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12 Customer Service Interview Questions and Answers


Creating a customer-centric, high performing customer service organization always starts with hiring great people.

No matter how finely tuned your processes are, how good your data is, or how well you've set up your canned responses, hiring the wrong team members will make your customer experience suffer -- and fast.

In this article, we'll cover what you need to screen for and what questions you can ask in your interview process to determine if a candidate is a good fit for your team.

Before you start coming up with questions, it's important to understand what you are hoping to learn from the questions.

As we detailed a previous blog post about creating a customer success plan, we established that all customer service representatives should have the following four traits:

1. Drive

Customer success managers must be hungry, ready to learn, and eager to jump in. The best customer success managers really want to prove themselves. They must be driven, but not entitled. They want to rise in the ranks, and they know they have to earn it.

2. Coachability

CSMs must be eager to learn, but should not be defensive if you give criticism. The best pick things up very quickly.

3. Positivity

This is the most overlooked thing. A negative person can kill a team, by talking poorly about customers or other employees. Every new hire must be a positive person.

4. Empathy

If you're going to put someone on the phone with a customer, they need to understand where the customer is coming from. Empathy must be genuine -- it's easy for a customer to sense when a CSM simply doesn't care.

Remember, these traits are just those specific to customer success. All team members must meet your company-wide standards and share your core values.

Additionally, your members of your customer service team may need other specific skills or traits, depending on your industry.

For example, does the person need to be able to think on their feet? Or, is it more important that they stick to a process? How important is verbal communication vs written?

Whatever your criteria, you must define it ahead of time. Only then can you put together a set of interview questions.

12 Customer Service Interview Questions (and Answers to Look For)

Your customer service interview questions should screen for the criteria you previously defined. This is not an exhaustive list, nor will all of these apply to your business. Make sure you choose questions that screen for the qualities you believe will lead to success on your team.

Below are a sample of questions we use at LawnStarter Lawn Care, as well as some provided by experts in other industries.

1. What did success look like in your previous role?

Whether their previous role was in customer service or not, it's important to understand how they viewed success. You're looking for whether this person cares more about their individual success or their team's success.

Look for answers such as "success was measured by the whole team reaching a CSAT of X%" or "our goal was to increase renewals by Y%." It's a red flag if they only reference their individual goals over those of the team's.

2. Would you be willing to introduce us to a current or former boss as a reference?

This question is part of the Topgrading method, and serves as a truth serum for all subsequent questions. Once a candidate knows that you will be asking for an introduction to their current or former boss, they will be far less likely to embellish their achievements.

Ask this question about every company they have on their resume. The candidate might not jump at the chance to connect you with their current boss if they're looking for other opportunities, but they should be ready and willing to connect you to a prior manager or mentor listed on their resume.

3. What do you think success looks like here at [your company]?

This is similar to the previous question in that it helps assess whether a candidate cares about the team or themselves. However, it also gives you a sense of how well they understand your business. They may or may not get it right, but they should have a well-reasoned answer of what success looks like for your company that demonstrates their interest in the role -- and their sense of your values.

4. What was your biggest failure in your previous role, and how did you recover from it?

This question helps assess coachability and honesty. Everybody has failed, but the important part is did the candidate learn from it -- or do they blame someone else for it?

Some candidates will give a cop-out answer. You're looking for an answer that speaks to the candidate's sense of personal responsibility, resilience, and ability to learn from mistakes in the future.

5. What are your pet peeves in the workplace?

This question helps you screen for positivity. Bad answers involve blaming others or dodging the question entirely. Good answers are honest, but polite. The best answer is when the candidate explains how they understand that the pet peeve is their own personal downfall, and how they proactively avoid making this pet peeve a problem for others.

6. Can you walk me through every step in a common process?

This comes recommended by Michael Jones, a customer support manager at JazzHR. "Use product documentation for your own products or pick a multi-step process such as finding and opening a file on a computer," he recommends asking.

This is particularly useful when interviewing a customer service rep, where being able to explain step-by-step processes is an essential part of the job. Look for answers that you can understand and follow yourself, as well as steps are detailed and contextualized enough to be helpful for even a brand-new user of your product or service.

7. How do you de-escalate angry customers?

In order to screen for empathy, determine a person's philosophy of how angry customers should be handled. You're looking for signs that the candidate knows how to empathize with others, and that they can turn a terrible experience into a positive one.

Good answers will include references to effective conflict resolution skills, respect for customers, and humility -- because sometimes, an apology is more effective than an explanation to an already angry customer.

8. What are your personal career goals?

This is a way to determine if a candidate is driven or not. The most driven candidates have a sense of where they would like to be in the next few years. Less driven candidates will say things like "I just want to work at a fun place," or "I don't really know."

It's fine for people to not know exactly where they want to be -- many people don't -- but they should have researched various career paths or have some idea of where they might like to end up, and they should reference a career path, industry, or set of skills they want to add to their resume in the future.

9. What was the toughest customer service case you've ever handled?

In the answer to this question, you're looking for positivity and empathy. A mediocre candidate will talk about how irrational the customer on this case was, or how frustrating they were to resolve the issue with. A great candidate will not speak ill about the customer, but will show how they empathized and did their best to come to a resolution that worked for them -- and they'll spell out the problem-solving strategies they used along the way.

10. How would you rewrite this canned response?

Provide the candidate with a poorly-written canned response (such as the last response you got from your cable company), and give the candidate a few minutes to rewrite it. Ask them what was wrong with the initial wording, and why they added the words that they did.

A great customer service candidate will produce a great result and be able to articulate the why behind it. Effective written and oral communication skills are key in a customer-facing role, and a good "answer" will be clearly-written, without jargon, and without sounding like a robot.

11. What is your definition of empathy? Can you provide an example when you used empathy in your previous roles?

This question is how Luiz Centenaro -- a CSM at Experiment Engine -- screens for empathy.

"You aren't looking for the verbatim definition of empathy here, (the ability to understand and share the feelings of another). You are looking for a candidate who can define empathy in their own words, and provide an example of how they can relate to customers," according to Centenaro.

Good answers will include a concrete example that goes beyond simply apologizing to a customer -- it should demonstrate how they used understanding and rapport-building to build a strong relationship with a customer -- and help solve their problem effectively.

12. What does good customer service mean to you?

The candidate's answer to this question will speak to their personal values -- and if those values align with those of your business. So the perfect answer will vary depending on who's asking it.

Listen for an answer that speaks to the candidate's empathy and appreciation for customers, demonstrates their ability to teach without patronizing, and shows their commitment to contributing to a company's mission by helping and advocating for others.

Now you have a sense of what to screen for and what questions to ask when hiring for customer service roles. This list is by no means exhaustive, so by all means, feel free to borrow questions from others or come up with your own.

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