Summary

The customer service clerks include two main subgroups: tellers, money collectors and related clerks; and client information workers.

Key facts:

  • Around 6 million people were employed as customer service clerks in 2018. Employment in the occupation grew by 17 per cent between 2006 and 2018.
  • Customer clerks are usually employed in services sectors, such as finance & insurance, administrative services, accomodation and food or wholesale and retail trade.
  • Employment in this occupation is projected to grow by a further 25 per cent over the period 2018 to 2030.  This equates with the creation of 1.5 million new jobs.  In addition, an estimated 3.2 million people will leave their jobs between 2018 and 2030 (mainly to retire). This means that around almost 4.7 million job openings will need to be filled. 
  • The skills required for customer service clerks have changed considerably in recent years mainly due to technological change, globalisation, the growth of the customer service sector, and the personalisation of goods and services.
  • The key 3 tasks for customer clerks are Service and attend, Use of ICT and Gather and evaluate information.
  • Most of these workers hold medium-level qualifications (51 per cent in 2018) and this share is expected to decrease slightly over the next decade, to 48 per cent, by 2030. The share of low-skilled workers is also expected to decrease, from 14 per cent in 2018 to 12 per cent in 2030. The share of high-skilled workers is expected to increase from 35 per cent in 2018 to 40 per cent in 2030.

Tasks and skills

The customer service clerks  [1] include two main subgroups: tellers, money collectors and related clerks; and client information workers. Depending on the specific job and sector employed, tasks may include money-handling operations in banks, post offices, and betting and gambling establishments. Customer service lies at the core of their tasks, focusing on supporting customers’ travel arrangements; supplying information requested by clients and making appointments; greeting and receiving visitors. Other clerks in this occupational group operate telephone switchboards; interview survey respondents and applicants for services.

According to Eurofound's Job Monitor, the key 3 tasks and skills of customer clerks are service and attend, use of ICT and gather and evaluate information.

Figure 1: Importance of tasks and skills of customer clerks

Note: The importance of tasks and skills is measured on 0-1 scale, where 0 means least important and 1 means most important.

The employment level of customer clerks across sectors is expected to grow by 25 per cent between 2018 and 2030, a further increase in employment following the 17 per cent growth over the period 2006 to 2018. The 25 per cent growth in employment will result in their being 1.5 million new jobs being created by 2030. 25 out of 28 analysed European countries are expected to create more jobs for customer clerks. Still this understates the actual level of demand for customer clerks.

Figure 2: Future employment growth of customer clerks in European countries (2018-2030, in %)

Over the period 2018-2030, around 3.2 million people are projected to leave the occupation for one reason or another such as retirement  [3]. Given the projected increase in employment over the same period, this will result in there being almost 4.7 million job openings that will need to be filled between 2018 and 2030.

Figure 3: Future job openings of customer clerks (2018-2030)

With regard to education level, most clerks hold medium-level qualifications (51 per cent in 2018), followed closely by the share with the high level ones (35 per cent). In the period to 2030, no substantial change is expected in the demand by qualification. In 2030, 48 per cent of the workforce are expected to have medium level qualifications and 40 per cent high level ones.. The share of workers with low level qualifications is expected to decrease from 14 per cent to 12 per cent of the total workforce.

Customer clerks are usually employed in services sectors, such as finance & insurance, administrative services, accomodation and food or wholesale and retail trade. There is little sectoral concentration of customer clerks' jobs: these top four sectors represent only half of these clerks' employment. Looking to the future, the highest increases in employment are expected to be in the same sectors.

More information on employment trends for this occupational group can be found here.

Which drivers of change will affect their skills?

The skills required for customer service clerks have changed considerably in recent years mainly due to technological change, globalisation, the growth of the customer service sector, and the personalisation of goods and services. The opportunities and challenges of these workers’ skills can be viewed in two broad groups, those relevant to customer service overall; and the more sector-specific ones.

  • Digitalisation and changes in technology and methods of communication have substantially affected the service industries. Skills needs have evolved mainly due to changes in communications technology, software development, and access to information systems. The use of online services (e.g. online banking), Web 2.0 (e.g. social networking) and Web 3.0 (the semantic web) increase the need for better customer support and direction skills, and for information and diagnostic skills. [4] For this reason, customer service clerks will require basic-to-strong numeracy skills,  [5] general and specific software knowledge, and a basic understanding of hardware and peripherals.  [6]
  • A greater demand for niche and customised products is driving demand for customer service clerks’ skills. The increasing personalisation of goods (e.g. through 3D printing) and services (e.g. the customisation of online purchase portals) create demand for critical thinking and decision-making skills, communication (understanding customer needs), and customer management linked to an in-depth understanding of the clerk’s organisation and its service offer.  [7]

Coupled with this trend, new type of services and products follow the policy and market focus on environmental sustainability. In turn, ‘greening’ of customer service clerks’ skills will be necessary, especially in terms of understanding the organisation and service offer, environmental legislation and customer preferences.  [8] Knowledge of the efficient use of resources, in terms of accessing and using goods and services and recycling, will also become paramount.

  • Critical thinking and decision-making could be pivotal for employees in this occupational group in gaining new customers or attaining specific objectives. To this end, skills to determine appropriate solutions and outcomes  [9] are needed, such as information and solution ordering, reasoning, understanding of the organisation/service offer, and decision-making.
  • Significant demographic changes will affect the client groups served by these clerks. In the near future, Europe will have to face the effects of an ageing population.  [10] As has been noted,  [11] “serving the needs of an older society will create opportunities for new products, services and business models”, and the nature of medical and psychological conditions will change as life expectancy increases.  [12] This may create skill gaps, especially with regard to soft skills such as communication (active listening, oral and written communication),  [13] evaluation of customer needs and satisfaction and problem sensitivity  [14].

Some sector specific developments are also exercising remarkable pressure on customer service clerks’ jobs and skills.

  • Most importantly, the financial and insurance services sector uptakes the largest share to this end, as the second top employer of customer service clerks. Technological advancements introduced new ways of working in the sector already some decades ago. Debates are still ongoing on labelling the impact of these novelties as positive or not. As automation continuously infiltrates financial processes, banking and insurance services undergo substantial changes regarding their content and focus: mobile banking takes over from physical branches, adding to the inclination of the younger clients (the ‘millennials’) for more technologically advanced, cash-free financial solutions  [15]. Subsequently, this has skills implications for the sectors’ employees. Some job tasks of customer service clerks’ have already been replaced by automation (for example, ATMs initially replaced bank tellers). Nonetheless, evidence demonstrates that technology and other conditions can stimulate economic growth in sectors, which in the end leads to an increase in the job openings (as was the case with bank tellers  [16]). So, clerks in this occupational group will need to remain updated on new technologies used in their sector; as well as strengthen skills that automation cannot readily replace, like customer support through human contact.

Additionally, the 2008 economic crisis stimulated thorough revisions of the EU financial regulation system. Significant steps were made, but there are objectives still lying ahead. [18] Customer service clerks working in the sector will need to remain updated on such reforms.

  • Increasing expenditure across the tourism sector  [19] will drive segment-specific skills and competence specialisation, diversifying the skills of workers according to demographic, behavioural, or geographic factors. Especially for customer service clerks working in the accommodation and food service sector (such as hotel receptionists), the growth of international tourism entails a constant improvement in foreign language skills and in some soft skills (communication, satisfaction of customer needs, and service orientation to meet the needs of clients and customers). Personal and behavioural skills such as social perceptiveness, empathy, accuracy and trust will also remain a requisite for success in this field,  [20] and therefore need to be strengthened.
  • Risk of automation: As a part of its Digitalization and future of work project, Cedefop estimates the risks of automation for occupations. The most exposed occupations are those with significant share of tasks that can be automated – operation of specialised technical equipment, routine or non-autonomous tasks – and those with a small reliance on communication, collaboration, critical thinking and customer-serving skills. The risk of automation is further accentuated in occupations where employees report little access to professional training that could help them cope with labour market changes. Customer clerks are reportedly an occupation with very low risk of automation.

How can these skill needs be met?

Customer service clerks will face various pressures in the forthcoming years stemming from the aforementioned drivers, and they will have to update their skillset to stay relevant in the labour market. Some of the skills required - especially ‘soft skills’ - cut across most sub-occupations in this occupational group and sectors where these workers are employed.

Customer service clerks, especially those who work with numbers and technological tools or communication media (such as those working in banking) will need solid ICT skills. Up-to-date ICT skills and the provision of courses for ICT understanding will be important to ensure they meet sectoral and client developments and trends.

Particularly for customer service clerks working in the accommodation and food services sector, temporary and seasonal employment challenges the provision of training  [21] and thus of skill formation. However, the provision of training on skills such as foreign languages, ICT skills, customer service in tourism etc. is critical for the professional development of the workers. Offering quality training can also make the profession more attractive to young people. Skill needs anticipation in collaboration with labour market representatives can allow for effective planning and resource allocation on specific VET programmes, recruiting etc. while ensuring some quality training is offered to future and current employees.

In Cyprus, the Human Resources Development Agency (HRDA), in collaboration with the social partners, conducts annual studies for the identification of skill needs providing annual estimates for the number of persons required for particular occupations (for example, hotel receptionists that are a sub-occupation of customer service clerks).

“The results of the HRDA studies on anticipation of skill needs are used by policymakers for the development of strategies and policies in education, training and lifelong learning. Furthermore, HRDA uses these estimates to plan the multi-enterprise training programmes. They are also used for the development of programmes of study in education, including the programmes of study of Technical Schools and the Post- Secondary Institutes of Vocational Education and Training of the Ministry of Education and Culture. As part of these studies, the views of employers´ organisations, trade unions, district labour offices of the Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance and the Cyprus Tourism Organisation are collected and analysed”. [22]

References

All web-links were last accessed February 7th, 2020.

[1] Defined as ILO ISCO 08 group 42 customer service clerks. ILO, (2012), International Standard Classification of Occupations ISCO-08. More information on this occupational group can be found here.

[2] All figures from 2016 Cedefop forecast except where stated.

[3] The need to replace workers leaving a profession for various reasons, such as retirement. More information on replacement demand and how it drives employment across sectors can be found on the Skills Panorama here.

[4] Levy, F., (2010), How technology changes demands for human skills, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 45, The Economist, (2011) Are ATMs stealing jobs?, viewed 04 July 2016, OECD 2013, The skills needed for the 21st century, European Commission, (2013), Employment and social developments in Europe 2012: The skill mismatch challenge in Europe

[5] According to the specific sub-occupational group and complexity of the assigned tasks.

[6] National Careers Service England, (2014), Jobs profiles: Market research interviewer

[7] McKinsey & Company, (2011), Lean management: New frontiers for financial institutions and Christie, F DEPICT Project 2012, Literature review: Understanding employer skills’ needs across Europe, CfA Business skills @ work 2012, Business and administration: Labour market report

[8] International Labour Organization, (2011), Skills for Green Jobs: A Global View Synthesis report

[9] Eurofound, (2012), Fifth European Working Conditions Survey and National Careers Service England 2014, Jobs profiles: Call centre operator

[11] World Economic Forum (2016), The Future of Jobs

[12] European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, (2012), Home care across Europe: Current structure and future challenges

[13] National Careers Service England, (2014), Jobs profiles: Receptionist

[14] EFMA, (2012), The Future of Bank Branch Networks

[15] The data regard the US. Source: BI Intelligence 2016, Ahead of the Curve: The Digital Disruption of Retail Banking, viewed 30 June 2016

[16] Bessen, J., (2015), ‘Toil and Technology’, Finance & Development, March 2015, Vol. 52, No. 1 viewed 01 July 2016. See also: Bessen, J., (2014), ‘Will robots steal our jobs? The humble loom suggests not’ Washington Post, January 25, 2014 viewed 04 July 2016. The impact of automation on jobs was discussed during Cedefop’s conference ‘Maximising skills for jobs’, held in December 2016. Please see the presentations of Professor Richard Friedman available here and Professor James Bessen available here

[17] European Commission Banking and Finance website viewed 01 July 2016

[18] ibid.

[20] EFMA, (2012), The Future of Bank Branch Networks

[21] Centre for Strategy and Evaluation Services (prepared for the European Commission) 2016, Mapping and performance check of the supply side of tourism education and training

[22] Ibid.