Updated 30 September 2020
If you’ve landed yourself an interview for a role that involves a level of customer-facing work, your interviewers are very likely to ask a question about customer service.
Behavioral questions can be tough to answer as there are no right or wrong answers. Carefully thinking through how you might answer a customer service question is the best way to prepare.
Asking questions like “Tell me about your customer service experience” can give the interviewer a really clear idea of your people skills.
When you draw upon your past experiences to answer this question, you are demonstrating that you can evaluate a situation and draw lessons from it to improve for the future.
You’re also revealing aspects of your personality by detailing how you welcomed a customer service problem and your willingness to solve it.
How you react to this difficult question can also show your interviewer how you deal with a challenging situation. Your behavior in a stressful interview situation can reflect your behavior in the workplace.
Your answer to the question 'Tell me about your customer service experience' will reveal how conscientious you are, how you represent your employers and the level of patience you possess.
The STAR technique is a known method of answering interview questions to convey your depth of knowledge and understanding of a situation.
Some employers even specifically request that answers are given in this format.
The STAR acronym stands for:
Read more about the STAR technique in our dedicated article.
Let’s take a look at some typical customer service interview questions to discover why your interviewer might be asking those particular questions and how to answer them using the STAR technique.
Your interviewer wants to see that you have the right motivations for work in this challenging area and that you understand what the job entails.
Answering this question is your chance to show off the experience and skills you have gained in previous customer service roles.
In my previous role at a supermarket, my primary role was to restock shelves and manage the stock rotation. On one occasion, while I was at work, a staff member was off sick, leaving the customer services desk short-staffed.
I was asked to cover the desk with one other member of staff, even though I had no previous experience of customer services at that point.
I had to figure out what was required of a staff member working customer services. I did this by greeting approaching customers politely and carefully listening to their issues.
Due to my inexperience, I had to pass them over to my senior colleague, but I took that opportunity to observe how to deal with issues, and how best to communicate with aggrieved customers to rectify the problem.
I saw first hand how good customer service could please customers and prevent problems from escalating. This experience sparked in me a real interest in customer service, and I went on to transfer permanently to the customer services department of that supermarket to gain further experience. I want to bring the skills I’ve gained to this new role and develop them further.
Your interviewer wants to hear how you deal with a stressful situation and the pressure that comes from having to manage a problematic customer. They need to know that you can remain calm and composed even when in a confrontational situation.
Explaining how you are advocating for both the customer and your employer also comes across well.
When I worked in a fashion retail store, I had a customer return a dress that she had bought for her daughter’s wedding that she discovered had a hole in the seam. She wasn’t able to wear it for the occasion and was very angry as a result.
I had to find a resolution that would satisfy the customer while also upholding the brand image of the company I was working for.
Firstly, I listened carefully to the customer and allowed her to vent her frustrations without interrupting her. I acknowledged why she was upset and assured her that I understood why that was an upsetting situation. I offered to exchange the dress for any other item of clothing in the store. After gaining permission from my manager, I also gifted her a $50 voucher to use on her next visit.
Having felt listened to, the customer calmed down quickly and apologized for being so angry. She accepted the offer of an exchange and was grateful for the voucher. Because of my actions, the brand was seen to rectify an issue and retained a valued customer, who would now return to the store to spend her voucher, and probably more.
Your interviewer is testing your willingness to go the extra mile in your pursuit of good customer service.
Your answer must also show that you can recognize and react to situations that would benefit from this extra effort that makes all the difference for a customer.
I was a waitress in a local restaurant and I took a booking for a large party. I inquired as to the occasion and found out that they were celebrating a member of the party turning fifty.
As well as the exemplary service we usually provided, I wanted to make this celebration extra special for the guests.
I sourced some table decorations to dress the table and also had our chef bake a small cake as a gift from us.
The guests were delighted that we had acknowledged the reason for the booking and had gone out of our way to make their celebration more memorable. The guests also left a very generous tip, and four of them made another booking to return the following week.
This question can trip people up, so answer it carefully.
Your interviewer wants to know that you understand that sometimes the resolution that the customer wants isn’t possible, but you must still respond graciously and remain calm regardless.
If you boast that there is no customer service problem that you can’t solve, you will come across as slightly arrogant and a tad unrealistic.
In my last role, I worked as a call operative for a travel company. I received a call from an angry gentleman whose flight had been canceled, meaning that he could no longer take his vacation.
Although the airline cancellation was out of our hands, as our customer’s booking was through us, I had to deal with the complaint. The caller was not able to change the dates of his vacation due to work commitments.
I listened to the caller’s complaint and acknowledged that this was a very stressful situation for him. I apologized on behalf of the airline. I explained that unfortunately, the matter was out of our hands, but we could assist him in transferring the vacation to alternative dates.
However, he was only available to fly out on those dates and so we were unable to offer a suitable alternative.
After consulting with my superior, I had to explain to the gentleman that, in this instance, we would be happy to provide a refund for the vacation, but we were unable to offer a different trip on those same dates. I carried out the refund and also emailed a discount coupon to him as an additional goodwill gesture.
The caller was still disappointed as he left the call, but he did acknowledge that there was no more that we could do at that time. I felt that I had offered a sincere apology and that I had also made my manager aware to check that I was giving the correct information.
Good customer service relies on effort from the whole team, and your interviewer wants to know that you can be a team player.
There are times when colleagues may be in a difficult situation, and you can step in or support them in handling a demanding customer. This willingness to support colleagues helps the company present a united front.
I was working in a department store over the busy period of Black Friday sales, and the store was exceptionally busy. We had more than double the number of customers in the store than we would have on an average day, and we were struggling to serve them all. I was stocking shelves and assisting customers on the shop floor, and I could see that queues were forming at the checkouts, and customers were getting impatient.
I could see that my colleagues at the checkouts were overwhelmed and were struggling to cope with the volume of customers waiting to pay. They were also receiving complaints from customers unhappy with the wait.
When I had quiet moments on the shop floor, I went over to the checkout area and apologized to the queueing customers, then assisted with bagging items to speed up the checkout process and get customers through quicker.
The customers seemed to appreciate someone acknowledging that they had to wait longer than usual, and this meant that fewer of them complained when they reached the checkout. The overall process was also quicker so the queues cleared, and it took some pressure off of my colleagues.
As well as preparing some suitable responses, it’s also worth thinking about what not to say in your interview.
Here are some examples of which answers you are best to avoid:
Avoid giving answers that suggest you take matters into your own hands and make grand gestures or decisions that you don’t have the authority to make. If you are the successful candidate, you will be working under a hierarchy of staff members and you need to know your place within that chain of command. Sometimes, when dealing with a difficult customer, you will exhaust your options and have to defer to your supervisor – it’s ok to say this if a question requires it.
Never say that you shouted at a customer or lost your cool (if that is the case, you’re probably in the wrong line of work anyway). Two of the essential qualities of a good customer service representative are patience and the ability to stay calm. It’s not always easy to do, and that’s why customer service is considered a tricky role, but your interviewer will be specifically looking for the ways you handle conflict.
Even if you’re confident in your skills and ability, avoid saying that you handle every situation yourself and like it when colleagues do as you say. Customer service relies on teamwork, and employees who feel that they know better than everyone else might be better suited to a different role.
Don't admit to telling a customer whatever they want to hear to make them leave the store or finish the call. Lying to a customer is very bad for business and customer service managers know that this approach always has repercussions. When the customer finds out that you can’t fulfill your promises or deliver on what you said, they will be more dissatisfied and angrier than they were before. You are essentially passing the problem on to someone else and magnifying it in the process.
Here are three top tips to remember when answering a customer service interview question:
Base your answer on a real experience you had and keep the details accurate.
Remember that your interviewers are the experts and there is probably no customer service dilemma they haven’t seen.
If you embellish your story to make yourself sound better, they’ll see through this and lose trust in you.
If you stick with the STAR method when formulating an answer, you’ll give a logical and thorough answer that demonstrates your understanding of a situation, your ability to solve the problem and how you evaluate the results afterward.
Your interviewers will be assessing more than just your answers. They will also be watching how you deal with the pressure of the interview, whether you can articulate yourself well, and if you are personable enough to be able to communicate easily with members of the public.
All these skills are important to be successful as a customer service representative, so this is your chance to show that you are the ideal candidate for the role.
‘Tell me about your customer service experience’ is a tough interview question, as it relies on your ability to identify and evaluate past experiences that relate to the role for which you’re applying.
To prepare for this question, and others like it, think through a few scenarios that you can relay to your interviewers to show that you have a good understanding of what the customer service role entails.
Remember, they are looking for a calm and measured candidate who works well under pressure, so demonstrate this in your interview.
If you can portray a genuine enthusiasm for helping improve customer satisfaction, this will shine through and is just as important as the answers you give. Good luck.
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