How To Answer Customer Service Interview Questions

How To Answer Customer Service Interview Questions
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By Mike Simpson

When it comes to jobs in the workforce, few positions require an applicant to wear as many hats as those worn by a customer service representative.

Great customer service representatives are often the face and physical representation of an organization, providing the human experience for consumers who are looking for information regarding products and services, placing orders, dealing with problems, issues and complaints and in some cases, processing returns.

In many ways, a really exceptional customer service representative is a bit like the ninja of an organization, ready to assume any role in order to make sure a customer is satisfied with their experience, all while simultaneously preserving and protecting the integrity of the company they’re working for.


Customer service jobs stretch across all sectors, and involve all types of jobs, from retail to food, industrial to scientific, educational, medical, service…basically, if an organization has anything to do with providing a product or service to the public, you can bet there’s a customer service representative somewhere in that mix.

Desirable Traits of a Good Customer Service Representative

A good customer service representative should be someone who is:

  • calm under pressure
  • personable
  • possesses good people skills
  • is attentive to the needs of the consumer
  • patient
  • has a deep understanding and knowledge about the products they are representing as well as of the company they work for
  • is willing to continue to learn and grow
  • has excellent time management skills
  • can think on their feet
  • has a positive attitude
  • is tenacious without being pushy
  • and above all, is patient (did we already say that? Well, that’s why we’re saying it twice…it’s just that important.)

Yes, this list seems overwhelming…but this list is exactly why, when it comes to securing a customer representative position, hiring managers are so particular in who they hire.

It takes a special person to be a customer service representative and a good hiring manager is going to make sure that individual matches up to all those traits.

This list also means that, as a job seeker who is interested in interviewing for a customer service representative position, you should be prepared for an incredibly wide array of potential interview questions.

Luckily, we’re here to help guide you and make sure that your customer representative ninja skills are as sharp as a proverbial katana.

The first thing we need to do is take a quick look at the types of questions you might reasonably expect to answer in a customer service interview, starting with the traditional ones.

We’ve gone over traditional interview questions before, so to quickly recap, traditional interview questions are the ones that basically get the interview machine rolling, the “starter” questions.

These are questions designed to quickly let the interviewer know who you are and what your background and qualification level is before moving into the more in-depth questions like behavioral and situational.

Traditional interview questions are questions like “What is your highest level of education” or “Can you describe what your responsibilities and duties were at your last job for me?”

While these might be considered “ice breaker” questions, they are no less important than any other questions you’ll be answering during your interview and you should make sure you’re prepared to answer them quickly and efficiently.

To brush up on how to answer these and to see an impressive list of example questions and tips and tricks on how to answer them, check out our post on the Top Ten Interview Questions and Answers.

Following the basic round of questions, many hiring managers interviewing potential customer service representatives will then start to really focus in on behavioral and situational questions. Remember, a good customer service representative is like a ninja and these questions are meant to help the hiring manager determine if you’re actually a ninja or just pretending to be one.

So, let’s get started by tackling behavioral questions first. As we’ve discussed before, behavioral questions are questions that allow the hiring manager to see who you really are based on how you’ve handled situations in the past.

This allows them to accurately assess how you’ll act on the job and how you’ll behave when similar situations arise in the future.

These questions usually begin with “Tell me about a time you…” and require you to give an in-depth answer, tailored specifically to the question. Again, we’ve gone over these in depth and you can see all that information here in our blog post Behavioral Questions and Answers 101.

These questions are often followed by the situational questions, questions designed to take the experiences of your past and see how you’ll apply the lessons you’ve learned to potential future scenarios. These are the role-playing questions and while they can seem intimidating at first, we’ve got a sure fire way to make sure you’re ready for them in our blog post Situational Questions and Answers.

As you can see, based on these three distinct types of questions that you should expect to be asked, interviewing for a customer service representative position requires almost as many skills as you’ll need should you ultimately get the job (and since you’re the perfect candidate and have this guide helping you, that shouldn’t be an issue, right?!)

Of course, what good is it if we just pointed you in the direction of all these past blogs we’ve posted and left it at that? Sure, you can read what we’ve already covered (and we strongly suggest you do as they’re stuffed full of valuable information and a wealth of example questions you can practice your own tailored answers with) but that wouldn’t be good customer service on our part…now would it? Of course not! (Ooh, see what we did there?)

That’s why we’re also going to include our top five tips and tricks intended to help you prepare for your customer service representative interview by highlighting the things you should do before you get to the interview!

Not only will you be better prepared to answer any question the interviewer might throw at you, but you’ll also be able to truly target those answers.

But wait, there’s more!

We’ll also follow up those tips and tricks with ten of the most common customer service interview questions along with a brief explanation on why hiring managers ask these questions and what you should focus on when you answer them.

All right ninjas, let’s get going!

Top 5 Tips For Answering Customer Service Questions

1. Be honest with yourself:

This means making sure you’re actually a suitable candidate for a customer service representative position before ever setting foot in a hiring manager’s office.

While this might seem like a no-brainer tip, this is a critical step you should take even before applying for a customer service position, much less accepting an opportunity to interview. Go back over our list of desirable traits for a customer representative and ask yourself honestly if these all apply to you.

Customer representative jobs aren’t always easy and even people who truly posses all the traits and love the job have off days, but for people who have secured these positions without really knowing what the job entails or ensuring they’re the right fit, the job can be downright miserable.

2. Do your homework:

Prepping for your job interview is Interview Guys 101, and something you should be doing without us reminding you, but when it comes to customer service interviews, we’re going to encourage you to go the extra mile and talk to people who are already doing the job for the company you’re interviewing with.

Hopefully you’ll already have a contact who can either help you out or put you in touch with people who can guide you. Get to know what the job is like and what the employees are expected to know. Dig a little deeper than you normally would into what the company stands for and what their history is.

Remember, if you get the job, you’ll be representing the company to the public and that means presenting yourself in a way that aligns with their culture, mission and brand.

3. Guaranteed good idea:

While you’re doing all your interview prep homework, take some time and investigate what the company’s customer service policy is. Not only will you be able to go into the interview with a good idea of what you could possibly be doing in the future, it will help you tailor your situational questions in such a way that they align with the policies and guarantees the company already has in place.

4. Raise your awareness:

Now is also an appropriate time to get to know exactly what products or services you might be expected to deal with. Regardless of what the company is producing, be it a physical product, a less tangible service or a combination of both, knowing exactly what the company produces and how the public interacts with them is critical when it comes to providing customer service.

This will help enable you to better answer the hiring manager’s situational questions with specific, targeted, laser focused answers.

5. Service with a smile:

Hopefully you’ve already completed tip #1 and honestly evaluated whether or not this job is right for you. If it is, then make sure that you’re exemplifying those traits from the absolute very beginning of the interview.

That means participating in the interview as though you already have the job…by showing your interviewer outstanding customer service.

Show up to your interview well dressed and early, make sure you have multiple clean and professional copies of your resume and business card on hand, and start the conversation off with a friendly and firm handshake. Make eye contact, offer genuine smiles, remain engaged in the conversation and answer the questions your hiring manager asks you with confidence and honesty.

Now let’s look at the types of questions you might be asked and why, and what you should consider when answering them!

Top 10 Customer Service Interview Questions

Questions About Your Skills and Qualifications

1. Would you consider yourself a team player?

Why they ask this:

While it might seem like customer service representative jobs are a bit of a lone-wolf situation (after all, it’s usually just you speaking directly with a customer), in actuality there is an entire team at play in every situation, from the customer themselves all the way through the corporate chain of command including management and above, and a hiring manager wants to know ahead of time how you’ll handle that environment.

What you should focus on:

While being self-reliant and able to handle anything that comes your way regardless of how tough the problem is might seem like the right answer, the hiring manager is going to want to know that should you find yourself in a tough spot, you’re flexible enough to be able to turn to others to help.

Place emphasis on your ability to think on your feet, but also on your ability to recognize when you’ve reached your limit and your ability to know when to escalate an issue to a manager or pass off to another representative who is better equipped to handle the situation.

Of course, the opposite is also true. A hiring manager doesn’t want someone who is going to punt the customer to someone else as soon as things get tough. The perfect answer is one that strikes a balance between being too self-reliant and being too indecisive.

2. Why do you want to work as a customer service representative?

Why they ask this:

This question is another one meant to assess your skill level and qualification for the position you’re applying for. While it might seem like they’re asking you why you want to work here (hint: the answer is NOT the unlimited donuts at the break table or the opportunity to get covered parking after working for three months) what they’re really asking is: do you have what it takes to work here.

What you should focus on:

Highlight your skills and how they directly align with the position you’re applying to. Make sure you also include how your personality aligns with the desired traits of the ideal customer service representative.

Traditional / How Well You Understand the Job

3. What does good customer service mean to you?

Why they ask this:

The hiring manager uses this question to determine exactly how far you’ll go to ensure good customer service and how that aligns with the company policy and mission.

What you should focus on:

While it might seem like an obvious answer to just focus on doing your job and doing it well, good customer service is deeper than just checking boxes off on the HR description for your position. Include things like your attitude towards customer service and the people you’ll be encountering as well as your ability to problem solve for them and still maintain the reputation of the company and the products you’re dealing with.

4. Tell me about a time you experienced exceptional customer service and why it was so good.

Why they ask this:

The hiring manager is curious about what you think good customer service is. Beware! This can be a trap question meant to lure you into recalling an event when you had amazing customer service that may or may not have bent the company rules.

What you should focus on:

Don’t tell a story about the time your cousin’s best friend comped your entire group a free meal or how a technician looked the other way and installed an upgraded stereo in your car and only charged you for the base model.

While you might consider those amazing examples of customer service, the company these individuals represented at the time probably wouldn’t.

Focus instead on answers where both the representative and the company treated you with respect and went above and beyond without bending rules or doing anything underhanded or shady. A hiring manager probably won’t offer you a job if they think you’ll do whatever it takes to keep people happy, especially at the expense of the company.

How Well You Know the Company You’re Applying To

5. Sell me our company’s most popular product right now.

Why they ask this:

Remember how we told you in the tips and tricks that it was a good idea to learn everything you could about the company and their products before you go into the interview? This question is why. The hiring manager wants to know if you know what you’re getting into and how much you want this position.

What you should focus on:

Make sure you’re genuinely enthusiastic about both the product and the company and demonstrate a knowledge beyond what any applicant could know simply based on a general awareness of the product. You’ll not only showing motivation and enthusiasm, you’re also proving that you already know how to do the job you’re applying for.

MIKE'S TIP: Call the customer service line of the company you are applying to and pick the representatives brain about all of the products they offer. Take detailed notes. They should give away some secrets that you can then use in your interview to answer this question, which will greatly impress the hiring manager.

6. Tell me why you want to work here.

Why they ask this:

This answer also relies on the homework you did ahead of the interview. While it might seem like the hiring manager wants you to list the benefits of the job (free access to the company gym, unlimited smoothies on Fridays) what they’re really asking is, “Why do you believe you’ll be a good fit for this company?”

What you should focus on:

Don’t focus on what the company will be providing you. Focus instead on what you’re bringing to the company and how it specifically aligns to the job you’re applying to, the company mission and culture.

If you want a more in-depth explanation of how to answer this question, check out our article Why Do You Want to Work Here?

Problem Solving

7. Tell me about a time you had to deal with a customer who was angry.

Why they ask this:

While this might seem like a simple question that should be included in the skills section, this is a question with several other questions wrapped up in layers. Yes, the hiring manager wants to know if you have the skills to do the job, but they also want to know how you solve problems, how you handle conflict, and how well you get all this done while still managing to preserve the integrity of the company within the guidelines of the mission.

What you should focus on:

This question absolutely relies on a concrete solid example from your past. Again, researching the company you’re applying to ahead of time will only help you as you will want to use an example that closely aligns with the policies of the company you’re now applying to.

Make sure your answer includes the situation you were in, the task you were tackling, the action you took and the result of that action. Sound familiar? Brush up on our STAR Method of answering behavioral questions for a refresher as well as other example behavioral questions!

8. Give me an example of a time you couldn’t solve a customer’s problem.

Why they ask this:

This is another problem-solving question wrapped in layers being asked by a hiring manager who is trying to determine exactly how you’ll handle a similar situation should it arise again.

What you should focus on:

Yes, the STAR method applies here as well. Make sure you draw from an experience that include specifics…and be honest. Nobody wants an angry customer but sometimes it’s unavoidable.

As long as you include the specifics of the situation, the task you were tackling, the action you took and the ultimate results of those actions (including, if applicable, what you learned from your unhappy customer) all while demonstrating your ability to problem solve, learn from your mistakes, and ultimately maintain the integrity of the company in a professional way, then this answer could be just as valuable to a hiring manger as 100 stories about how you won the day each and every time.


9. How would you handle a customer you can’t understand?

Why they ask this:

You’re going to be expected to work with a wide variety of personalities and levels of understanding when dealing with customers. The hiring manager wants to know how you will react to specific situations you’ll very likely encounter should you be hired and how well the qualities you possess mesh with the requirements for the position you’ve applied for.

What you should focus on:

For any situational question you’ll want to focus on qualities you possess and how those align with the needs of the company in relation to the job you’re applying to.

With this specific question, the hiring manager is really asking you to demonstrate how well you communicate with customers and how you interpret and address their needs. At it’s core, customer service is all about communication and communication is a quality (there’s that word again) that a hiring manger is absolutely going to be specifically looking for.

It’s also an opportunity for you to demonstrate your flexibility and adaptability (also great qualities) and your ability to think on your feet and work in a team (all equally valuable customer service qualities!) Start with your solution, and then work your answer around to include a specific instance from your past that relates directly to the qualities you’re highlighting in your answer.

10. How would you handle a customer who has asked a question you can’t answer?

Why they ask this:

The hiring manager wants to know how well you can handle placing a customer’s needs over your own situation. While your gut might be to answer “I don’t know (especially if you’re new), no customer wants to actually hear that. Again, remember to focus on qualities, which in this case, are going to be problem solving and adapting as well as teamwork.

What you should focus on:

First off, nobody’s perfect, which means you’re not always going to have the answer to every question that gets thrown your way by customers. Remember, we’re thinking like ninjas, and like a ninja, you’ll need to tuck and roll when confronted with a situation like this.

No, we’re not saying avoid the question by rolling into a ball and bouncing out of the room. Rather, you’re going to want to address the customer’s needs while deflecting your own inability to immediately answer, all while pulling it all together into a solution that works for everybody. The key to questions like this is to remember your goal is to make things right for the customer, and that can mean finding someone who does know the answer.

Putting It All Together

Double whew!

We’ve covered a ton of ground in this post! From discussing what personality traits it takes to be an excellent customer service representative, to running through our best tips and tricks to prepare for a customer service representative interview, to covering the three primary types of questions you might encounter in an interview as well as why hiring managers ask them and how you should focus your answers, we’ve tackled it all!

Of course, when you’re interviewing for a position as varied and multi-dimensional as a customer service representative, it makes sense to cover as wide a variety of types of questions and scenarios as possible! And if you’re still with us, that means you’re not only going to be well prepared for that job interview, but that you’re ready to master the customer service interview ninja skills we’ve discussed here that will help move you from regular job applicant into the Perfect Candidate!

Good luck!

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