it was frustrating and tiresome - especially as a student with multiple responsibilities - but retail significantly propelled my personal and professional development. Here are the four reasons why I believe you won’t regret working in customer service:
1. Quiet Interpersonal Skills Speak Louder Than Words
I know you’re thinking: “isn’t it a little routine to put interpersonal skills as your first point?”, and, you may be right. However, there is much more to having great interpersonal skills than the ability to carry a conversation, sell an item, or effectively communicate with team members.
When I was 16, I started my first Sales Associate position at a shoe store. I was a true introvert. I had a few close friends and was uncomfortable talking to new people, public speaking and small talk. Perfect fit for retail, right?/s However, retail pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and explore different ways of communicating with others. Because I was such an introvert, I was a great listener and observer. I honed these skills in conversations to listen to the verbal and non-verbal cues of others, which allowed me to develop a great sense of empathy, emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence.
You will meet a comprehensive range of personalities in retail. This is both uplifting and challenging. But, by utilizing attributes you may see as weaknesses for customer service, you would be surprised how easy it becomes to understand and relate to people, not simply just communicate with them. You may be wary when it comes to talking to new people too, but your perspective as an introvert contributes to the well-being of customers, your coworkers, and others you encounter.
2. Learning to Let Go, and Move On
The term, “carefree” is defined as “free from cares: having no worries or troubles” (Merriam-Webster). Becoming carefree, in my point of view, is about forgiving yourself for your mistakes and shortcomings instead of fretting over them. Especially forgiving the misspoken words or phrases, the trips over your own feet and any other moments you reflect on and can’t resist throwing your face to the side, cringing. I learned to accept my mishaps as learning opportunities, or as moments you can let go of, and move on from.
Because of the various types of people you meet in customer service, you start to realize, who isn’t awkward in their own way? Who doesn’t make a mistake every once in a while? The only reason I feel embarrassed for stumbling on my words is that I can’t stop focusing on myself and what I’ve done before realizing that the other person doesn’t mind, as they’ve likely done the same thing. If they don’t mind, then they’re going to forget about this instance a lot faster than I will. So, why should I have to bear the weight?
Additionally, I realized being awkward can be charming, so as long as you let it. I found it was much more fun to lean into those awkward moments and laugh at yourself a little. Whenever I stumble on my words, whether it is in conversation, during a presentation or an interview, I say something along the lines of “boop boop, let’s rewind that and let me start over” or “It seems my brain is moving too fast for my mouth to catch up, let me rephrase”. Of course, read the situation. There are fun ways and professional ways to go about this, such as simply pausing and reiterating. But, as long as you focus on what to do or say next, it won’t matter what happened five minutes ago.
3. Network Your (Self-Directed) Work Search
Again, I want to reiterate, you meet tons of people in customer service. Some may even be people within your field of study, and can offer invaluable advice, or encouraging words! I learned so much from the customers I encountered, but also from those within the company.
Think of customer service as one big networking event. You are constantly making connections with the people you meet, and you never know what someone can offer you and vice versa. That being said, I believe working in customer service opened a lot of doors for me, but specifically concerning a self-directed work search. Although I haven’t attained a position this way yet (it’s still my first work term!), I’m not afraid to reach out to people from local and/or small retailers sharing why I would be a great fit for their company or even just asking for an informational interview. As a communications and business student, I can offer knowledge in social media, copywriting, event planning and human resources all while having a working understanding of the business model and flow of clothing retailers. I’m sure whatever your degree is, you will be able to find some overlap as I have.
4. Promoting Yourself with Assertive Language
This is a big one. As students in co-op or intern positions, it can be difficult to ask for a raise, promotion or even just saying no. I often associate assertiveness with being aggressive, selfish or bossy, and as someone who is people-oriented, this is something that I can be uncomfortable with.
However, in customer service, I learned how to become comfortable with using assertive language. This is because I realized that to advance in my position, and more positions thereafter, I needed to make my value to the company clear. Most importantly, I needed my manager to know that I knew what my value to the company was and that I was willing and able to do more.
When I was 18, I had started a sales associate position at Plenty Inc. Within 7 months, and with much bigger goals in mind than what I had at the shoe store, I was promoted to key-holder (third in line management). Within the next three months, I was promoted to Visual Merchandiser (fancy third in line management). I asked for and negotiated my raise for these promotions on multiple occasions. I was lucky enough to have a close mentor and friend on my team that guided me, but I am now comfortable and confident when raising these issues to my supervisor or manager. This is why I can confidently say, it’s okay to ask for what you believe you deserve. Your supervisor will appreciate the initiative, and should at least be willing to have a conversation with you. It is not selfish or aggressive, but rather shows you have a strong grasp on what you bring to the table. So, bring it!
Maybe you’ve read through my blog post and decided, “No, I still don’t believe customer service is for me” or, “I’ve tried it, and hated it!”, and that’s totally okay. But I hope there’s at least some of you who can see yourself being in customer service and enjoying the learning curve such as I have. I can remember times standing in the middle of the store, staring at the barrage of people destroying areas you’ve spent, at times, hours trying to perfect. It’s disheartening. But, when I really reflect on my time in customer service, I think of everything I learned, and how without it, I wouldn’t be half the employee, student or friend I am today.
Authors Note: Did you notice the “/s” at the end of my sentence, “Perfect fit for retail, right?/s”. This is called a tone indicator and it denotes “sarcasm”. Tone indicators are signifiers used at the ends of statements to help readers fill in the blanks regarding tone, intonation, pitch and other paralinguistic features that are hard to detect through text. Here is a list of others that you can use in your writing.