The Best Customer Service Interview Questions (and what to look for)

Updated: May 18

Customer service representatives are the front line for your company. They’re your connection to your customers. They are the ones who are answering the phone when your customers call, the ones who are first in line to receive feedback from your customers, and the ones who are providing feedback to your team about the customer experience.

That’s why it’s so important to hire the best customer service representatives you can. In order to do that, you have to know to assess their communication skills and problem-solving abilities. You also want to know about their emotional intelligence and empathy. And you want to know how their behavior will change under pressure in hypothetical situations.

What makes a good customer service representative?

The best customer service representatives handle customers with compassion, grace — and they are born troubleshooters.

Reps need to have a certain set of skills and personality traits in order to be effective. Customer service is a stressful business, often leading to burnout. If you get customer service skills & traits wrong, the result will likely be a poor customer experience.

But finding this ‘dream agent’ is going to require a clear understanding what you’re looking for:

  1. Communication skills – the ability to clearly express an idea to non-technical people

  2. Problem-solving skills – a knack (and even a passion!) for troubleshooting

  3. Empathy and emotional intelligence – understanding and relating to your customers’ point of view as if it were your own

  4. Calmness under pressure – the ability to remain professional under tight deadlines, or when customer frustration turns nasty

How to interview a customer service candidate

Interviewing is like speed-dating. You want to get a quick feel for what the candidate is like — where they’re coming from, what their values are, and how they might behave under a variety of different circumstances. You don’t have all the time in the world, so it’s important to hone in on key topics that will allow the other person to show you who they are. It’s important not to offend them by being too direct here — but you also want to get to know them on a deeper level than simply asking, "What are your strengths and weaknesses?"

Your job here is to get the heart of these qualities as quickly as possible by asking the right questions. Inoffensive questions that are designed to reveal as much as possible about their character and their potential as a customer support representative for your company. One way to do this is by asking friendly-yet-disarming questions that will allow the other person to open up comfortably.

What’s an example of a friendly-yet-disarming question?

Try asking your candidate, “Tell me about your favorite Star Wars character.” He or she might say, “Luke Skywalker.” If you ask why, they might continue by elaborating, “Well...he is a good leader, brave, cool-headed, thoughtful and also knows how to take care of his friends. He can think quickly.” You might press further, “Why do you think so?” until you get an insight into how they define these qualities for themselves.

Questions like this are not just an ice breaker. Yes it’s a way to bring some lightness into what is surely an artificial and uncomfortable situation. It also helps you understand what type of personality, behavior, and public impression they respect, and potentially want to emulate in himself or herself. Best of all, it allows them to tell you about themselves by talking about something else.

Communication skills

Having good communication skills is the first prerequisite for any customer-facing role, as it makes up the majority of your day to day work. Being able to communicate to a customer clearly and simply is important in any job, but when speaking with customers one needs to be able to explain how a product or service works as if they were talking to their own mother.

To get a sense of a candidate’s communication abilities, try asking some of the following questions:

  • Tell me about a time you needed to persuade a friend or colleague to try a new way of doing something (for example, a change in dinner plans or a different procedure for a group project)

  • Give me an example of how you would alert a customer their product or service was about to expire?

  • When might you decide to leave certain information out during a customer call? How would you arrive at that decision?

These questions help you to gain an understanding into how the candidate sees their role, and how they go about achieving things.