Thanks to an already thriving gig economy and our new post-pandemic remote work culture, people are more connected to each other than ever before.
This connection is a boon for eCommerce businesses as they now have the opportunity to build strong relationships with their customers through online channels such as email, phone calls, and live webchat.
But these connections don’t make the human touch of excellent customer service irrelevant. These new initiatives demand more customer service reps who can provide relevant information on any topic.
As your eCommerce business grows, customer service reps should be near the top of your to-hire list.
But where do you begin in the interview process?
Interview processes are just as much for finding great talent as they are for weeding out bad fits.
In this post, we’ll get into the specifics of:
- How to effectively weed out poor candidates
- 25 examples of the best customer service interview questions
- The criteria that make a good candidate
Why Is It So Critical to Hire Skilled Customer Reps?
As eCommerce businesses become increasingly customer-centric, excellent customer service skills are a must-have. They are vital to increased revenue and the foundation of a good customer experience.
Your reps must be skilled and knowledgeable in various areas to provide the best customer service. They should respond effectively to emails, phone calls, and live web chats.
Additionally, they should handle complex inquiries and anticipate objections and deeper issues.
Finally, they should also upsell and cross-sell products or services to the customer.
How Do I Prepare for Customer Service Interviews?
First, think about what you’re looking for in a candidate.
- Do they have excellent communication skills?
- Are they patient and friendly?
- Can they stay calm under pressure?
It’s hard to hit a target that doesn’t exist. Create an avatar of sorts of your ideal customer service rep.
It’s also essential to review the job description and responsibilities in detail. This will help you develop a set of questions that will assess whether the candidate has the skills required for the position.
Finally, look out for red flags. Sometimes a candidate may have excellent skills but poor customer service etiquette. Be on the lookout for any cues — verbal or nonverbal — that signal a lack of empathy, a low-stress tolerance, or rudeness.
How Do I Weed Out Candidates in my Interview Process?
Hiring is expensive and time-consuming. If you can eliminate poor candidates as quickly and efficiently as possible, you’ll mitigate some of the cost of finding new talent.
“Hire slow and fire fast.” This adage couldn’t be more true than in the case of customer service.
Take Zappos, for example. They’re a company that’s world-renowned for their customer service.
They’ve developed a proven process for finding the best talent in the world and quickly weeding out the bad fits.
First, they require all candidates to go through a rigorous phone interview. This helps them assess whether the candidate has excellent communication skills and can think on their feet.
Next, they have a series of questions designed to test the candidate’s knowledge about the product and their ability to resolve customer issues.
Finally, they ask the candidates some situational questions to see how they would handle challenging customer service scenarios.
This rubric is an excellent template for any eCommerce business looking to hire quality reps:
- A qualifying phone interview
- A test of product and service knowledge
- Scenario-based and situational thinking assessment
By asking the right questions and assessing the candidates’ skills, you can easily weed out those who may not be a good fit for the job.
Humans connect well with real-life stories. Therefore, make your questions as narratively driven as possible.
Ask for real-life examples of how they’ve overcome professional obstacles, shown empathy, or gone above and beyond for customers.
Finally, don’t skimp on checking references. We’ve heard some horror stories of candidates charming the interview staff to get the hire but quickly turning after signing the paperwork.
Once you have a good idea of what you’re looking for, it’s time to create some specific interview questions. You can always go off the beaten path in your interview conversations, but it’s a best practice to have a script to fall back on.
You can ask general questions about their experience or get specific and ask them how they would handle a particular situation.
20 Best Customer Service Interview Questions
Need a starting point? Here are 20 open-ended interview questions that can help you determine the quality of your interviewee:
- What does customer service mean to you?
- Tell me about any occasions where you had to explain something complicated to a frustrated peer or customer. How did you successfully convey the information?
- What relevant qualifications do you have for the job?
- What experience and skills do you have that make you a good fit for the position?
- Can you tell me about your most challenging customer service interaction and how you handled it?
- What does a typical day in customer service look like for you?
- What’s the difference between good and bad customer service?
- How would you handle an angry or belligerent customer?
- Are there circumstances where you think the customer isn’t always right? If so, please elaborate.
- What do you think sets your customer service apart from the competition?
- How would you rate your patience when dealing with demanding customers?
- When was the last time you went above and beyond for a customer?
- Give me an example of when you had to use your problem-solving skills to resolve a customer issue.
- Give me an example where you did not meet a client’s expectations. What happened, and how did you attempt to fix the situation?
- What is your biggest pet peeve regarding other people’s behavior at work or when dealing with clients?
- What did success look like in your previous role?
- What do you do if you don’t know the answer to a customer’s question?
- What would you do if a client points out a significant issue with a service or product?
- What would you do if you saw a coworker being rude to a customer?
- When you work with many customers, it’s challenging to provide excellent service to all. How do you prioritize customer needs?
The best way to find a suitable candidate is by asking them questions directly relevant to their skills and experience.
However, you should also consider things like what they do in their free time or if they have any hobbies outside of work.
This information (and how they answer it) will help you understand them better as people, not just employees.
Asking the right questions is just one part of the equation. Next, you have to listen to their responses carefully — and perhaps more important, how they respond.
What Are “Good” Answers To Customer Service Questions?
There are hundreds of favorable responses to the above questions, so it’s tough to pin down precisely what a “good” answer might be to each of them.
When you’re assessing a candidate’s answers, there are a few things to keep in mind:
A good customer service representative should be passionate about helping and interacting with customers. They should enjoy going the extra mile to help resolve an issue and make sure the customer is happy.
If the interviewee answers all your questions in an unbothered, monotone way, how can you expect them to be passionate during actual customer interactions?
Customer service representatives require excellent communication, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills.
This goes for both verbal and written communication skills. Depending on your business model, you may consider implementing a written test as part of the hiring process.
A good customer service rep needs to have a deep understanding of your particular business. It’s not enough to just be pleasant to speak with — they need to know the ins and outs of how your operation works. If they come into the interview having done their research, that’s a good sign.
Customers are like horses — they can smell fear. In all seriousness, if someone can’t be confident in an interview, there’s no chance they’ll be confident in a high-stress customer support scenario.
When the customer service rep loses confidence, the customer’s trust is soon to follow. This skill can take some practice and training, but once you find someone who has the right attitude and can handle demanding customers (regardless of the situation), they’re priceless.
What Makes a Good Candidate?
A good customer service candidate should exhibit the following attributes:
- A perpetually positive attitude
- A growth mindset (“we can solve this together”) as opposed to a fixed mindset (focusing on the problems)
- A long fuse and high-stress tolerance
- Practical skills and expertise in dealing with customers
- A deep understanding of how your business works
- Humility and willingness to learn
- A passion for seeing customers succeed
What Else is Important to the Interview Process?
Other relevant experiences can play into the interview process. For instance, someone just out of college may not have worked at all yet, but they may have volunteered extensively and been a part of customer service-oriented clubs or organizations.
These initiatives demonstrate that they are interested in helping others and have the necessary skills, professional.
Here’s another tactic for those looking to shake things up. Try to take your interviewee off balance in the interview. Ask them something unexpected or off the wall.
Randomly change interview locations. Create a space of uncertainty to see how they respond. Pay close attention to how they react or if they get unsettled.
This tactic may seem a bit cruel, but you’re simply seeing how they perform in unfamiliar contexts. Keep things professional, but don’t be afraid to simulate the unpredictable nature of a customer experience.
How they respond to these stimuli may be a significant clue to how they’ll react in stressful situations.
We once worked with a software company that valued flexibility and “rolling with the punches” as part of their office culture. During interviews, another employee would don a full-body polar bear costume and walk by the windowed conference room in plain sight of the interviewee.
How the candidate responded to this playful gag was a small but relevant clue to how well they’d fit in with the office culture.
What Are Some Examples of Red Flags?
Here are some examples of red flags in customer service interviews. Please note: any single one of these probably shouldn’t disqualify a given candidate. When they start piling up, however, that’s a bad sign.
- The candidate is unprepared or has no relevant customer service experience
- The candidate bashes or badmouths a previous manager or employer
- The candidate has lackluster answers to scenario-based questions
- The candidate gets easily flustered, annoyed, or defensive (this is a big one)
- The candidate is either too overconfident (arrogant) or unsure of themselves
- The candidate has no clue how your business functions
How Many Candidates Should I Interview for this Position?
A big mistake we see companies make is only interviewing one person, falling in love with them, and hiring them immediately because of the urgent customer service need.
If there’s one piece of advice we can offer: trust the process.
In 2022, finding top talent at a great price is more challenging than it’s ever been. Take your time, gather at least 8-10 qualified resumes, and systematically go through the vetting process.
Be patient. The right employee will understand the need for you to follow the interview process, even if it means waiting an extra week to hire them.
Should I Ask About Their Software Skills?
While customer service skills are essential, you may also want to consider if the candidate has any experience using software related to your business.
These are tools like a CRM (customer relationship management) system or ordering/inventory software. Most organizations use electronic customer service platforms (such as Zendesk). These aren’t hard to learn for most folks, but any existing experience certainly can’t hurt.
Hiring customer service representatives can be a daunting task, but by asking the right questions and looking for the right signs, you can easily find someone who will be an asset to your team.
What If a Candidate Doesn’t Have Experience?
If someone is an absolute rockstar in the interview, checks all the boxes, and has stellar references, it may warrant taking a chance on them — even if they have no professional customer service experience.
In our experience, these (often younger) employees are hungry to learn and humble. They’re also clean slates, allowing you to teach them customer service best practices without the need to undo any bad habits.
Customer-centricity (and therefore customer service) is one of the most important aspects of any business. Remember these critical takeaways:
- Conceptualize your ideal customer service rep
- Have a script of questions to fall back on
- Pay attention to verbal and non-verbal red flags
- Trust (and don’t rush) the process
About SkuVaultSkuVault offers inventory management software specifically designed for eCommerce sellers. We help you solve the issues upstream from frustrated customers — things like avoiding stock-outs, tracking all your products, and providing multichannel support.
If you would like to know more about our extensive features and how we can help your eCommerce business grow, check out our pricing page to learn more.
Here are a few more commonly asked questions about customer service interviews.
What questions are asked in a customer service interview?
Some common questions asked in customer service interviews include:
- Why do you want to work in customer service?
- What experience do you have with customers?
- How would you handle a difficult situation with a customer?
- Can you give me an example of a time when you went above and beyond for a customer?
What are the three essential qualities of customer service?
Three qualities that are important for customer service representatives include:
- Good communication skills
How many customer service interview questions should you ask?
Generally, you should prepare more questions than you’ll need (around 15-20). Depending on the flow of conversation, the personality of the interviewee, and any rabbit trails you want to go down, you may only end up going through 2-3 questions before the interview time is over.
How long does an interview take?
The length will depend on how many people are in your team and how much information is needed. However, it’s always a good idea to have a standard amount of time that you allot for each interview.
It’s tough to stay focused and energized for longer than one hour, so that’s the typical time frame for an in-person interview (probably 30 minutes for a phone interview).
How do you find out if the candidate has customer focus?
Scenario-based questions — asking the candidate to recall specific incidences of customer support or problem-solving — is often the best way to uncover their attitudes toward customers in their own words.