Every business owner, including the founder of one of the most magical places on Earth – Disneyland, credits the success of their vision to PEOPLE.
You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world … but it requires people to make the dream a reality. – Walt Disney.
Our research indicates that 55% of consumers will recommend a company to their friends and family due to good customer service, but 47% of them would no longer do business with a company as a response to bad service.
So, how do you find passionate and positive individuals who’ll represent your brand in a good light and be the right fit for your customer support team?
The answer lies in crafting well-thought-out customer service interview questions that’ll help you tap into the candidate’s mind and assess their skill set.
5 Tips to remember before hiring a customer service representative
Before we get started, here are a few suggestions to make the hiring process easier for you.
#1 Tip: Understand the gap you’re trying to fill
Are you a business owner looking to scale your customer service department? Or are you looking to bundle the overspills of your current customer support team into an individual role?
If you’re hiring to lighten the load of your existing team, growing the team might not be your only choice. Exploring self-service options and automating repetitive support tasks could help you perform efficiently with the current team.
However, if you’ve decided to hire, take some time to define what you’re looking for. Check out the first step in Buffer’s hiring process.1 They write down the role’s objectives, the goals they want to achieve with the new person on board, and the necessary customer service skills to fill the gap.
|Looking to scale your customer support team?
We’ve outlined the customer service hiring best practices and the skills to look for in this detailed guide.
#2 Tip: Prioritize the skills you’re scouting for
Remember that you’re not hunting for the ideal customer service representative but a person who’s perfect for your business. A friendly attitude may be a priority for a customer service agent joining a travel agency, while solid problem-solving skills top the list for a technical support specialist.
Once you’ve identified the gap you’re trying to fill in, define the exact roles and responsibilities of the customer service representative. Then make a list of the skills that would help carry out these responsibilities. Split these skills into smaller buckets – Must-haves, happy-to-haves, and the bonuses.
For example, a must-have for a contact center agent handling customer issues from France would be a strong command of the French language.
#3 Tip: Articulate a well-defined job description
A clearly defined job description is a candidate-screening step since it’s more likely to attract the relevant talent you’re hunting for. A great job description sets the right expectations of the job, conveys work boundaries if any, provides the opportunities and benefits in store, and gives a glimpse of your company’s culture.
What does a well-crafted customer service job description2 look like?
It usually has the following sections –
- Job title
- A brief description of the role
- Responsibilities involved
- Geographical or domain-based constraints, if any
- A list of essential skills
- Nice-to-have skills
- Educational qualifications
- Employee benefits
See if you can float the job requirements internally and then post the job description on popular job boards, social media handles like LinkedIn, and community forums like Support-Driven, which has a dedicated Slack channel3 for job postings.
#4 Tip: Read between the lines in resumes
A resume could speak volumes about what a potential customer support agent can bring to the table.
Watch out for the following cues in an applicant’s resume –
- Are there any glaring language errors or typos? The last thing you want is these typos to make their way into customer emails.
- Has the interview applicant customized the resume or cover letter to reflect what you’ve asked for in the job description? If they’ve done that, it indicates the applicant’s eye for detail and the ability to mirror other’s language and tone.
- Any past experiences of the applicant that would be relevant to the new role? Even if the domain isn’t an exact match, skimming through the candidate’s prior experiences will give a fair idea of what value they can add to your customer service team.
#5 Tip: Outline the interview process
If you’re the sole decision-maker in hiring, then the interview process is pretty straightforward. But if it’s a collective decision, then it’s best to sketch out the whole job interview process. Include details like the number of interview rounds, the people who’d be interviewing, and the purpose of every interview round.
Standardize the interview process by training the interviewers and giving them a set of questions to ask. Communicate to the interviewers about the specific customer service skills they need to test and can’t compromise on.
Watch more on how to hire and recruit for customer support here –
How to use the customer service interview questions guide
Every question you ask an interview candidate should give you a better understanding of the specific skills and traits needed in the interviewee to take up the role. Having a template of common customer service interview questions equips you to evaluate the candidates on an even scale and removes any bias in the process.
Use behavioral interview questions — ask for relevant situations from past experiences — and observe intently the behaviors they’ve exhibited across different situations. See if the answers to all these questions follow the STAR method of giving responses. The candidate should be able to describe a Situation, explain the Task at hand, take you through the Action they took, and highlight the Results.
Encourage the interview candidate to give real-life examples rather than hypothetical situations. Note the tone and demeanor that the candidate maintains throughout the conversation. Don’t hesitate to ask follow-up questions whenever you feel the candidate is ambiguous with their reply.
Customer service job interview questions that’ll help you identify the right skills and traits
“Some of the key traits that I look for while hiring customer support people are problem-solving skills, curiosity, adaptability, accountability, and collaboration skills.” – Stacy Justino, Director of customer happiness at Wistia
Since every customer service interview question is aimed at assessing a critical skill or trait, we’ve grouped the questions based on the skill being measured.
1. Gauging an empathetic and customer-focused mindset
“I think the most important skill and the one that’s harder to train for is customer empathy and a customer-centric attitude.” – Kirsty Traill, Former VP Customer Support at Hootsuite.
Customer service is all about empathy in action, and you don’t want to miss out on sizing up the candidate on this one. But empathy being more of a personality trait is also hard to measure.
These questions will help you test an interviewee’s customer-centric attitude and see how much they care about a customer.
- Could you give me an example of when you delivered exceptional customer support? (This was Kirsty’s favorite empathy question back at Hootsuite)
- Tell me about a time you had to work with a difficult customer. How did you handle it and what was the outcome?
- Give me step-by-step guidance on how you’ll assist a customer in resolving a problem. Choose a problem relevant to the candidate’s previous experiences, like a customer finding it challenging to check out a product or struggling to book a ticket online.
- Have you ever gone against a company’s rule book to meet a customer’s needs? Describe the event.
- Teach me something. (Our founder Girish’s favorite question)
- The efforts and action they’ve taken to help out a customer truly.
- Are they breaking down complex product information or company policies into simple terms that the customer understands?
- When you ask them to teach something, do they have the capability to unlearn a few steps and explain the concept from a newbie’s perspective?
“Often, I ask candidates to teach me a concept that they know well so that I can find out if they have the most defining quality of a support rep: empathy. After all, good customer service means that the support rep has to put herself in the customer’s shoes and see the problem from the customer’s point of view and before coming up with a solution.” – Girish Mathrubootham, CEO of Freshworks.
2. Identifying communication and persuasion capabilities
Carrying out conversations on mail, call, or social media will take up a huge chunk of a customer service agent’s job. Good communication skills and clever negotiation are needed to arrive at a solution that adds value to the customer.
- How would you turn angry customers into happy and satisfied customers?
- Was there a time when you communicated clearly, but the customer couldn’t understand what you were saying? How did you handle this challenge?
- Write an email from two perspectives – the first from a frustrated customer and the next one from a customer service rep responding to the same customer. (Pick this question if email is your primary support channel and you want to assess the candidate’s writing skills too)
- Describe a time when you had to say no to a customer.
- How would you respond to a frustrated customer who calls out a common or known issue in your product or service?
- How clearly and precisely they give their answers.
- Check if they use a friendly tone and empathetic language.
- With the last two questions, see how the interview candidate tackles stressful conditions.
3. Measuring problem-solving and conflict resolution abilities
“Sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution, and I don’t want the candidate to give me a complex solution but rather the simplest way to solve the problem. I throw a random math question to see their approach.”- Andrew Navin, Director of Support at Freshdesk.
Whether it’s assisting an online shopper in refund processes or troubleshooting an error in a software portal, a customer service specialist is an outstanding problem-solver at heart. Probe the candidate to see the methodology they use to solve a problem, resolve any conflicts along the way, and their entire thought process rather than the actual solution.
A few questions that’ll help you gauge critical thinking skills –
- Could you tell me when you were not able to find a relevant solution for a customer’s problem immediately? How did you finally solve it?
- Walk me through how you would de-escalate an angry customer
- Was there a repetitive issue that you helped fix by giving process improvements? What was the problem and your proposed solution?
- Can you tell me about a situation where you had to escalate a problem to your manager?
- The process they use to solve a problem.
- Keep an eye on the clarity of thought that they have.
- Observe how they tackle difficult situations and note if they let a customer’s emotions play on their logical thinking.
4. Checking for team spirit
As per the Harvard Business Review, a 50% overlap is seen in employees recognized as collaborative contributors and the top performers in an organization. To hire an excellent customer service representative, it’s vital to see how well they collaborate and work as a committed team member.
Also, if you’re hiring for a remote opportunity, then it’ll be a good idea to check how they communicate, collaborate, and thrive in a work-from-home environment as well.
A few questions you could pose include –
- Give me an example of a time when you had to work with different departments in your previous organizations to resolve a customer issue? Describe the event.
- When did you work closely with another support agent(s) to arrive at a solution?
- What’s the best customer service team you’ve been on so far, and why did you like them?
For remote customer service positions:
- How do you make sure you’re focused on your tasks while working from home?
- What are the different tools you’ve used for communication and collaboration when working remotely?
- How do you build relationships with other team members in a remote support role?
- How the interview candidate doesn’t shy away from asking help from co-workers and vendors to find the best solution for the customer.
- Do they love being part of a team, and are they open to others’ suggestions?
- Is the candidate showing signs of helping other team members too and contributing to their success?
5. Testing attitude and work ethic
The common philosophy of hiring for attitude and training for skills is highly relevant in customer service. You need driven and self-motivated individuals who’ll consciously put on a cheerful, can-do attitude every day with every customer they interact with. A LinkedIn research also indicates a 40% increased chance of employees with grit staying at their jobs longer.
In addition to grit, customer service reps who have great interest and passion in delighting customers are ever-so curious and tend to ask many questions about the processes and your overall business. This helps them contribute better, learn faster on the job, and quickly pick up new tools and techniques.
Here are a set of questions for each of these traits that’ll make it easy for you to spot energetic and passionate professionals.
a. Passion and positivity:
- Why do you want to work in customer service?
- Could you tell me about a time when you went above and beyond to get what a customer wanted?
- What’s one memorable customer interaction you’ve ever had?
- Give me one reason why you love customer service.
- What are you most proud of?
- The smile in their voice; the way the candidates light up when they speak about why they’re or want to be in customer service is a great indication of passion for the job.
- Listen for the efforts they’ve taken to achieve something they’re proud of — either as part of their job or interests outside work. It’s pure passion that made them take those steps.
- Have you received negative feedback from a customer directly? How did you handle it?
- What are some ways in which you stay motivated and upbeat all day?
- Have you ever given a wrong solution to a customer? Tell me about it and the steps you took to avoid such errors later.
- Tell me about a time when you juggled customer queries of varying priorities. How did you go about solving them all?
- Describe a situation where you had to move out of your comfort zone and learn something completely new in a short span and deliver results.
- How they handle the “mundane” chores of customer service.
- How do the candidates bounce back after a rough call or negative feedback? Do they own up and pick lessons from their failures and see them as opportunities to improve? Or do they point to others as the reason for their shortcomings?
c. Being coachable:
- When was the last time you were asked to do something you’ve never done before? How did you end up doing it?
- What are some customer service tools or CRM software that you are familiar with?
- What’s something you taught yourself recently? How did you learn it?
- What are some of your go-to resources that help you give better customer service?
- How open the candidate was in the past to learn new tools and software. See if they’ve taken any self-taught courses rather than completely leaning on scheduled training.
- Do they have an urge to upskill and improve their current skill set?
- Could you tell me about a time when you had to work with a customer who gave little context of their problem?
- Do you have a favorite customer service team or other support reps whom you admire?
- Have you got any questions to ask me?
- How well they probe and ask questions to bring an issue to closure. A keen interest in customer support will have them searching for how other companies are delivering great customer service.
- Note how curious they are about working in your company by leaving the floor open for the candidate’s questions.
6.Aligning with your brand culture
When customer service agents align with your company’s overall culture and core values, they’re more likely to be committed to delivering their very best customer service. Disney ensures that their core value of “Creating happiness” is soaked into every Cast Member or guest service member, and they keep an eye for such happy people right from their recruitment process.
To check if the interview candidate aligns with your brand’s view of customer service and be a great addition to your overall company culture, you could ask these questions –
- Definition of customer service
- What does good customer service mean to you?
- Tell me about one bad customer service you’ve experienced recently. What would you have done differently in the same situation?
- What interests you most about this role and why our company?
- How do you think this role would contribute to your career growth?
- What do you know about our products and services?
- How aware the candidate is about what your business stands for and what you do on a high level.
- Though the first two questions look like textbook definitions, the answers to these reveal how the candidate views customer service and if they truly believe in customer experience playing a significant role in building a brand.
Red flags to watch out for in a customer service interview candidate
The jitters are real for any candidate who comes in for a customer service interview or any interview for that matter. It’s natural for them to fumble and make errors along the way.
However, throughout the conversation, you can look for these cues and signals to know if the candidate in front of you may not be the right one for the job you’re hiring for.
- Wrong perception of customer service: You don’t want someone who sees customer service as a mere “complaints department”. That outlook would ripple in the candidate’s day-to-day work and ruin the customer service experience your company is striving to build.
- The “some job-is better than-no job” attitude: Even if the candidate is trying out customer support for the very first time as a paid job, an agent should feel motivated to assist customers and enjoy the process rather than seeing it as the easiest way to get paid.
- Not a free-flowing conversation: A lot of a customer service agent’s time and energy will be spent actively listening and communicating with customers. See if the candidate provides clear, concise, and relevant answers. Does the candidate listen to your question patiently before responding, or do they cut into your train of thoughts frequently? Do you have to fill in awkward silences in the conversation repeatedly? You don’t want these behaviors to pass on to your customers.
- The “I” monster: While describing past situations, make a note of the “I”s and “We”s involved. As suggested in a LinkedIn article4, you want a balance here — too many “I”s and you have a closed team player at hand, too many “We”s and should be questioning their sense of ownership and responsibility.
- No aptitude for learning: Is the interviewee blaming their previous circumstances or a lack of training in earlier organizations for not learning a tool or software? You’ve got a rigid mindset to break right there.
A word for candidates looking to ace their customer service job interview
If you’re getting ready for a customer service interview and you’ve scanned the blog for the questions you need to brace yourself for, then here are a few tips that would help you fare well in the upcoming interview.
- Be friendly and enthusiastic: Sound positive throughout the interview, even when you’re asked a tricky question or drilled for further details. Hiring managers will notice if you’re able to keep your attitude upbeat despite the stress of an interview.
- Reread your resume and pick your highlights beforehand: Since you’ll be facing a lot of behavioral or situational questions, think of apt customer interactions that you can share in the interview to express how you’ve handled different situations. Even if you don’t have direct experience in a customer service role, choose relevant, customer-facing episodes from previous experiences.
- Use the art of storytelling in your answers: Wherever the answer demands it, narrate your prior experiences with specific event descriptions that’ll make the conversation more engaging. Remember the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Results) method of answering — explained earlier in this article — to better articulate your responses. For example, if you’ve helped a little girl find what she’s looking for in a grocery store, tell about how lost and disappointed the girl looked and how you put a smile on her face rather than a plain “I helped a 10-year old find popsicle in the store”.
- Ask questions where necessary: When the interviewer allows you to ask questions or if you’ve got a query on something the interviewer shared earlier concerning the job and the business, speak up and ask. You’re indicating your genuine interest in the role you’ve applied for.
When interviewing, also be sure to see if the work culture suits you and the role provides opportunities for you to grow in your career personally.
Next steps for finding an exceptional customer support agent
Once you’ve gained confidence in the candidate with these customer service representative interview questions, see if you can give them an actual support ticket or call to see if they reflect the skills you need for the role.
If you’re assured of the candidate’s expertise in handling the issue, then voila! You’ve found yourself a new member for your customer service team. Be sure to convey your company’s values on customer service and work culture during their onboarding and equip them with the necessary training for the tools and internal processes.
With the right peers to guide the new member and robust customer service software to assist them, you’re sure to see a win in your next customer service hire!
1 – https://buffer.com/resources/hiring-process/
2 – https://www.freshworks.com/hrms/job-descriptions/customer-service-customer-service-representative/
3 – https://supportdriven.slack.com/
4 – https://www.linkedin.com/business/talent/blog/talent-acquisition/candidate-red-flags
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