Building an incredible customer support team at your company starts with finding the right people. But once you attract a pool of applicants, distinguishing between an excellent candidate and a so-so one isn’t always simple.
Why does this matter? Research from Harvard Business Review concluded that positive customer experiences can create as much as a 140% spread in how much customers spend at transactional businesses. And a massive part of that customer experience rides on your customer service team.
And for subscription-based businesses, that same study found a 31% spread in churn: quality of the experience was a significant driver of recurring membership and revenue.
This adds up over time, as well. Forbes found a cumulative loss of $75 billion yearly across all businesses pegged to a single source: poor customer service.
So, in the big picture, a great hire in customer service or support makes you more money. A bad one hurts the bottom line, and so much more.
As a hiring manager, it’s never been more important to get the most out of your interviews. The needs of customer service teams are more technically complex than before, with numerous channels for meeting customer needs. Working with an ecommerce helpdesk support partner like Gorgias can ease some of the pressure, but the interview itself remains highly strategic.
Major Traits and Characteristics to Look for in Customer Service Job Interviews
Before we get into specific questions, it’s worth noting that not every candidate has the right disposition for customer service work. Many customer service skills are crucial, and these traits and characteristics rise to the top of the list. As you work through the selection and interview process, look for these elements.
The Interviewee Is Familiar with Your Brand and Tone of Voice
This isn’t an all-out dealbreaker, but interviewees that are already familiar with your brand and tone of voice will assimilate much more quickly into your organization. This is true whether this familiarity is natural (because the candidate is already a fan of your brand) or learned (because the candidate took the time to prepare before the interview).
The Interviewee Has Strong Communication Skills
Your customer service representatives spend all day communicating directly with customers, so you want to hire people with great communication skills for customer service roles. Your customer service team forms the face of your company for many customers, so the ability to communicate clearly about a customer’s problem is essential
Customer service reps will inevitably deal with angry customers as well as difficult customers, so hiring managers should look for candidates that can keep those communication skills up even under pressure.
The best candidates for customer service roles will pair strong communication skills with superior problem-solving ability, as well.
The Interviewee Has the Ability to Communicate Via Specific Service Channels
The days of single-channel customer service departments that existed solely as phone-based call centers are long gone. Most businesses rely on a multichannel customer service strategy that could involve face-to-face assistance, phone communication, or any of a wide range of web-based platforms. Today's agents need to apply customer service best practices to many channels.
A customer service candidate that can speak empathetically and clearly but cannot navigate social media or a customer service platform may not be a good fit for your current needs.
Conversely, you may find candidates that struggle with over-the-phone communication but can tirelessly plow through online tickets with superior skill.
If your team is large enough to differentiate, both types of candidates could succeed in clearly defined roles.
Still, it’s a good idea to get a sense of which service channels a candidate is likely to succeed in. Do this during the interview if you don’t do it earlier in the process.
17 Customer Support Interview Questions and Answers
If you’re a hiring manager in customer service or customer support, you already know that crafting the perfect customer service job interview questions is difficult. And if you’re an aspiring or current customer service representative, you may be looking for advice on how to answer customer service interview questions.
No matter your role, this list of 17 customer service interview questions and answers will give you some new approaches to the customer service job interview. Consider adding several of these questions to your interview process so you can hone your interview process and get better results.
(And if you’re a job seeker, these sample answers should give you insight into what interviewers might be expecting to hear. Adapt them to fit your situation, of course! You might also benefit from 5 Tips to Find Your Next Job in Support.)
1) How Familiar Are You with Our Brand, Products, and Services?
You don’t have to hire someone with prior knowledge of your brand, but it sure helps. The more the prospect knows about you, the less you have to teach them. So it’s worth asking how familiar the prospective hire is with your brand and what they think about it.
If your interviewee is familiar with your brand, go ahead and ask if they’ve ever interacted with your customer service team. If they have, their answers could be illuminating — about the candidate and about the customer service experience.
Listen for an honest, enthusiastic response. It’s OK if a candidate doesn’t know much about the brand, but finding someone with the skills AND who is a big fan of your brand can lead to the ultimate customer service prospect.
Pro Tip: Watch out for a response in which a candidate wants to change too much: some constructive criticism is healthy, but customer service is not the place from which to spearhead major company-wide change.
“I’ve been using your [specific product/service] for some time now. I use it to [use case], and my appreciation for your [brand/culture/products] is a big part of why I applied for this job!”
“I hadn’t heard of your company before I saw this job post, but as I began to research the company, I resonated with [product or aspect of mission]. I believe it’s something I can get behind and contribute to!”
2) Have You Ever Worked with the Software We Use?
Customer service is more software-oriented than ever before, and this question does double (maybe triple) duty: first, it tells you the obvious (whether the interviewee is familiar with your software). Second, it also often reveals a candidate’s overall comfort level with software. You’ll usually get a sense in their answer of whether they’re worried about the prospect of learning new software.
Third, assuming your job listing indicated which software solutions you use, this question will reveal how closely the applicant studied the job listing. If they seem confused by the question or don’t know which software solution you’re asking about, that might be a red flag.
As you listen to the applicant’s answer, don’t settle for a blunt “yes.” Follow up with a question or two that will reveal whether the person has actual knowledge of the software. And if the applicant isn’t familiar with your chosen software, listen for confidence about the ability to learn.
“At my previous company, we used [competitor software solution], and I can tell based on my own research that the two are pretty similar. I’m sure there may be some slight gaps, but I’m eager to learn those differences and get up to speed in [your software solution].”
3) How Long Were You with Your Last Company and Why Did You Leave?
Behavioral interview questions can be powerful because they give you insight into an interviewee’s thought processes and ways of engaging with the world. Length of employment at the previous company is merely factual, but the “why did you leave” portion is deeply behavioral.
Tenure at a previous employer isn’t always important, though a resume filled with a series of three- to six-month gigs could be a red flag. More important is the stated reason for leaving. Did the candidate struggle with a previous manager? Did they leave over scheduling issues (that are likely to be an issue at your company as well)?
To be clear, leaving a previous company isn’t always a bad thing. But the reasons why — and the way the candidate explains those reasons — can teach you a lot about the person’s approach to working on a team.
“I’m still employed at [current employer], but I see a better future for myself with your company. I’m happy enough at [current employer], but I’m more passionate about your company for [give a reason or two].”
“I worked at [previous employer] for [time period] but had to leave due to [reason]. That said, I know [reason] won’t be an issue here because [explanation].”
4) What Were the Most Common Problems with the Products and Services You Supported in the Past and How Did You Help Solve Them?
This question helps you keep developing a profile of the candidate’s experience. At the most basic level, you want to learn whether they are familiar with the most common customer service questions that your team deals with.
While the key to delivering great customer service is the ability to use problem-solving skills to navigate especially difficult situations, those everyday types of questions make up the bulk of the actual work. Finding an employee that’s already well-versed in your most common customer issues (and who already has good responses to those issues) makes your job a lot easier.
Also, this is another behavioral interview question that can give you deeper insight into what makes a candidate tick. Listen carefully to how the person describes their activity helping various types of customers. You’ll learn at least as much about how the person thinks as how they solved a specific problem.
“Issues with account logins made up around 15 percent of my customer service interactions at my last job. We had a script to follow for this kind of issue, and I used it when I could. But over time I noticed that many users were getting tripped up on the same problem that wasn’t covered by the script. I helped them resolve it by [x] and recommended we add this step to the script.”
5) Describe a Previous Situation at Work When You Recognized an Emotionally Tense Situation and Were Able to Turn it Around to Delight the Customer.
This is the first of several classic behavior-based questions. You’re listening for soft skills here, those intangibles that differentiate truly excellent customer service reps from the rest.
With this question, you’re looking at conflict resolution skills surrounding customer issues like public complaints or angry customer emails. Does the candidate have a handy example of being able to
- Recognize that tensions were high
- Defuse the situation enough that the customer left the interaction delighted?
You’re also looking at the ability to follow instructions and think outside the box. You don’t want renegades and mavericks, but you do want folks that can think beyond provided customer support scripts.
Push the interviewee to be specific with their answer to questions like these.
“Once I dealt with a customer with [stated problem]. I could tell the customer was upset before we ever started talking because of [verbal/written cues]. I kept my cool, sidestepped that anger, and determined that the customer’s core problem was [actual problem]. Once I identified that I made sure to empathize with the customer as I guided them to a solution to [actual problem.”
[Image source: Me.me]
6) Can You Give Examples of Methods You Have Used in the Past to Increase Revenue, Save Time, or Increase Procedural Efficiency at Work?
Hiring for customer service is a delicate balance. You don’t want a cadre of people constantly trying to reinvent the wheel (or, worse, the company itself). And you also don’t want mindless followers. This question helps you gauge a candidate’s ownership mindset.
If they don’t have an answer at all, they might not be thinking enough about the big picture. Conversely, if their answer sounds a little too revolutionary, you’ll be aware that this candidate might need guidance in what’s appropriate.
As the candidate responds, listen for actionable ideas and methods that seem genuinely useful. Vague feedback with no clear outcomes isn’t what you’re looking for here.
“I noticed we were getting tons of customer support calls about one of the company’s products. The product was fine, but the included instructions left out a crucial step that was leading to the calls. I was able to point this out and escalate it to the proper team, who corrected the instructions for the next printing. In the meantime, I created an email template to help agents respond to customer questions about the issue faster. By getting the instructions fixed, I reduced these calls so the team could focus on more important customer issues.”
7) Aside from Customer Service Positions, Have You Had Any Other Professional Roles That Helped You Build Relevant Skills for the Position You Are Applying For?
Sometimes, the best agents have experience from other roles with complementary skillsets. For example, wait staff at restaurants have a ton of insights about human interactions and communication since they serve people in person for hours on end.
Or, if the company products are highly technical or industry-specific, you’ll benefit from finding customer service reps with relevant tech or industry backgrounds as well.
Find out if your prospect has other experience they can bring to the table. Maybe they can even teach your team a thing or two.
“I’ve worked for ‘x’ years in foodservice, including ‘y’ years as a server. In those years I developed the ability to read verbal and nonverbal cues. And have found creative ways to meet customer needs. My time in restaurants has prepared me to excel in customer service by giving me a keen sense of customers’ needs, proactive tactics to keep them happy, and multiple strategies for resolving their complaints.”
8) Do You Have Any Formal Education That Pertains to Communication or Communication Technology?
You already know a candidate’s formal education as it is listed on their resume, but this question gives them a chance to expand upon that. Perhaps they took a specific course that’s relevant to this job or additional training certifications that didn’t make it on the resume.
Give them a chance to explain how some of their formal education enhances their abilities for this job.
This is also a great place to explore whether a candidate has experience in the systems you use, such as these:
- Online helpdesk software
- Email platform
- Social media
- Relevant discount and rewards software
- eCommerce platform or CMS
Of course, reliance on formal training varies from company to company. Some brands focus more exclusively on skills and traits. Use your judgment with this question (but make sure you don’t imply that a degree is required unless it is).
“My degree was in [field], and as a part of my coursework, I took several courses in communication as well as a technology course. In these courses, I learned [two or three high-level lessons], which will help me in this role [explain how].”
9) At Work, What Are Your Three Core Values? For Example Honesty, Trust, Patience, Etc.
You want agents that are hard-working and have excellent time management skills. But you also want a support team filled with healthy people. Learning about workplace morals and values will indicate to you how much of a team player the candidate is or what their ethical point of view looks like.
“My top three core values in the workplace are [list three]. These core values permeate every aspect of my work: how I interact with customers, how I work with other team members, and more. If you ask [reference at previous employer] about this, I believe you’ll hear that I lived this out there, and I’ll do the same here.”
10) Can You Provide an Example of a Time When You Had to Deny a Customer’s Request? How Did You Handle It?
You want customer service agents that can, in most cases, get your customer what they want. But sometimes customers are wrong, demanding things that can’t be done. An experienced customer service rep will certainly have run into this scenario and learning how they handled it will give you great insight into their abilities.
Were they able to salvage a customer relationship? Show the customer a better way? Or did they just blow up the situation and provide no alternatives?
“I always do my best to meet customer requests, but of course this isn’t always possible. One time, a customer [describe illegitimate request scenario]. He was convinced I could do this for him, but it was out of scope. However, instead of just flat-out denying him, I was able to guide him to an alternative that was in scope. He didn’t get everything he wanted, but I did keep him as a customer.”
11) As an Agent, What Was the Most Difficult Customer Service Situation You Have Ever Experienced?
For interviewees with previous customer service experience, this question gives you insight into how far they’ve been stretched — as well as their emotional intelligence after the fact.
Look for how serious or difficult the described situation is (compared to what’s typical in your organization), and pay attention to how calmly — or not — the candidate can recount the scenario.
“In my current/previous position, I’ve had a few encounters in a class all their own. Probably the most challenging one was [describe the scenario]. It was challenging for sure, but I’m glad I went through it because I learned [lesson/insight]. I also really appreciated the support I got from my leadership team throughout the situation.”
12) As a Representative, What Was the Best Customer Service Situation You Have Experienced?
If a candidate has a quality answer to this question, it will likely reveal the sorts of situations that motivate the individual. You should look for excitement, interest, and perhaps even joy as the individual answers this question. And knowing the kinds of situations that motivate an individual can give insight into whether they’ll be a good fit for your team.
“I once had a customer call in who was incredibly angry, but it was an issue that I knew I could solve. As I worked with the customer to unpack the layers of the issue, I heard her tone gradually soften. By the end of the encounter, I’d not only solved her problem, but I’d also managed to upsell her to a higher tier of service — and she was happy about it!”
13) What Would You Do If You Couldn’t Find the Answer to a Customer’s Question?
The stock answer here is “contact my supervisor,” of course, but see if you can get a little more. What avenues (official and unofficial) would the candidate pursue before escalating to a manager? Will this prospect solve problems independently, or will the individual create an unending cascade of manager escalations?
“When I didn’t know an answer, I’d quickly search our internal knowledge base/wiki. If I didn’t find the answer there, I might search Google, our company Slack, or a more knowledgeable peer. I tried to minimize the number of escalations since I know that solving the problem myself is always the ideal outcome. But of course, I escalated issues to my manager when needed.”
14) How Would You Handle a Situation Wherein You Knew the Customer Was Wrong?
“The customer is always right” only goes so far. Sometimes the customer is quite wrong, and your customer support teams know this. The real question is what a prospective team member will do when this happens.
This is another question that explores soft skills. There are countless ways to say “you’re wrong” without coming out and saying it. Can the prospect guide a customer to a better understanding without insulting them along the way? That’s the kind of customer service rep you need.
“I never take a confrontational approach when this happens. Instead, I assume that the customer isn’t willfully wrong, and I try to find a gentle way to guide them to a better understanding.
If there’s documentation or fine print that the customer missed, I’ll guide them to that information. I might also ask questions to get a better sense of where the customer got the incorrect understanding.”
15) As an Online Shopper, What Was the Best Customer Support Experience You Ever Received from a Brand You Did Not Work For?
Every one of us brings experiences from our personal lives into our professional work, and great customer service reps are no exception. We’ve all been the customer in need of service at some point, and there are great lessons to learn from the good experiences.
A prospect’s answer to this question should demonstrate their insightfulness and awareness. It will also likely reveal more about a person’s priorities in customer service encounters.
“I had an experience with [company] that impressed me as a customer and gave me some great ideas for how to solve customer challenges in my work. [Describe scenario and lessons learned.]”
16) Describe a Time When You Received Poor Customer Service as a Consumer.
Asking the opposite question gives you similar insights: whatever got under the skin of your interviewee is an aspect of customer service that they’re passionate about. And, of course, having been a frustrated consumer can build empathy when working with other frustrated consumers.
“I had an encounter with one company where the agents were working from scripts, and it didn’t seem like they took the time to process what I’d said in my complaint. It was deeply frustrating, but I learned from the experience that scripts can only get you so far and that I need to make sure I always understand the customer’s concern before I start trying to solve it.”
17) How Flexible Is Your Schedule and How Many Hours Do You Hope to Work Each Week?
If you’ve gotten to this point and expect that you’ll offer the candidate a job, it’s time to get this crucial information. If your only needs are second shift and the candidate can’t or won’t work it, you need to know now.
Simply be honest. “I’m looking for full-time work, and normal business hours are my preference. I could work the second shift if necessary, but no overnights. That said, let me know what you’re looking for, and let’s talk about it.”
[Image source: IMC]
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