We make big mistakes when we confuse customer service with friendliness, goodwill, and personal warmth. “Cheerful” and “upbeat” are personality traits – not skills. Until you figure this out, you will go through a lot of customer service turnover – and risk loss of customers.

When thinking about what you need in customer service help, write and re-write the job description. There are templates on line that you can easily adapt to your business type. Take the opportunity – before you frame your advertisement – to differentiate between experience, skills, and aptitudes.

For example, identify the length and relevance of the experience you want. Most small businesses are not in a position to train people on the job, so plan on paying the wage that two years’ experience would expect. Customer service skills are not easily universally transferable. A customer rep experienced in tech responses is not suitable for a realtor’s office or a construction outfit. So, narrow your search.

Skills are specific to your business and include demonstrated ability with your business office machines and software. Whether it is handling your phones, cash register, fax machines, databases, or whatever, you need a new hire to hit the ground running. Prepare a test for outcomes you want to see.

But, customer service attitude is the bigger challenge. You need to test and interview for the customer service “mindset” that is going to profit you. Again, charming, spunky, charismatic, etc. are nice qualities to have in your staff. Still, they do not guarantee a good fit, comfort in the work, or productive customer retention for you. You need interview questions that assure the applicant’s self-possession, independence, accountability, patience, and emotional balance.

When you schedule the interview, let them know you will test their experience, and, following the testing, you will ask about their knowledge of your products and services. A heads-up candidate will do the homework.

Here’s the key questions you’ll want to ask:

  • What do you enjoy about working in customer service?
  • What aspect of customer service are you particularly strong at?
  • When I talk to your previous employer, will s/he confirm that?
  • How do you start communication with a client?
  • What steps do you take to identify the customer’s problem and level of displeasure?
  • What have you done at your present/last company to increase revenues, reduce costs, or save time?
  • Tell me about a time that you helped resolve a particularly difficult customer issue.
  • Talk about a time when you were unable to help the customer with their problem – what was the issue and how did you handle the situation?
  • What have you done to be a better customer service representative?
  • What would you do if your replacement did not appear for work?
  • Some customers are rude – in addition to being dissatisfied. How do you manage customer rudeness?

In each of these questions, look for responses that report a behavioral process. If the candidate can report a behavior, a process from beginning to end, then, s/he has studied the matter. A candidate with a process manages a customer situation instead of merely responding. You can rely on thought and follow-through instead of unthinking emotional stress. And, finally, you have someone used to being measured. This is a win-win customer service rep.

Also see my article on Dependability Interview Questions.


By Steven Schlagel