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

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Whether you’re hiring your first support rep or adding to a growing team, use these questions to identify top performers.

A good friend of mine leads the growing customer service team at a fairly well-known software company.

Part of her job – a very big part – is finding, interviewing and hiring new support agents.

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

Many candidates, even experienced ones 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, as the people who hire for customers service, aren’t using a critically important interview tool often enough that every candidate sees it coming and prepares for it.

But it’s also a good thing that so few candidates truly shine in role-play scenarios. And that’s because there’s no better way to separate the top-performing stars – those who have what it takes to deliver amazing customer experiences – from the rest of the pack.

  1. It’s the only way to truly test for the essential customer service skills

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

    Certainly not by asking them canned questions about their greatest weaknesses.

    The best way to see if these skills exist are to put the candidate in positions where they’ll need to practice them.

    Which leads to…

  2. It shows you how the candidate handles uncomfortable situations

    Customer support is often uncomfortable.

    But it’s those uncomfortable situations – when customers are angry or upset, or when the agent doesn’t have the answer right away – are when customer loyalty is most on the line.

    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.

  3. You’ll see exactly what your customers are getting

    You wouldn’t hire a developer or a marketer without looking at their work, would you?

    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.

4 Essential Role-Play Scenarios to Include In Your Customer Service Interviews

There are many different situations that you can call on for role-play in an interview, and a lot of them will be unique to your company. But these four are tested scenarios that will give you a valuable understanding of how your candidate stacks up:

1) A rude customer

Prompts:

  • “I want a refund, and I want it right now.”
  • Get angry/raise your voice
  • Make unreasonable requests/demands

What you’re looking for: Staying cool is an important skill, especially when customers are angry. Look for empathetic responses (remember, you can be sorry for how a customer feels, even if it’s not your fault) and a calm, level demeanor. Bonus points for employing customer service recovery techniques.

Tip: You’re not trying to be a real jerk (the kind of customer you would fire). This is about recreating those more common situations where an otherwise good customer is simply having a bad day.

2) A server outage or other crisis

Prompt:

“You get 50 customers emails alerting you to an outage. 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 to every customer to ensure that customers know that the issue is being worked on? Do they mention maintaining ongoing contact throughout the day/ordeal?

3) Making a customer’s day

Prompt:

Go through any totally routine customer support interaction, and 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. 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 need employees who are willing to take advantage of that.

4) A request for a discount

Prompt:

Ask for a discount. Note that 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 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.

The Value of Role-Play In Customer Service Interviews

Your product can be taught.

Your processes can be taught.

Advanced customer service techniques can be taught.

But skills like empathy, positivity and clarity in communication?

Those are much harder to teach, and critically important to look for in new support hires.

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.

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About the Author

Len Markidan heads up marketing at Groove. He’s focused on helping startups and small businesses build better relationships with their customers.

Read his latest posts or follow him on Twitter

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