The coronavirus pandemic has drastically impacted every sector and industry, perhaps none more so than the customer service job family.
Stay at home orders and mandatory shutdowns have significantly altered consumer behavior and shopping habits, disrupting the brick & mortar retail industry and leaving millions of customer service employees without a job. Yet as more and more states reopen, and the economy begins to recover, employers must be ready to meet both the surge in customer demand and the new protocols involved in managing a consumer facing business in the socially distanced economy.
When the coronavirus first hit the United States, the customer service industry experienced only a slight decrease in job openings from January to February. But as the pandemic spread, lawmakers implemented stay-at-home orders and mandatory closures of many stores. This led to a massive 47 percent drop in demand for customer service jobs from March to April, according to a new COVID-19 job and hiring analysis from talent mobility provider Randstad Sourceright.
With the closure of many physical storefronts, jobs that involved interactions between customers and employees were cut dramatically. The customer service job family, which includes roles like customer service representative, store manager and call center representative, experienced the steepest drop in demand of the six job families that the report analyzed. This loss of jobs has affected many of the 26 million Americans who work in retail and food services alone, two of the sectors with the most person to person interaction.
However, there were some bright spots for the customer service job family that should alert retail businesses to what their talent strategy will need to look like as stores reopen. Although many stores had to close during the height of the pandemic, there was a 38 percent increase in demand for assistant store managers from February to April. This is likely due to the combination of the increased pressure that grocery stores and other essential businesses faced to keep their shelves stocked with supplies like food and masks, expanded sanitation duties, new scheduling demands to accommodate special needs and elderly shoppers, and the need to manage social distancing and mask wearing protocols. It is likely that the demand for assistant store managers will remain steady as more stores continue to open, and that scheduling, store management and inventory management are the most sought-after skills businesses are prioritizing.
Additionally, while in-person customer service roles like store clerks may not be the most in demand at the moment, the skills these workers possess can be applied to expanded business models that have arisen since the pandemic began. Many physical stores have moved their operations online to ensure that customers get the products they need from the comfort of their homes. Service representatives have been crucial to fulfilling these online orders and helping customers troubleshoot problems across many sectors, such as food, retail and technology.
More broadly beyond the retail sector, organizations hiring for customer service professionals will compete with fewer companies than normal for top talent, and businesses should also consider that the skills that customer service talent possess are likely transferrable and can be very valuable in other industries. For example, companies in the financial sector that have seen a surge in demand for customer service representatives to speak to shareholders on behalf of the organization, or in pharma, where customer service reps respond to the needs of healthcare workers and patients, are two sectors that are hiring more staff in customer service roles and should consider candidates with relevant experience from other industries.
Organizations must also be mindful that in positions that require customer service workers – or any workers, for that matter – to be present at an office, employers will have to highlight in their job descriptions the precautions they are taking to protect employees’ health. If not, candidates may be inclined to gravitate to positions at other companies with limited in-person duties or those that are fully remote.
There is no doubt that the future of customer service roles have and will change dramatically as the country and the economy adapts to the post-pandemic, socially distanced way of life. However, our research shows that strong retail management and scheduling skills have continued to remain in high demand throughout the pandemic and will continue to be needed as retail openings expand.
Furthermore, companies in sectors that continue to hire customer service talent, such as the financial and pharmaceutical industries, should take advantage of the of available workers in the job family and be open to hiring talent who may not yet have experience in their industry but possess the necessary and transferrable skills.
About the Author
Sue Marcus is the Regional President at Randstad Sourceright North America.