Customer Service Interview Questions

The Customer Service Interview Questions You Need To Be Asking, But Probably Aren’t

Whether you’re hiring for your first customer service representative or expanding a team, use these job interview questions to find top performers.

(Hint, they’re not really questions.)

A good friend of mine leads support at a fairly well-known software company. A large part of her job is finding, interviewing, and hiring new agents in various customer service roles.

When I talked to her about the interview process, she mentioned something that surprised me:

Many candidates, even those who have held multiple support jobs, are not prepared for role-play scenarios in their interviews.

They simply don’t do well.

On one hand, that’s a bad thing. It means that we, the people who hire, aren’t using a critical interview tool often enough that every candidate sees it coming and prepares accordingly.

But it’s also a good thing. That’s because there’s no better way to separate the top-performing applicants from the rest of the pack.

Preview of 5 Problem-Solving Scenarios for Customer Service Interviews
Want better customer service hires? Ask better questions. Better yet, download and use the 5 Problem-Solving Scenarios for Customer Service Interviews (PDF)

How to (really) identify great candidates: Customer’s needs in action

How can you learn if a candidate has skills like empathy, positivity, and patience?

Not through common interview questions—well-worn questions and answers about their greatest weaknesses or their best strength. Not by asking them for an “example of a time” they overcame adversity. Nor by way of some other resume-based past experience or work experience inquiry.

The best way to see if strong communication skills exist is to put the candidate in positions where they’ll need to practice them. How?

Through role-playing… either with you—the hiring manager—or with co-workers.

Why augment customer service interview questions with a bit of improv? Especially, uncomfortable, on-the-spot improv? Two reasons.

First, you’ll experience how the candidate handles uncomfortable situations with difficult customers.

By its very nature, good customer service means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s those uncomfortable situations—when customers are angry or upset, or when the agent doesn’t have the answer right away—where great customer service jobs come to life.

Relationships can be won or lost in those interactions that start with uncomfortable circumstances, so you better be damn sure that your support agents can deal with them.

Second, you’ll see—as close to reality as possible—the kind of customer service experience your customers will actually get.

You wouldn’t hire a developer or a marketer without looking at their work. Then you shouldn’t hire a support agent without seeing the work they can do, either.

Role-playing in interviews gives you a great glimpse of what your customers will be in for when they send you an email or give you a call with a problem.

5 problem-solving scenarios for customer service representative jobs

There are many different situations that you can call on for role-play in an interview. A lot of them will be unique to your company.

These five tests, however, will give you a valuable understanding of how your candidate stacks up…

1. The unreasonable customer

Customer issue:

  • “I want a refund, and I want it right now.”
  • After their answer, get angry and raise your voice.
  • Finally, make one or more unreasonable requests and demands.

What you’re looking for:

Staying cool is a baseline customer service skill. Particularly with irate and (sometimes) illogical customers. Look for empathetic responses and a calm, level demeanor.

Remember: you can be sorry for how a customer feels, even if it’s not your fault. Bonus points for employing recovery techniques for angry customers.

You’re not trying to be an outlandish jerk (the kind of customer you would fire). This is about conflict resolution where an otherwise good customer is simply having a bad day.

Customer service interview question 1 - The unreasonable customer

2. A server outage or other crisis

Customer issue:

  • Our backend goes down.
  • 50 customers alert you of the outage (or, some failure of our company’s product).
  • “What steps do you take to manage the situation?”

What you’re looking for:

You can’t expect the candidate to know your processes yet, so you’re looking mostly for a glimpse into their thought process for how they would handle a crisis situation.

Do they alert you? Do they reach out one-by-one or go the mass-email route? Do they mention maintaining ongoing contact throughout the outage? What do they say about announcing the problem publicly on social media?

Customer service interview question 2 - A server outage or other crisis
Grab all 5 Problem-Solving Scenarios for Customer Service Interviews (PDF)

3. A request for a discount

Customer issue:

  • Ask for a discount.
  • This only works if your business doesn’t offer discounts.
  • Alternatively, make a feature request with the caveat that there’s no way that feature will ever get built.

What you’re looking for:

A big part of the correct approach to this interview question is empathy—the agent should be grateful for the question and acknowledge that the customer’s concerns are valid.

But, an equally big part (and an undervalued component of customer service) is sales. If your product is a great fit for the customer, the agent should be able to help the customer understand why your product is worth paying the price you’re asking.

Customer service interview question 3 - Request for a discount

4. The “team player” test

Customer issue:

  • A different rep gave them the wrong answer.
  • Use a non-technical problem and be ambiguous whether or not the rep is at fault.
  • Then, bring in an email that clearly shows the rep made a mistake.

What you’re looking for:

How does the applicant respond to a team member possibly being in the wrong? What about when you bring in the evidence? Do they default to defense? Or, do they happily throw their co-worker under the bus? There’s a fine line between taking responsibility, saving their skin, and being honest with the customer.

Above all, look for honesty and a relentless focus on what the customer can do now.

Customer service interview question 4 - The team player test
Grab all 5 Problem-Solving Scenarios for Customer Service Interviews (PDF)

5. Making a customer’s day

Customer issue:

  • A common customer service request has been resolved.
  • Then ask, “How would you make this customer’s day?”

What you’re looking for:

You want people who understand the value of taking that extra step to surprise customers. After all, those extra steps make for legendary customer service examples. Anything from small touches like handwritten notes or personal “thank you” emails to larger gestures for a bigger wow.

Empowering your customer support team to wow your customers is one thing. You also need employees who are willing to take advantage of that.

Customer service interview question 5 - Making a customer’s day

Customer service interview questions (that aren’t really questions)

Your product can be taught. Your processes can be taught.

But exceptional customer service skills like empathy, positivity, and humility?

Those are much harder to teach. As well as, far more critical to validate in new support hires before making job offers.

By adding role-playing to your customer service interviews, you can get a much deeper understanding of how a candidate thinks on their feet and a much better picture of if – and how – they’ll help you build great relationships with your customers.

Editor’s note: this is an updated and expanded version of an article originally created by Len Markidan.

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