How to Nail 'What Does Customer Service Mean to You?' in an Interview [+ Examples]

Alana Chinn
Alana Chinn

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What does customer service mean to you? Better yet, what does great customer service mean to you?

Applicant answering what does customer service mean to you in an interview

I think about the time I ordered sunglasses and received the wrong color. Before I could even complain, I received an apology email and the correct product within days. I also got to donate the other sunglasses to a charity of my choice. Nice.

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If you're interviewing for a customer service role, it's a good idea to start thinking about how you'd characterize the value of customer service. Because chances are high that this question will come up.

Let's tackle how you can crush this question during your next interview.

What does customer service mean to you?

what does customer service mean to you: quote from HubSpot's Lily Pitcher

Who Gets Asked This Question

Just about any professional in the field will need to be prepared to answer what customer service means to them.

There are many different customer service career paths out there. And you'll probably encounter this question if you're interviewing for any position that directly (or indirectly) impacts customers.

Here are a few job titles this applies to:

  • Customer service representative
  • Help desk agent or associate
  • Customer success manager
  • Technical support specialist
  • Customer onboarding specialist

Why Interviewers Want to Know

Testing your Customer Service Knowledge

When interviewers ask "What does customer service mean to you?" or "What does great customer service mean to you?", the first thing they're trying to assess is how familiar you are with the term.

Hiring managers want to see that you can confidently define customer service. They want to understand the value you place on good service. Then, interviewers want you to go one step further and personalize it based on your experience.

Inquiring About Your Customer Service Background

Speaking of, experience is a key staple in any conversation between an applicant and potential employer. During an interview, the hiring manager is also asking this question to simply learn more about you and your customer service expertise.

It's a good sign if you can easily pull customer service skills, responsibilities, and real-life examples into your answer.

For example, give an overview of a day-in-the-life in your previous customer service role. You could highlight how you delightfully interacted with customers, swiftly organized your time, or resolved customer issues with ease.

Ensuring Your Values Align With The Company

This is arguably the most important reason you'll be asked the famous "What does customer service mean to you?" question in an interview. Prospective employers want to make sure your vision of customer service aligns with their expectations as an organization.

Businesses want to hire customer service professionals who strive to provide excellent customer experiences. They want to make sure you're capable of representing the company well and creating a positive brand reputation for their customers.

How to Prepare Your Answer

Research the Company's Customer Service Philosophy

The first step in giving your best "What does great customer service mean to you?" answer is understanding what customer service means to the company you're interviewing for.

Do some digging to find out. You can start by asking the following questions:

  • How does customer service fit into the company's overall mission statement?
  • Does the company have a dedicated customer service promise or policy?
  • How does the company position its customer service capabilities compared to competitors?

The goal is to identify their core messaging around customer service. Be sure to take note of any buzzwords — like fast, reliable, efficient, caring, or honest. Then, do your best to incorporate this information into your response during the interview.

Highlight Important Customer Service Skills

As mentioned above, a big reason hiring managers are asking you this question is to tease out your customer service skills. And this is your opportunity to brag a little. Humbly, of course.

For example: Empathy, patience, and flexibility are critical skills that any customer service professional should have.

You could talk about how you rank these skills based on level of importance. Or, discuss the importance of showcasing these qualities when providing customer support.

Another option is to provide a situational example of how you used a particular skill to improve the customer experience in a previous job. Maybe there's a time when you spoke with an upset customer, and you patiently listened to their pain points until you found a solution to their problem.

Either way, make sure you emphasize skills that are specific to the position you're applying for. That way, you can show the hiring manager you really are a good fit for the role.

Tie in Your Own Customer Experiences

Make things personal. Remember, the question is all about what customer service means to you. A good way to illustrate this is to pull from your own experiences.

As a customer, you may think of good customer service as speedy resolutions, minimal wait times, and timely communications. Maybe you had a really good interaction with a support rep at a retail store recently that you can dissect as an example of great customer service.

As a customer service professional, you may dig a little deeper to consider how you've advocated for and provided value to the customer in the past. Perhaps you talked a customer out of switching to a competitor by listening to their concerns and going out of your way to resolve their issue.

Just be sure to avoid vague scenarios and examples. Give specific details about the situation, how it made you feel, why it stood out to you, and what you brought to the table. And don't forget to be clear about the results.

Additional Examples of Interview Answers

what does customer service mean to you: quote from HubSpot's Tessa Dowd

Example #1

Our first example comes from Vinnie Ledonne, a customer success manager at HubSpot:

"I think customer service is anticipating your customer's needs — oftentimes, for things they don't even know they need. And, [it means] providing support in a way that they know you care about what's important to them."

Why it works: This answer speaks to two very important customer service skills: proactivity and empathy. Many employers are going to find value in applicants who can figure out what a customer needs before they even have to ask. And showing compassion goes a long way in making customers feel like they're more than just a price tag.

Example #2

"Customer service means listening to customers and helping them resolve their issues quickly. There was this one time when I bought cupcakes for a friend's birthday party and accidentally ordered them from the wrong bakery. I didn't have time to go to the other location before the party, so the bakery went above and beyond to create a new cupcake assortment in real-time. This experience made me feel understood and extremely valued. And this is how I strive to make my customers feel in every interaction I have with them."

Why it works: Personal experience for the win. This is a great example of how real-world examples can help speak to the customer service skills that are most important to you — like compassion and efficiency regarding the cupcake order. The added bonus is the way the applicant weaves this experience into how they aim to please customers as part of their own job.

Example #3

HubSpot's Senior Customer Success Manager Sarah Caruthers gave us another example of what customer service means to them:

"It's solving for the customer in a variety of ways but also stewarding the relationship with the customer for long-term success. It's paying attention to the little details that will go a long way, that make the experience more personalized for the customer. It's those little things that will mean a lot to your customer and speak volumes for your business."

Why it works: Building and maintaining relationships with customers is a key responsibility for any customer service professional. And finding ways to personalize the experience is a great way to make customers feel like they matter as individuals. This answer speaks to both of these aspects of customer service while recognizing that attention to detail is a critical part of success.

Example #4

"When I think of customer service, two words come to mind: speed and reliability. I know your company mission statement is focused on providing fast and dependable solutions for your clients. At my last job, I set a personal goal to resolve or properly escalate all customer inquiries in 30 minutes or less. That's because I understand the importance of addressing customer requests quickly and effectively to help prevent churn."

Why it works: In addition to explicitly calling out two valuable customer service skills, this answer also shows the interviewer that the applicant has done their research on the company. They know all about the mission, and they've tailored their response accordingly. They folded in a personal example on how they've embodied the traits that are most important to the business. Plus, they showed they understand what can happen if customer service fails.

So, what does customer service mean to you? The short answer — after the long answer — is that you should base your response on your knowledge, skills, and experiences. And, how your perspective aligns with the customer service values of your future employer.

Now, go out and nail this question during your next interview.

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