Customer Service Skills and Interview Questions

Mary Gormandy White

For many positions, when hiring a new employee, customer service skills and interview questions should go hand in hand. It can be difficult, however, to evaluate a person's customer service skills just from asking questions about his or her past work experience, so it's important to ask questions that will shed light on how the candidate serves customers or clients.

Behavior Based Interviewing to Assess Customer Service Skills

One of the best techniques for determining how a prospective employee will handle customer service situations on the job is by using the behavior based interviewing technique.

What is Behavior Based Interviewing?

Behavior based interviewing is a three part questioning technique that involves asking a prospective employee to tell you about a situation he or she has faced in the past, explain how he or she handled it, and then describe the outcome. The theory behind this interviewing method is the idea that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

Why Use Behavior Based Interviewing?

Using this questioning technique provides more of a sense of how applicants will handle situations that come up on the job than if you ask questions they can answer with a simple yes or no. It is easy for applicants to tell you that they have excellent customer service skills and that they have professional customer communication skills. It is another matter entirely for them extrapolate a problem situation they faced in real life with a customer, provide the details of how they handled the problem to execute a solution, and share the outcome of their actions.

What to Ask

The best way to prepare to interview candidates for a particular job is to think about the most important customer service skills that the person you hire will need. Make a list of the necessary customer service skills and interview questions that can help you identify how a candidate has reacted to similar situations in past jobs.

Customer Service Skills and Interview Questions That Address Them

Skill: Ability to Deliver Bad News to Customer

  • Sample Behavior Based Interview Questions:

Tell me about a time that you had to turn down a customer's request. How did you convey the bad news to the customer? What was the customer's response?

Skill: Ability to Ask for a Referral

  • Sample Behavior Based Interview Questions:

Tell me about a time that you asked a current customer to share information about your company with friends or coworkers. How did you approach asking for the referral? What was the outcome?

Skill: Ability to Communicate with an Angry Customer

  • Sample Behavior Based Interview Questions:

I'm sure you've dealt with customers who were less than happy during your retail career. Describe a situation in which a customer made a complaint directly to you. How did you respond to the customer? What was the end result of the interaction?

Skill: Ability to Make Customers Feel Special

  • Behavior Based Interview Questions:

Tell me about customers with whom you interact frequently. Describe how you let them know that you value their repeat business. How do you greet them when they call or visit your place of business? How do they respond?

Resources for Interviewing to Assess Customer Service Skills

There are many online and offline resources that can provide you with ideas of the types of questions to ask when trying to tap into an applicant's customer service skills.

Recommended Books

Online References

  • Monster.com features a list of sample questions to assess different types of customer service skills.
  • Business News Daily offers tips on how to successfully interview job candidates.
  • ManagementHelp.org has a number of articles on effectively interviewing job applicants.

Hiring the Best Candidates for the Job

Don't forget how important it is to really listen to how applicants respond to the interview questions. Managers often spend so much time focusing on asking the right questions that they don't pay enough attention to what applicants say. You don't want to hire employees that won't pull their weight when it comes to customer service.

Focus on how candidates respond. Don't just listen to their words. Watch for the nonverbal aspects of their responses. Keep in mind that tone of voice, body language, and other nonverbal messages play an important role in providing good customer service.

Customer Service Skills and Interview Questions