“What does customer service mean to you?” is one of the most popular questions asked when interviewing support agents.
It’s also one of the most bullshit-y ones.
As with many “classic” job interview questions (especially the dumb placeholder ones like “how many golf balls fit into a school bus?”), there is a lot of discussion about it everywhere—just Google it, and you’ll find endless forums, articles, and answers.
And also as with many classic job interview questions, there are always canned replies that people think are the best. These answers usually aren’t wrong, but the problem is that they’re not yours.
We’ve all lied a little in interviews. That summer job you had arranging ice cream flavors in a pop-up booth? Yeah, you were totally the creative director. We get it. We’ve all been there.
So, for the sake of simply landing a job, could you just pick the answer that sounds the best according to John from Quora and repeat it every time anyone asks? Sure.
Is it completely counterproductive? Yes.
This is why: this question is actually important, and (smart) employers ask it for a reason. By asking the question, they don’t want to hear what you think they want to hear.
They want to know how you—with your own brain—think and feel about customer service because it’ll give them a good idea about what your attitude and work ethics will be like when you’re actually working for them.
If you just take the answer that sounds the best, you’re not communicating anything about your true self as a support agent, which will come back to bite you in the ass later, even if it helps you land the job.
And by the way, most employers are intelligent enough to know if an answer is genuine or if you got it from a Reddit thread and learned it by heart. You aren’t fooling anybody.
Also, if you can’t take the effort to think about this question and really find out the answer to it … maybe you shouldn’t be working in customer service.
Even if you’re not asked this question in a support job interview ever (doubtful), if you’re serious about your career in customer service, the answer to it is something you have to figure out anyway.
By doing some structured thinking around it, you’ll learn to get to know yourself and your actual views and values about customer service a lot better, and is a really good self-exploration exercise.
The answer doesn’t have to be the most complicated thing ever, but it should sound like you’ve actually thought about it.
So how do you think about it?
Here are the main components of coming up with your own answer for this evergreen question:
- Do your research
- Figure out the ultimate goal
- Think about yourself
- Think about the logistics
- Think about the results
- Conclude your answer
Let’s walk through this—if you think (and write and draw) along, you should have an answer by the end of this article.
Doing your research (before the customer service job interview)
Doing your research, in this case, is about preparing yourself for an interview with a company by finding out what customer service means to them.
If you just want to go through this thinking process for the sake of self-development and aren’t interviewing for a specific company, feel free to move on to the next point.
Looking at the company and how they do support shouldn’t completely change your personal answer to “What does customer support mean to you“, but:
- You can see if your values align;
- You can slightly adjust (but not lie about) your answer based on what seems to be most important to them.
So, where do you get this information from?
Look for information directly from the horse’s mouth: Search their blog for articles talking about their customer support culture or interviews online where they might have talked about it.
A lot of companies are pretty open about their passion for great customer support… if they care enough about it.
Look at where they offer support:
- Do they have their bases covered?
- Is there a channel you’re not comfortable or experienced with, or any that you’re a pro at?
- Do they have a more of a self-serve attitude (knowledge base), or do they put more effort into direct communication between customer support and clients?
If you can find it, pay attention to actual visible support they’re doing: For example, if they do social media support, look at the speed at which they provide support, the tone and voice they use, how they resolve situations, etc.
If you really want to go full Sherlock Holmes, you can actually email or call the company and ask questions as a prospective customer—you won’t get much closer to the horse’s mouth than that.
From doing all of this detailed stalking, you probably can put together a pretty good profile of what customer support means to them.
And then the adjusting part comes in.
For example, if speed and thoroughness are the two qualities you pay most attention to in your own personal support style and they seem to reply to their customer questions in .2 seconds, maybe put a little more emphasis on speed when talking about it.
Even if these aren’t 100% your natural answers and even if the company knows it, doing all of this work to understand them and slightly adjusting your responses to their specific needs is exactly what a world-class support agent does.
Gathering intel will also probably raise some questions you can ask during your interview, for example:
- Why did you choose X support channel?
- Which metrics do you use to track the quality of your support?
- You said in ____ interview that ____, but how do you feel about _____?
This will show people that you’ve done your research and are actually invested in the company and how they work.
Figuring out your ultimate goal
If you’re not actually looking for advice on an actual customer service job interview, you can still use this question for a brain exercise, so let’s go for it.
This is probably the easiest part of the whole thought process you need to go through—figuring out the ultimate goal you’re trying to achieve with customer support in general.
There’s a pretty solid “universal” answer for this (and we didn’t get it from Reddit, either)—it’s helping people.
Support, service, whatever you want to call it, the ultimate goal should be to help someone do something, understand something, achieve something.
Depending on your support style, the phrasing can vary slightly, it can be helping, informing, directing, supporting, guiding…
“I want to ____ people ____ and _____”
E.g: “I want to help people understand and navigate our product…”
Figure out the word that most accurately describes what you ultimately want to do for and with every customer, regardless of the nature of the communication.
There’s the beginning of what customer service means to you.
Think about yourself as a support agent
Now that you’re done snooping and figured out what your ultimate goal is when doing customer service, it’s time to get even more into you and your idea of customer service and what it means.
The first thing to think about is the most natural, relatable, and arguably important one—your personality.
You know why you’re doing customer service, now think about the how.
Leaving aside any other aspect besides you and who you are and how you work as a support agent, think about how do you want to come across as when doing customer service?
How do you want to be perceived? What are you naturally like as a person?
Obviously, there are companies who have strict guidelines for their agents and how they should come across, but then it’s even more important to figure out what you want.
For example, if after some thinking you realize that a mild sense of humor is very important to you when doing support, then should you even consider working for a company that’s drier than a popcorn when it comes to the humor department?
Make a list of adjectives that you think describe the most important things about how your personality is perceived as a customer support agent:
If you want to take it a step further, grab a trick from MailChimp’s written style guide and also think of the “but not” sides of those traits.
- Friendly, but not overly familiar
- Informative, but not condescending
- Funny, but not offensive
- Calm, but not passive
Make a list of all the things that describe you and how you want to come across, and then pick three.
These three are the personality traits that not only shape you as a customer support agent in general but also the ones that you should mention when answering questions such as “what does customer service mean to you”.
This part defines the first half of the “…in a _____ way” part of your answer.
Think about the support logistics
Now it’s time to leave aside all the truly individual personality stuff and start thinking about the hard organizational side of customer service.
What’s important to you besides how you personally are perceived?
- What kind of speed do you strive for in customer service?
- What kind of quality?
- Which is more important?
Is it more important for you to be a nanny and walk your customers through issues yourself, or gently nudge them towards self-serve solutions so they learn for any future issues?
This will be the second part of your ” in a _____ way” part of your answer.
Think about the results
Where there are actions, there’s always some kind of results.
What kind of results do you expect from your work as a customer service agent?
Look at potential results from three different perspectives:
- The customers (what result do they end up with)
- You personally (what do you learn or acquire or achieve)
- The company (how your customer support affects their bottom line, reputation or effectiveness)
And then, when you’ve figured out what you consider to be the most important results, go further and think about how important improvement is based on those results?
What are the important follow-up actions for you?
This will be the tail end of your answer.
So… “What does customer service mean to you?”
Based on everything you’ve thought about (and ideally written down) by now, you should have a bunch of most important goals, actions, traits, and results.
Now, you can take all of those and combine them into an answer to the question this article is all about.
“Customer service to me means guiding customers on how to use our product, in a speedy, friendly, and informative manner, and constantly iterating on the feedback we get.”
… or whatever the end result is in your case.
Use your definition to your advantage
Congratulations—not only do you have your own perfectly genuine answer to “What does customer service mean to you?” when someone asks, but you’ve also actually thought about it.
Defining this for yourself will also help you understand your customer service style, and from there, understand which kind of companies or organizations you really want to work for.
It’ll save your time as well as everyone else’s, and eliminate any miscommunication from the get-go.
What’s your answer to this question? Let us know in the comments (we can have a fight about whose version is best)!