In the online sphere there’s always a guru waxing lyrical about what it takes to run a successful business. Mostly you hear the same stuff: a clear vision, a great product, a smart marketing strategy… lots of Bitcoin.
That’s all pretty much true, minus the Bitcoin. But there is one thing we think is often overlooked that we pride ourselves on here at Paperform: customer service.
Customer service is the public face of your company and the key ingredient to every successful business, from Apple to your local independent cafe. When done well, it can help build brand loyalty, improve retention and acquisition, and send customer satisfaction through the roof.
Excellent customer service takes a lot of different things, which we'll cover in this post. But above all, it requires excellent customer service representatives. This means it’s up to you to identify talent and make the right hiring choices.
To make sure the interview process goes smoothly we’ve put together questions you should ask in any customer service interview, along with some helpful insights from our own Customer Success Lead, Jo Roque.
What to look for in a customer service representative
Not every Tom, Dick or Harriet makes a great customer service rep— it takes a set of skills that only certain people possess. The last thing you want is to hire a person not fit for the role and end up wasting their time and yours.
There are a few qualities that you should be looking out for.
- Communication skills. The person you hire will deal with customers all day every day, so it’s a prerequisite that they are able to communicate clearly and express themselves effectively. This means your ideal hire is articulate and also listens well, because communication and talking aren’t the same thing.
- Problem-solving skills. No matter how great your product or service is, most of your customer service team’s day is spent dealing with customer enquiries and complaints. A customer service rep needs to be calm under pressure and be able to quickly help identify problems, and work to find solutions.
- People skills. This one is a bit more vague and difficult to measure. It’s more of a “feeling” you get when you interview someone. Are they patient? Warm? Friendly? Try to visualize them as in a customer-facing role and ask yourself whether you would be comfortable with them in that position.
- Emotional Intelligence. Empathy is a crucial factor in providing great customer support. The best support reps are able to empathise with the feelings of others, understand their emotions and respond in an appropriate way. It’s the golden goose when it comes to keeping customers happy and making sure they feel understood.
"Good communication skills might seem like an obvious necessity, but I really can't stress just how important they are for any customer service role.
It also ties in with the ability to clearly and confidently set expectations with customers, whether that's letting them know when to expect a reply, an update on the status of their request, or a resolution." — Jo Roque, Customer Success Lead at Paperform.
Of course, there’s plenty of other things to be on the lookout for—a willingness to learn and a positive attitude can take someone a long way.
But keeping an eye out for these qualities in your customer service representative interviews will put you in good stead to find the right folks for the job.
4 quick recruitment tips
Before you start the interview process you first need to put up a job description, sort through hundreds of resumes, and pick a shortlist of folks you think might have what it takes to be your new customer service rep.
Here’s a few quick tips that can help you throughout the pre-interview process and help identify the best talent possible.
1. Identify what skills you require
So you already know the general traits you’re after because we covered that above. But what characteristics and concrete skills are you looking for beyond that?
Do you just need a general customer service rep? Maybe you really need someone who knows their way around Intercom, or a social media wiz to run your new Twitter support page.
The chances are your role will have some technical skills or experience required. It will depend on the kind of role you’re hiring. But figuring out what these are will help weed out people unsuitable for the role and help craft a good job description.
job application form
2. Create a job description that stands out
Now you’ve got to put all that into a short and sharp job description. You might be tempted to upload a boring description of the role, but that doesn’t quite cut it in 2021.
You want to spark a meaningful connection that will attract the best candidates. To do that you’ll need to write a curated job description that gives them a distinct feel for your company culture and the values you uphold. When writing a job description, consider the following rules of thumb:
- Create a clear title
- Include skill and education requirements
- Keep it gender non-specific
- Outline daily routine
- Provide salary range
- Avoid jargon
3. Leverage your connections
You might be able to find some talent by tapping in to your own professional network, whether it’s LinkedIn connections, Twitter followers or Facebook friends.
It isn’t just limited to social media either. Posting on socials is one thing, but also let people know you’re hiring in the real world. You never know who your friends might know, or which industry pals might have great recommendations.
Word-of-mouth works wonders. Leave no stone unturned— the more proactive and open you are with your hiring goals, the more chance you have of finding an awesome candidate.
4. Screen candidates with simple tests
A quick little test is a great way to scare away unmotivated job searchers. We aren’t talking about anything too intensive, just a small task related to the job to see if they are serious about working with you.
For example, you might include a short quiz to gauge how they would respond to a few customer service based scenarios. With a tool like Paperform you could create one in a few minutes and send it straight to their email inbox.
This is a great way for you to get a feel for the candidate, and also for candidates to see the way your business operates.
Types of questions to ask
There are a range of different question types. We recommend you ask a mix of behavioural, situational and competency-based questions in your customer service interviews.
- Situational questions ask candidates how they would approach a specific situation and deal with a problem. An example: “How would you handle an angry customer?”
- Behavioural questions ask how they have approached challenging situations in their previous roles. An example: “Can you give me an example of when you used problem-solving skills to help a customer?”
- Competency-based questions examine whether the candidate has the right skills, knowledge or attributes to be successful in the role. “Describe a situation when you completed a project while meeting a strict deadline.”
Keep in mind that these definitions are more fluid than they appear. Often questions won’t fit a single category and that’s nothing to worry about. You’re just trying to get the most fully rounded idea of the candidates that you possibly can.
"Asking behavioural and situational questions during the interview process is critical. I think of it kind of like being a maths teacher.
We don't just want the "right" answers, we want to see that candidates can outline the correct steps to the resolution. This is a critical part of customer service success and building rapport with our customers." — Jo Roque, Customer Success Lead at Paperform.
The 16 customer service interview questions you need to ask during interviews
Now we’ve covered the basics, let’s take a look at the interview questions you’ll be asking potential candidates. While these are real job interview questions, it's not possible to ask every one in a single interview—choose at your own discretion.
1. How would you describe good customer service?
This is a great way to get the conversation started, and can also be super revealing. Right from the get-go, the candidate’s response will help you determine their values and whether your customer service philosophy lines up with theirs.
For example your dream candidate might say something along the lines of:
“For me customer service is about ensuring the customer experience is as smooth as possible. It’s our job to listen to client enquiries, empathise with their concerns and then work to find the right solution for their individual circumstance. Most of all, I think good customer service always leaves customers with a smile on their face.”
(If someone answers like this during one of your job interviews you might just want to hire them on the spot.)
2. What does customer service mean to you?
This old chestnut is used as a way for the hiring manager to evaluate a candidate’s mindset. At first this can seem to be similar to the question above, but it is asking a far more personal answer.
Here the interviewer isn’t asking for a definition. They’re asking what it means to the candidate. It requires introspection and offers a look at the candidate’s attitude, and passion for the role (and customer service in general.)
interview questionnaire form
3. What do you know about our company’s products or services?
We all know that when applying for jobs most folks just toss their resume at anything with a “We’re Hiring” sign. That’s fine. But any serious candidate will take the time to research your company before the interview.
By asking this question you can identify whether the candidate has a strong interest in this particular customer service role, or if they’re just throwing their hat in the ring and looking for any customer service position that’s up for grabs.
"When candidates have taken a few minutes to get an idea of the company before the interview it makes a strong impression.
I would never expect anyone to be able to give a full presentation on the ins and outs of our product—but it's a great way to show initiative." — Jo Roque, Customer Success Lead at Paperform.
For example, if someone was applying for a position at Paperform, we would expect them to have taken at least a few minutes to get an idea of our product and be able to give a general overview of our services.
You’re looking for candidates to tell you why they want your customer service role, not any ol’ job they stumbled across on LinkedIn.
4. Can you give us an example of a time when you experienced poor customer service? How could it have gone better?
We can all recall a time when we received subpar customer service— a wrong order at a cafe, a terrible experience with an internet provider, a rude waiter at a local bar.
These moments stick in our minds, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for your candidate to reflect on their own personal experiences. The tough part comes in analysing the shortcomings of the interaction and coming up with their own ideal solution.
As an interviewer, you’re looking for a few things. Namely, you want the candidate to demonstrate their problem-solving skills and show that they can identify instances of poor customer service, and come up with a more positive outcome.
5. Give us an example of a time you experienced excellent customer service. Can you identify what made it so memorable?
This question is the yin to the previous one’s yang. Here you hope your candidate is able to show they understand good customer service when they see it out in the wild.
Ideal candidates will bring up times when a customer service rep and their business went above and beyond to help them out. It could be an incredible trip to the Apple Store when they got a free repair on their iPhone, or a mechanic that towed their car for free.
Form a better life now.
Whatever they mention, it should clearly be an occasion where they were on the receiving end of great customer service skills. Consider it a huge red flag if the only thing they mention is when their mate gave them a free thick shake at McDonald’s.
If their example bends the rules then it could mean they’re happy to bend the rules for someone else. (Obviously a big no-no in any business.)
“Give me an example of a time...” questions are common behavioral interview questions. We could add entries for each one, but you get the gist. They’re a great way to see if people know how to help unhappy customers in difficult situations.
6. What would you do if you didn’t know how to solve a customer’s problem?
We’ll let you in on a secret: customer service reps don’t always have all the answers. Despite how amazing our support team is, they are always learning new things from each other and our customers. It’s part and parcel of the customer support game.
"The right candidates will be able to manage customer expectations with honesty and confidence.
I would be looking for them to display the ability to communicate clearly and adapt on the fly to solve the issue, leaving the customer with a sense of accomplishment and success." — Jo Roque, Customer Success Lead at Paperform.
This question gives you an idea of how the candidate deals with times they're faced with something they’ve got no clue how to fix. Will they use problem-solving skills to find a solution? Or close their computer and pretend nothing is wrong?
7. Would you describe yourself as a people person?
Hiring someone who isn’t a “people person” to be a customer service representative is like hiring someone to be a dog walker who isn’t a “dog person”— barking mad.
The best customer service folks have a passion for helping others. They give support with a smile and genuinely want to help people find the right solution. (That does not mean that every second of their life is sunshine and rainbows.)
Technical skills and product knowledge can be taught. But being a people person is not always something you can teach someone in an onboarding process. How they answer this question can help see if you’ve found a good fit.
8. What’s your method for de-escalating an angry customer?
No matter how perfect your business is, every once in a while customers get mad. It might be because they’ve had a rough day and decided to take it out on your friendly customer service reps, or you might occasionally be in the wrong (shocking.)
Either way, it’s critical that your customer service employees can keep their cool in these kinds of situations. It doesn’t mean they should be prepared to be a punching bag. They do, however, need to be comfortable dealing with difficult customers.
"At the end of the day, as a Customer Success team, we have to have self respect. Yes we are here to help, yes it's our job to listen to complaints, and yes we have to empathise with irate customers.
However, no matter what industry you're in, abusive behaviour should never be tolerated." — Jo Roque, Customer Success Lead at Paperform.
Look for candidates who have the emotional bandwidth and composure to address a customer’s needs with a level head. Then, once they're hired, you can teach them the skills to de-escalate situations and provide the customer service experience you want to.
9. Can you tell us about a time you went the extra mile to please a customer?
If you had your choice would you want someone who goes through the motions? Or someone who is willing to go above and beyond to provide great customer service? Obviously, it’s a no brainer.
This question draws upon the candidate’s previous experience to get their idea of “going the extra mile.” Keep an eye out for creative ways people find solutions for customers, and how they use initiative (and good old fashioned pluck) to achieve it.
A quick example:
I used to work at a small B&B and I remember one time a couple left their mobile phone chargers when they checked out. We had an allowance for little things like this, so I express posted the chargers to their address with a note. They were so grateful, and ended up leaving a great review.
10. What’s an example of a mistake you made with a customer? How did you take steps to resolve it?
We all make mistakes. Sometimes it’s eating the entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting, other times it’s messing up with a customer.
Self-awareness is the key here. A candidate should be able to provide you with a real situation where they made a mistake, and how they identified strategies to do better next time.
"We would never expect a candidate to have a history of perfect customer service without any blemishes. I make mistakes, and so do the other members of our Customer Success team (thankfully not too often.)
A key attribute I always look for and promote within the team is accountability. Always be accountable for your actions, own mistakes and be willing to learn from them. " — Jo Roque, Customer Success Lead at Paperform.
This is a tough question that tends to make most folks uncomfortable. But the best candidates will use this as an opportunity to demonstrate their resilience and ability to practice self-reflection.
11. How do you prioritise the needs of multiple customers at once?
Every customer is important to your business. But how do you make sure each one gets the customer service they deserve when you’re juggling multiple at once?
It comes down to having the ability to prioritise important tasks, communicate clearly with customers and other team members, and manage time down to the minute. This is the kind of answer you’ll hear from the ideal candidate.
Customer service reps are always dealing with multiple customer queries, so it’s very important to get a satisfactory answer to this. Bonus points if they include examples from their last job.
"It can be tempting to want to say 'yes' to every customer, but sometimes it just isn't feesable. Customers generally understand if you can't resolve their problem at that very moment.
However, it's integral to set the right expectations and let them know a timeframe of when you will get back to them." — Jo Roque, Customer Success Lead at Paperform.
12. What customer service tools do you have experience with?
Businesses use all sorts of different collaboration tools, ticketing software, and CRMs to manage customer relationships. As much as customer service is driven by people, an understanding of these tools goes a long way.
Keep an ear out for if they have experience using the same (or similar) tools as your company. This can make the onboarding process a bit easier and give you faith that they’ll be able to pick up the technical side of the job quickly.
Important: Just because someone doesn’t have know how to use HubSpot or Intercom, it doesn’t mean they aren’t suitable for the job. Tech stuff can be taught much easier than people skills can be.
13. How do you keep yourself motivated in a role that can sometimes feel repetitive?
Whether you’re working in a call center or for an online SaaS biz like Paperform, customer service can be a bit repetitive. You deal with similar enquiries, complete similar tasks, and solve similar problems all the time.
Not everyone is cut out for it. Some people can grow bored or lose focus which is when errors are usually made (that’s why it’s crucial to hire someone passionate about customer service.)
"Patience really is a virtue for great customer support. We have to explain ideas in easy to understand ways, and often deal with similar questions day in day out.
It helps to remember that each customer is a person, not a number on the screen, and try and appreciate their unique wants and needs. Every single interaction matters." — Jo Roque, Customer Success Lead at Paperform.
14. What’s your preferred method of communication?
Businesses rarely stick to one mode of customer support. Multichannel is the name of the game: there’s face to face interaction, phone calls, email, live chat on your website and social media support.
The reality is you’ll need someone who is comfortable across all different channels. But asking candidates which one they prefer to communicate in tells you where you may need to focus your training.
A good answer may be something like:
“I have a background in retail so I always love when I can give support face to face. But it really depends on the situation and the urgency of the problem. Sometimes what would take a long time over email can be sorted out quickly over the phone. As the saying goes, the best channel is where your current customer is.
15. Do you think teamwork between customer service reps and other teams within the business is important?
The answer to this should be yes, yes, yes. Collaboration between different teams within a company is a key element of a successful workplace culture.
At Paperform our Customer Success team is constantly sharing insights and things they’ve learned. We think it’s important for all our teams to have an open dialogue with each other—the worst thing you can do is cordon sections of your business.
Your ideal candidates will express a desire to help their coworkers when needed, as well as show the capacity to pass on useful feedback when possible.
"Collaboration between teams is vital to the health of a company. We do our best to celebrate each other's victories and learn from one another across different areas of Paperform."—Jo Roque, Customer Success Lead at Paperform.
16. What are your career goals?
This question is a classic way to finish any customer service job interview. People can treat customer service as a “means to an end” job rather than something they want to dedicate their professional lives to.
Do they intend to just work in this role until something better comes along? Or are they truly passionate about customer service? They might want to continue to study and improve their skills or have a goal of leading their own team.
How someone answers this question shows how much drive and ambition they have. People who are driven will usually have some indication of where they want to be in a few years, and maybe you can help them get there.
interview evaluation form
Over to you
Now you’ve got a plan and a list of questions, it’s time to start the interview process and find your next star recruit.
Remember to approach interviews with an open mind and give candidates time to think through your questions and formulate their answers carefully. Very few people can come up with an amazing, original answer in a split second.
By understanding the qualities you desire from your customer support team and asking the right questions of potential candidates, you’ll be able to find valuable additions and pick the right hire, every time.
Paperform can help you simplify the recruitment process. From making beautiful application forms that can collect resumes and send automatic, personalised replies, to integrating with your calendar to set up interviews automatically, Paperform is a digital suite of tools that can help you streamline the hiring process.
But don't take our word for it. Give it a go yourself with our 14-day free trial—no credit card required— and start finding the perfect customer service representative today.