So you’ve done it. You’ve landed a customer service interview. You combed through job boards, tailored your resume, and wrote your cover letter. You submitted applications and sat refreshing your email, hoping for a response. And finally you got one—it’s an invitation to interview!
If this is one of your first customer service interviews, you’re likely nervous and wondering what to expect. You may have already heard a lot of general job interview prep tips and prepared for more universal interview questions. That’s great, but what about the specifics? What exactly can you expect in a customer service job interview?
What Are Interviewers Looking for When Hiring for Customer Service Roles?
The range of customer service roles available is huge. Companies in all industries need to interact with their customers and keep them happy, and these interactions happen across a number of channels—in person, over the phone, via email or chat, and increasingly, over social media.
Despite all of these differences, the core skills and qualities needed for a customer service job are the same. And recruiters and hiring managers know that. So when you’re interviewing for a customer service role, keep in mind that companies are looking for these key things:
- Communication skills: “Customer service is a ‘people’ business,” says Sonja Bugg, a director at the recruitment agency Randstad US who has more than 17 years of experience hiring and working with customer service reps as well as managing recruitment teams that specialize in customer service and call center roles. As such, it’s vital to show your interviewer that you’re a strong communicator. You show this with the content of your answers, of course, but also through how you answer. If you’re well prepared for your interview and answer clearly and articulately, your communication skills will really shine.
- Problem-solving skills: Unfortunately, people rarely turn to customer support to let them know everything is going perfectly! As a customer service professional, you’ll be responsible for resolving people’s problems and it’s important that your interview answers reflect your abilities to think on your feet, untangle sticky issues, and find solutions.
- Passion for the role: Customer service is the type of job people often apply to when they’re not yet sure what they want to do—but both employees and customers are better off when customer service reps get satisfaction out of their work. Demonstrating passion for the role is important in any interview but especially for a customer service job.
How do they figure out if you have these qualities? They’ll ask questions like these:
- What Does Customer Service Mean to You?
- What’s One Time You Worked With a Difficult Customer and How Did You Resolve the Situation?
- Tell Me About a Time You Assisted a Customer Who’d Worked with Multiple Agents and Didn’t Get the Help They Needed.
- What Is Your Preferred Method of Communication?
- What Do You Know About [Our Product or Our Company]?
- How Do You Keep Yourself Motivated When People Are Being Mean to You?
- If You’re an Experienced Customer Service Representative: Do You Have Experience with [Salesforce, Other Programs]?
- If You Have Some Customer-Facing Experience: Why Do You Want to Transition Into Customer Support?
- If You Have No Customer-Facing Experience at All: What Drew You to Apply to This Job?
1. What Does Customer Service Mean to You?
This question comes up in many customer service interviews because it lets employers see what philosophy and mindset you’d bring to the position.
How to Answer
At its core, this question is asking why you’re interested in customer service. Before your interview, it’s important to “figure out your story. Why this job? Why is it something you’re interested in?” says Eliza Bell, who works in recruiting at SquareFoot and has hired for customer service roles in the past in addition to working as a rep herself.
The reason you want to be in customer service and what customer service means to you should go hand-in-hand. For example, if you applied to this job because you want to help people solve problems, then you should say that to you customer service means helping people solve problems and share a little bit about why that aspect of the role appeals to you.
Here’s what this might look like:
“To me, customer service means ensuring that the client or customer has the best experience possible. I’ve learned that by listening to the customer’s desires, concerns, and perspective, I’m able to figure out the best way to solve any issues that come up. I especially enjoy when I get to help a customer find a solution they didn’t even realize was possible—one that makes them happy and keeps them as a satisfied customer.”
2. What’s One Time You Worked With a Difficult Customer and How Did You Resolve the Situation?
This goes back to the central problem-solving aspect of customer service. While almost everyone you speak to every day will have an issue to resolve, some of them might be in a situation you’ve never seen before and others might come into the interaction unhappy that anything went wrong at all. Both types of customers can be difficult to work with. As a potential hire, you’ll have to show that you know how to handle these interactions.
How to Answer
“I’m not looking for someone to magically fix the situation, just looking for someone to take ownership over it,” Bell says. Taking ownership doesn’t mean saying a problem is your fault; it means taking on some responsibility to try to fix the issue. Bell doesn’t want to hire customer service reps who blame the company or customer right away or hand something off to a supervisor without first trying to resolve the problem themselves.
To be prepared to answer this question, think about the difficult situations you’ve been in, and how you dealt with them. “Be sure to think of an instance where you had to gain an understanding of why the customer was being difficult,” Bugg says. “Describe a time [when] you remained calm—understanding the customer wasn’t directly upset with you—and were able to empathize with them and suggest new ideas or improvements based on what was being communicated to you by the customer to partner in de-escalating the situation.”
Once you think of a scenario, try to use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your answer in a concise way that makes your achievements clear to an interviewer.
For example, you might say:
“I was working in phone support for a major internet service provider, and a customer came into the phone call already very angry and upset that their computer was not staying connected to Wi-Fi. They were yelling and threatening to cancel their account. I took a minute and listened to them explain their issue, and it turned out that they were a student who was stressed about a project deadline being switched. I knew I had to help them quickly reconnect so that they could complete their assignment on time without added stress. So I told them that I understood their situation was frustrating and then asked if I could go through a few standard questions to figure out the most likely culprit. It turned out that their router had recently been moved to a less optimal location and not every bedroom in the house was getting a steady signal. I stayed on the line while they returned the router to its original location and verified that their connection immediately improved before wishing them luck on their project and hanging up.”
3. Tell Me About a Time You Assisted a Customer Who’d Worked With Multiple Agents and Didn’t Get the Help They Needed.
This is closely related to the difficult customer question, but more specific. In this case, the interviewer wants to know how you’d handle a particular kind of challenging situation—a customer who’s been passed around (possibly being put on hold each time) and starting to feel like no one is able or willing to help them.
How to Answer
If possible, you should use the STAR method again and recount an actual situation you handled in a previous role. Be sure to talk about the ways you took ownership of the call—making every effort to be the customer’s last stop and solve the problem—and the results of those actions. If you exhausted all the resources at your disposal and still had to escalate the call, that’s OK. Interviewers will understand that not every problem is an easy fix.
Try to think of several stories to use ahead of time for behavioral interview questions like this one and practice adapting them in response to different kinds of questions.
But if you’re hit with a specific scenario question you haven’t prepared for—or don’t have a real-life example of—you might need to talk about what you would do in that situation (instead of what you did do). In that case, a good strategy for answering is to put yourself in the customer’s shoes.
For example, if you’d been transferred a few times, the last thing you’d want is to have to talk to yet another person. So in answering the question, detail the steps you might take to try to solve the customer’s problem yourself—and how you might deal with any frustration they bring to the conversation.
This might sound like:
“In my current role, my company doesn’t allow calls to be transferred between support reps on the same level, only up the chain to managers or to different departments. However, if this came up, I know that I would want to do everything I could to be the one to solve the customer’s issue and avoid transferring them again. First, I would try to get all of the information possible from the transferring rep. Second, I would ask the customer if they could tell me about the issue again in their own words. The goal would be to identify whether there was any miscommunication. If there was, I’d follow the standard steps based on this new information. If not, I would go back to the very basic details—things as simple as verifying the customer’s address is correct and their billing address matches their current address—to ensure we weren’t missing anything. If I needed to go to someone else for assistance, I would try to keep the customer on my line if at all possible while I got the information I needed. That way I could advocate for them and they could feel like someone was really on their side in helping to solve their problem.”
4. What Is Your Preferred Method of Communication?
Most customer service positions will be focused on one (or at most two) methods of communication. The most common are in-person, phone support, email support, and chat support, but social media is gaining in popularity as well. This question evaluates how you’ll do in whichever medium the role is focused on.
How to Answer
Bell says that you should keep in mind the specific customer service job you’ve applied to when answering this question. For example, if you applied to a phone support job, telling your interviewer you prefer to communicate over email will be a red flag. Ideally, you’ve applied for a job where you’d be using a medium you’re comfortable with.
If you have past experience in providing customer support over the same channel as the job you’re interviewing for, be sure to bring that up. If you don’t, talk about whatever other experience has prepared you for it. For example, maybe you answered the phones at your last job working the front desk somewhere or sent text messages (and responded to them) as a volunteer for a nonprofit group.
If it’s a text-based communication position, be prepared to speak to your writing skills and take a skills assessment before being offered the job.
One way to respond might be:
“While I enjoy communicating with people in a number of different ways, I really feel like communicating over the phone or in person helps me pick up on different tones and nuances that might be missed in a text-based communication. In the past, I’ve found that it’s been easier for me to form a connection with the customer when we’re communicating in real time, rather than over email, social media, or even chat, which can all have lag times between responses.”
5. What Do You Know About [Our Product or Our Company]?
This question is asked to evaluate how much research you did before the interview, and to see if you want this customer service job in particular versus any customer service job.
How to Answer
Before your interview, spend time researching the company and its products and be prepared to speak about them. If you use the product, that’s great—and you can talk about that.
For example, if the company sells screen reader and other software, you can talk about how you’re passionate about accessibility and are eager to learn as much as possible about how people interact with these products in their everyday lives.
What’s really key here is showing that you’re invested enough in this opportunity to learn about the company and do your homework before the interview. Again, this question isn’t about why you want a customer service job. It’s about why you want this customer service job.
You might say something like:
“I’ve been using your company’s makeup for years. I tried a lot of competitors before finding your products, and not only is yours the same quality as competitors at a lower price, but it’s also the only brand that doesn’t irritate my sensitive skin. I really like how your company kept customers like me in mind when designing your products.”
6. How Do You Keep Yourself Motivated When People Are Being Mean to You?
Unfortunately, customer service jobs can involve a lot of encounters with people who are unhappy—and being quite vocal about it—which can result in a less-than-pleasant experience for you. Bell likes to ask this question to people who are new to customer service to see if candidates have thought about this aspect of the role—and figured out if it’s something they’ll be able to handle.
How to Answer
For this question, and questions like it, interviewers want to see that you understand the downsides of a customer service job but that the upsides far outweigh them for you. They want to know that you won’t snap at a customer and that you won’t burn out.
“Having 50 people yell at you a day isn’t always a fun thing, so you have to have your own reason to get through it,” says Bell. And you have to consider how you’ll keep going even when that 50th person goes off on you—not just so you can tell the interviewer but so you know for yourself that you can manage the job.
The biggest mistake you can make in your interview would be complaining about customers and other people. Bell, for example, bristles at the words, “dealing with customers,” because it shows they don’t view it as something they enjoy doing, it’s something they have to do for a paycheck.” While the phrase isn’t an immediate dealbreaker, she says, it is a red flag that causes her to dive a little more deeply into whether an interviewee really wants to be in customer support and how they’d get through interactions with angry customers.
You might explain that you’re somebody who can handle being yelled at when you recognize that the anger isn’t directed at you and can empathize with the customer’s complaints. You could share that you’d allow frustrated customers to vent for a few minutes so they feel heard—and so that you and they both know you fully understand the situation—before you try to solve their problem. And if helping an exasperated customer come away with a resolution gives you particular satisfaction, be sure to mention it.
Of course, getting yelled at all the time can start to weigh on anybody. So it’s important to show that you’re self-aware and know how you’d take care of yourself so you can stay motivated and calm when talking to customers. For example, maybe you’d go for a quick walk or make sure to listen to some of your favorite songs over your lunch break.
For example, you might say:
“If I know someone’s anger isn’t really directed at me, I tend to not get very emotionally affected by them taking their frustrations out on me. I understand that to them, I represent a company that has done something they see as wrong. It’s my job to try to help them and try to improve their idea of the company. So I make sure they feel heard, usually by allowing them to vent for a minute before getting into the service part of customer service. However, on days when it feels like I’m only getting angry customers, sometimes I like to unwind by blasting my favorite music on the drive home.”
7. If You’re an Experienced Customer Service Representative: Do You Have Experience with [Salesforce, Other Programs]?
If you’re interviewing for an entry-level customer service position, you’re less likely to be asked this question. But if you’re interviewing for a role that requires experience, employers understandably want to know what tools and software you’ve used and mastered in your current and previous roles.
How to Answer
Before you go into your interview, reread the job posting and note any software or other specialized tools mentioned. If you have experience with these programs, be prepared to talk about what you know and how you’ve used them. But be honest. Don’t pretend to be a Salesforce expert when you’re not. If you’re not found out during the hiring process, it’ll be clear once you start the job.
If you don’t have experience with the particular tool or software you’re asked about, you can still answer this question. If you’ve used a related or comparable tool, talk about how you’ve used it, how it’s similar, and the ways in which your experience with it would set you up to succeed. Or you can talk about a time when you came into a situation and were able to learn new software or become familiar with a new tool quickly.
“I don’t have experience with Salesforce, but I have always been good at picking up on new software quickly. When I started my last job, for example, I had never used a point of sale (POS) system before, but within a few weeks I was able to learn enough that I could troubleshoot problems and even answer other employees’ questions about how to use it.”
8. If You Have Some Customer-Facing Experience: Why Do You Want to Transition Into Customer Support?
If you’re coming from a different field where you have experience interacting with customers, “I want to know why they’re looking to transition into a customer support role,” says Bell. For example, if your experience is waiting tables, Bell would want to know why you want to move into a role where the focus is almost entirely on helping people solve problems.
How to Answer
Be sure to highlight the transferable skills that you bring to a customer support role. If you’re coming from another public-facing role—like retail or hospitality—you likely have tons of experience interacting with customers and helping to solve their problems. Talk about key traits for the job like communication skills, problem-solving skills, and passion for customer service, and lean into the aspects of your current or past positions that you love and excel at that are also part of the job you hope to get.
When it comes to explaining why you’re leaving your current position and making a switch, be sure to highlight what this job offers that your current position does not—without badmouthing your current company. For example, maybe you work in retail, but your favorite aspect is talking to and helping customers who want to make a return or exchange or have another issue, so you want to make that your job’s focus. Or maybe you love the company’s mission and want to be a part of it.
It might sound like this:
“In my job as a hotel receptionist, I handle a lot of different tasks, but the most rewarding part of my job is when I have a customer (or potential customer) call in or walk up to my desk with an issue that they need help solving. I love being able to draw on my knowledge of the hotel and the surrounding area to make sure somebody has the best vacation possible, and I want to transition into a role where this sort of interaction is the bulk of my job. In my two years in hospitality, I’ve become a strong communicator both when it comes to listening and understanding people’s problems and when it comes to giving people directions—whether that’s directions to a physical location or helping customers with the hotel’s online booking system. I want to bring all of that experience to a company that values customer service as much as yours does.”
9. If You Have No Customer-Facing Experience at All: What Drew You to Apply to This Job?
People often apply to customer service roles when they’re first entering the workforce and don’t quite know what they want to do yet. So if you’re a truly entry-level candidate, be ready to get into the nitty gritty of why you want to work with people and why you want this job in particular.
How to Answer
It’s better for everyone involved if you actually like your job. So before you head into your customer service interview, think about why you applied to this job and try to pinpoint why you’d like to be in customer support in general. Do you love problem-solving? Talk about that. Do you get genuine fulfillment out of helping people? That should be in your answer.
Whatever your reason is, you should back it up. For example, maybe you can talk about when you were a camp counselor and the most fulfilling part of the job was when a camper would come to you with a problem and you’d get to help them think through it and figure out a course of action.
Is customer service just the first step in your career plan? That’s OK, too! Maybe you want to learn how to create a good customer or client experience for people or you eventually want to move into IT support. Be prepared to talk about that and how this specific role fits into your career goals.
Here’s one possible answer:
“I’ve always been a people person who loves helping others. In college, I was in a student group that put together a lot of fundraisers and charity events. I was often the one in charge of calling vendors and locations because I was so good on the phone, and during the events themselves, I was usually the go-to person for any attendees, vendors, or fellow club members who had problems because I was good at thinking on my feet. For example, at a flea market fundraiser we planned to raise money for a nearby soup kitchen, we realized at the last minute that we didn’t have enough tables. I decided to call the soup kitchen and not only did they have extra tables, but they were also able to send them over in the van they used to pick up donations. I’d be really excited to put all those skills to use in a customer service role for a company whose mission I support—and I’m passionate about Run By Sun’s goal of spreading solar energy use.”
While it’s impossible to know exactly what questions will be asked at your customer service interview, you can still go in confident that you know what types of questions will be asked—and what qualities recruiters and hiring managers are really looking for at the end of the day.
Be sure to think about how you’d respond to each of the questions above and recall a few stories that really exemplify your customer service skills. Above all, know why you want this job and why you’re just the right person for it.
Photo of person shaking hands with an interviewer courtesy of MStudioImages/Getty Images.
Regina Borsellino was born and raised in New York before moving to the Washington DC area to get a BA in English Lit from the University of Maryland and an MFA in Fiction from American University. She's excited to be back to a city that's only humid eight months of the year. Before joining The Muse, Regina worked scooping ice cream, attending parking lots, breaking into cars (legally!), opening mail, and editing for InvestorPlace.com.More from this Author