3 Customer Service Interview Questions to Uncover Hidden Passion


How many of you have ever had an interview where you were asked a question that set you aback? As if the question stunned you and made you take a moment to analyze and really consider your response? I’ve had so few that I can count them on one hand.

That’s not to say that all of the other interviews I’ve had in my life weren’t stellar; just that they didn’t give me the opportunity to truly use the analytical part of my brain that is so important for problem-solving in customer support.

Customer service interview questions need some work, because there are other ways to hire support team members than by asking them to show you how they answer tickets. Specifically, by asking them questions outside of the sphere of support or even technology.

Tips for a Memorable and Telling Interview

When asking employees to put all of themselves into a role, it is important to see how much of themselves they put into living outside of work.

Asking very specific questions allows a hiring manager to see specific habits that a candidate has built outside of their roles at companies that will set them up for success when thinking on their feet.

Perhaps you are a company that already has a nuanced and creative interview process down, or maybe you are still small and trying to think exactly how you’d like to reflect your culture. Either way, in this post we’d like to introduce you to a few interview questions that you can tweak and use during your own hiring process to find a bit more out about the passions of your candidates, along with how well they will fit the scorecard for role you’re looking to fill.

All companies are different. While we’ve focused on looking for candidates within the bounds of our Get H.I.R.E.D. (honest, intuitive, respectful, empathetic, detailed) method, perhaps that’s a bit different from what you put emphasis on.

For more information about how to build the perfect interview structure and find your ideal candidate, check out our latest eBook: The Essential Guide to Hiring Customer Support Excellence.

Now, on to the questions.

1. What was the last thing you taught yourself?

This question may seem pretty basic, but there’s quite a bit you can learn about a person from their response. When I ask this question, I look for a few key things:

  • What was the reason for learning this skill?
  • How long did it take them to learn the skill?
  • How do they describe the learning process?
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A recent interview I had with a Barista interested in a career in support, gave the answer:

“I taught myself how to make grumpy cats out of cappuccino foam. I mostly did it to make the customers smile.”

Now, at a glance, that wouldn’t appear like a terribly useful skill to have, so you might overlook this candidate. Instead, use the framework above to analyze this a bit deeper: the reason that they had for learning the skill was purely to make customers happier.

They didn’t do it for any personal betterment, but instead to increase the surprise and delight the customers received when picking up their drinks.

While this example doesn’t cover the process of learning the skill, or how long it took them, small nuances like this can be infinitely helpful for determining whether someone is willing to go above and beyond to learn or better themselves. Similarly, the tendency towards surprise and delight is something that must be innate and, as much as we might like it to be, cannot be trained for. Small inclinations like this can have a lasting impact on the loyalty of your customers.

With this customer service interview question, it is important to pay attention to how they describe the learning process.

Did the candidate mention any frustration about the learning process? If so, dig a bit deeper.

See if any of the issues that they experienced are ones that they are likely to come up against in your organization. For example, if you work for a small company in which the interviewee will have to wear a lot of hats and they mention frustration with not having any leadership or guidance, it may not be the best fit.

2. If you were given the task and a budget to redesign your whole home, what steps would you take to start the process?

This question is, very obviously, at it’s face about planning and organization.

Your support rep should be observant, fastidious and able to get to the root of a problem quickly. They shouldn’t skip steps, or miss any information.

There are so many ways that a person can be organized, though. Some useful aspects to pay attention to in this question are:

  • What do they pick as their first focus?
  • Do they mention budgeting or time-planning?
  • Are they able to delegate responsibility?
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In one interview, the person that I was asking the question, noted that she would want to make mock-ups of what she wanted each room to look like – prior to even starting any of the purchasing or budgeting for the project. Upon delving further, it helped me realize that this was because she was a very visual conceptualizer, and having everything laid out in front of her would give her a better grasp of exactly what needed to happen.

Similarly, if someone mentions that they would like to make a spreadsheet to organize all of their budget, this could be an indicator of the individuals focus on numbers and figures for progress.

There is no right or wrong in the answer, but you will be able to see hints as what an employee might be passionate about once their training wheels get taken off in the inbox.

Someone who is much more visual may be passionate about enhancing your customer experience processes.

Someone who is more focused on numbers and budgets, may one day spearhead a campaign around customer satisfaction ratings within your organization. Pushing a passionate person towards something that they genuinely care about will be much more fruitful for you, in the long run, than trying to force a round peg into a square hole.

If you are looking for this individual to function in a leadership role either eventually or right away: introduce hypothetical employees or partners into the equation.

  • How would this candidate handle delegation?
  • Is delegating something that they are already comfortable with, or would you have to train?

This will allow you to get a better feel for how they would handle the responsibility of working with or above a team, and how they would delegate responsibility—a skill which improves the effectiveness of your team ten-fold.

3. When was the last time you irrevocably failed?

This is a take on the common question “What’s one thing that you need to work on.” But, everyone’s asked that question and almost everyone knows how to answer it in a way that allows them to put a positive spin on their own flaws.

This question is a better way at getting to the underbelly of that question, and understanding how a potential candidate deals with failure.

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Oftentimes when I ask this interview question, the candidate tries to uncover and speak about a time when they failed and then fixed the problem and were able to succeed in the end. I almost always have to note that I actually just want to hear about the failure, and how and why it happened. This allows me to get a read on a few different things:

  1. How do they feel about themselves? Do they have confidence?
  2. How do they speak about failure?
  3. Are they comfortable admitting that they did something wrong?

Humility is incredibly important.

If someone is unable to admit or speak of failure, it’s likely a good sign they have some difficulty seeing that even failure can be a good opportunity for learning and, hence, success. Pay attention to how your candidate speaks about his or her failure, and what they do to address the culpability for the issue at hand.

Does the candidate use “I” language, or “they” language?

Do they say things like “It really sucked,” or “We took it as a learning opportunity to move forward in another direction?”

These perspectives will allow you to see how, if they take a chance and fail within your company, they might behave.

Candidates that strive towards betterment and an understanding of the situation offer a perspective that can easily be built upon in the support industry: they care about their performance, and how other people are feeling.

It also shows they are passionate about learning from their mistakes. This is invaluable, and can help boost the temperament of your team as a whole.

Experiment with interview questions to dig out passion

Every company is different in regards to what we look for in candidates. Try and see what ways you can think of to ask around the direct questions about qualities that you are looking for when hiring.

Fit at least one unique question into your Focus round of interviewing and you’ll find yourself getting more valid and telling responses from your prospective employees. You may even learn a bit about yourself and what your true priorities for hiring are in the process.

You can find more interview best practices and how to rate candidates for your job opening in our essential guide for hiring customer support excellence. Download it now.

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