Customer service interview questions that every hiring manager should ask

Hiring for customer service is a challenging task. From writing the job description to posting it, selecting resumes, and interviewing individual candidates who fit the profile with the right set of customer service questions, the hiring process can be a daunting task.

The most time-consuming step in the entire process is sifting through hundreds of applications to figure out who could potentially be a good fit. At SupportBee, we have an initial filter for resume selection that makes the job go much quicker. In the ‘How to apply’ section of our job posting, we present a few questions and request candidates to answer these questions in their cover letter to us. It is surprising how many candidates completely miss that part! In our experience, out of one hundred applicants, four will answer the questions. Either the other ninety six didn’t pay enough attention to our job post (poor attention to detail is especially unacceptable) or they skipped that part because they are not sure about the answers for the questions asked. In either case, they are not the right fit for us, and it becomes a good filter to weed out the unacceptable applicants.

Customer service questions for resume selection

In addition to helping us weed out unacceptable applicants, these questions are constructed in such a way as to help us understand the applicants and their mindsets better. Here are the three questions that we ask every applicant. We strictly do not interview candidates who skip answering these questions.

  • A customer is reporting that a notification email arrived late in their inbox. How would you go about debugging this?

  • If you could build any product or service, what would it be?

  • Recommend a book that you have read, and also tell us why that is your choice.

Question 1 objective: Test troubleshooting ability

A customer is reporting that a notification email arrived late in their inbox. How would you go about debugging this?

In a Software as a Service (SAAS) set up, where the supported product is fairly technical, it is important for the customer service person to possess product knowledge and troubleshooting abilities. In most cases, troubleshooting will boil down to having the ability to ask the right questions in Google, and then handle the situation reported by the customer. Even if a support person does not have the ability to solve a technical issue, they should possess enough skills to be able to understand where the problem lies and reproduce it before they report to the technical team for resolution.

The first question we have asked represents a typical customer service scenario in a product like SupportBee where customers complain about delayed email notifications. The right candidate will be able to come up with the steps they would take to investigate, or better understand the problem.

Depending on your product or domain, you can come up with a similar question to test the candidate’s ability to handle a commonly reported customer issue.

Question 2 objective: Understanding the mindset

If you could build any product or service, what would it be?

If you want to build a diverse team, you need a combination of some pragmatic and some creative people working together towards the same goals. This question of what they would like to build if they could build anything, gives a good peek into the applicant’s mindset. Are they creative? Are they practical in what they want to solve? What is their understanding of the product/business/consumer landscape? How aware are they?

These are some of the aspects about the candidate that get revealed when they answer the question.

We have not rejected or accepted anybody solely based on the answer to this question; however, this is a good indicator of what they will bring to the team in terms of diversity and attitude.

Here are some of the interesting answers we received in the past:

“If we are talking about anything no matter how far fetched it is, and without any concern for the technical feasibility of the invention I would build a teleportation machine. The consequences would be marvelous. The world would become smaller in a sense, people would bond across borders easier than ever before. One could get up in the morning to go to work in the US and have a family dinner at home in Colombia at night. People would speak more languages and have a more diverse culture. The exchange of goods and services would increase rapidly and the overall wealth of all people around the world would increase with it. All together I think it would make the world a better place”

“If I could build anything, provided that I had unlimited resources and funds, I would build the first fully functional and fully proficient VR operating system. (I know they're in the works, but how cool would it be to beat the big tech companies to the punch!)”

“I'd build an application that integrates into Apple Pay and Google Pay that allows consumers to pay in real-time with a crypto-currency of their choice (bitcoin, ethereum, litecoin). The application would connect to a service that accepts the payment coin and pays the vendor in cash almost working as a middle man exchange. The point of the application is to allow crypto-currency payments on the existing point-of-sell infrastructure, to further push crypto payment adoption.”

Question 3 objective: Check learning ability

Recommend a book that you have read, and also tell us why that is your choice.

Learning is a continuous process. Whether it is personal development or career development, books play a huge role in influencing a person, and the answer to this question reveals if a person has that learning mindset. This doesn’t mean that being an avid reader is a prerequisite for customer service in SupportBee. In fact, a former employee answered this question with, “I don’t care to read books.” One needs only to have some open channel for gaining knowledge.

And here’s an interesting answer from another applicant:

“Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. (By Yuval Noah Harari). In my opinion it is a marvelous explanation of why the world is the way it is and works the way it works. It shows how events through history have shaped the world into its current state. But more importantly it shows us without doubt that the world is constantly evolving and that every single time people think the world has reached its peak on development or science, history proves us wrong. This thought can be scary to some, I know I personally find it a bit scary, but mostly I find it hopeful because it means that there is always something new waiting to be invented, to be build, to be created, to be discovered, and that means there is always opportunity”

Interview questions that every hiring manager should ask a candidate for customer service

Once you have gone through the process of selecting the potential candidates from the pool of applicants, the next step would be to interview those candidates. Here is the list of questions that you can start with, and follow up on, once the conversation starts rolling.

General awareness and communication

  • Tell us more about yourself

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

The idea behind the first question is to see if the candidate can communicate clearly. Since it is an open-ended question, many tend to ramble on, adding lots of unnecessary details. It is important to hire somebody who will keep their answers relevant and coherent, in customer service, because this skill will be required to handle open-ended questions about the product from customers, whether over a phone call or email.

The second question will do a great deal in helping you understand whether or not a candidate is self-aware. This question tends to elicit cliched responses, but a candidate with some genuine experience and introspection will be able to let you know what their weaknesses have been, and how (or, indeed, if) they overcame it.

Attitude towards work

  • What are your current/previous job responsibilities? What are you most proud of?

  • Why are you looking for a different job?

These questions will help you understand their attitude towards work. The question about what they are proud of, in particular, will let you know how much satisfaction they derive from their profession, and in turn how much they care for what they do every day.

The question about why they are looking for a different job will help you understand their motivation behind the switch and can speak to their dependability. At SupportBee, we don’t need someone who is willing to commit their entire life to the organization. At the same time, we want someone who is dependable enough to make an effort to keep on good terms, if and when they do decide to find work elsewhere.

About customer service

  • What does good customer service mean to you?

  • What has been a good customer experience that has personally impressed you?

At the end of the day, this is a role for customer service, and hence you need to see if their idea of good customer service matches the bar that you have set for yourself. As a first step, a candidate should be able to appreciate good service before they are able to emulate it in their own jobs. They need to have an understanding of what they are striving for before they can excel at the job.

Ability to work in a team

  • Who are some of the best people you have worked with? What have you learned from them?

Good team players have the ability to learn from others, and also have the humility to attribute their learning and growth to other members of the team. A candidate’s answer to this question will say a great deal about their ability to work in teams.

Product understanding

  • Have you used any SAAS product before? What do you like or not like about it?

If the role that you are hiring for demands for detailed product knowledge and understanding, it is best to ask some questions to gauge their grasp of the landscape. If a candidate is able to convincingly articulate what they like or dislike about any product that they have used, you can reasonably assume that they will be able to bring that understanding for your product(s) as well.

Once you have filtered out the better candidates after an interview, it would help to put them through a customer service scenario test to be completely sure about their fit in your organization.

Nithya Rajaram

Nithya Rajaram