Employers recognise the key role customer-facing staff play in determining the quality of the customer experience and in increasing customer loyalty. In an increasingly service-led economy, customer demand for better and more individualised service is set to continue to increase. Therefore, there is a need to raise customer service standards and increase the supply of people with customer service skills. Employers across all sectors, regardless of whether their main business is customer service or if they wish to train staff to undertake customer service as part of their job role, need to upskill their current workforce and recruit new staff. Customer Service Apprenticeships have a major role to play in this by helping employers address the skills gaps and shortages that they are experiencing, and by providing a vehicle for introducing and raising customer service skills in the workplace.
The existing workforce needs to be up-skilled and new people attracted into customer service job roles. As competition grows and social networking is increasing, customer expectations are continuously rising. To meet these challenges employers must find new and innovative ways of providing customer confidence.
This can be achieved by ensuring that high levels of customer service skills are practiced by management and employees throughout their organisation and by ensuring that policies and practices of the organisation reflect best practices in customer service.
In Wales, there are 117,800 people working in Sales and Customer Service related occupations (Statistics for Wales, September 2016), which represents 8.3% of the Welsh workforce. Employers have been using Apprenticeships in Customer Service since the mid-1990s as a recruitment tool. According to Statistics for Wales (www.statswales.gov.wales), during the 2014-2015 academic year (1st August – 31st July), 2,205 Apprenticeship programmes in Wales were in Customer Service, making it one of the most popular Apprenticeship programmes in Wales.
Customer demands are now driving the new service-led economy through changes in new technology and the rise of social media and networking. These changes are underpinning the drive for efficiency in response to:
- Increased emphasis on high-level customer service skills;
- Recruiting, up-skilling, and retaining staff who are competent and motivated to support their customers;
- Raising product and service quality;
- Delivering high speed and effective responses;
- Changes in production methods and the management of human resources;
- Elasticity of demand for different products and services;
- Changes in tastes and preferences;
- Changes to the patterns of demand;
- Emphasis on high value-added;
- Higher quality, high specification goods, and services;
- UK-wide and global competition.
Due to the varied nature of the Customer Service industry, there are many job roles that apply to Customer Service Level 2 apprentices. These will include job roles which are dedicated to customer service such as Customer Service Trainee, Customer Service Assistant, Customer Service Advisor, Customer Service Representative, Customer Service Agent, Customer Service Administrator, Customer Service Officer, Customer Service Liaison Officer, Customer Liaison Assistant, Customer Liaison Executive, and Customer Service Clerk. Job roles within which Customer Service skills complement other technical skills at the Intermediate level will include Accounts Payable Clerk, Bakery Assistant, Export Clerk, Trainee Sports Coach, Warehouse Assistant, Cashier, and Trainee Optician, as examples.
At Level 3, dedicated customer service job roles will include Customer Relations Officer, Customer Relationship Manager, Customer Support Agent, Customer Service Executive Officer, Customer Support Officer, Customer Service Delivery Co-ordinator, Customer Service Operator, Customer Service Team Leader, Customer Service Supervisor, Customer Service Co-ordinator, Customer Service Manager and Senior Customer Service Advisor as well as complementary job roles such as Paint Body Advisor, Nurse, Nail Technician, Lifeguard, Account Manager, Restaurant Supervisor, and Recruitment Consultant.
The Customer Service Apprenticeships have been built on the success of their predecessors by including employer-led, up to date, flexible qualifications which meet their demand for higher levels of customer service skills, including softer skills such as communication, team working, interpersonal skills, and the ability to improve own learning and performance.
Essential Communication Skills and Essential Application of Number Skills are included in the Customer Service Apprenticeship options offered for Essential Skills Wales. However, there are no Essential Digital Literacy Skills in these Apprenticeships as digital literacy skills may not be relevant for all Customer Service job roles and may therefore be difficult for all apprentices to complete. Due to the pan sector nature of Customer Service, and the diversity found in apprentice job roles outlined above, an introduction of IT to these frameworks would prohibit a considerable number of learners from attaining this Apprenticeship.
Whatever job role or sector a Customer Service apprentice might work in, they will be learning and understanding the key concepts of customer service and how to apply customer service knowledge and skills in the workplace.
For a Level 2 apprentice, these skills could involve communicating with customers, building relationships with customers, resolving problems, promoting products and/or services, using appropriate communication channels, keeping records, gathering customer feedback, and working in a team.
For a Level 3 apprentice these skills could involve improving customer satisfaction, team leading, improving customer loyalty, gathering and analysing customer feedback, processing complaints, and maintaining reliable customer service.
The framework will also contribute to meeting the skills priorities in Wales by:
- Providing flexible access to a high-quality Level 2 and 3 skills programme, whichever entry route apprentices use for those who prefer this style of learning and achievement
- Incorporating skills to improve the levels of general literacy and numeracy in Wales
- Using technical and competence qualifications, valued by employers, to help their businesses grow
- Developing apprentice’s employability skills making them more attractive to employers whichever career they choose
- Providing a career pathway into jobs and training at technician level and higher, to provide the skills which the economy needs to grow
- Building on the existing quality learning provision for Customer Service in Wales.
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In other words, we make apprenticeships work.