Interview Question: "What Does Customer Service Mean to You?"

May 26, 2021

If you have a job interview lined up, then it's a good idea to anticipate any questions that the interviewer may ask you so you can respond prudently. In this article, we look at a common interview question, ‘What does customer service mean to you?' and the best approach to answering it.

What is customer service, and how do you serve customers professionally?

Customer service generally refers to the combined actions you take, or decisions you made, to support a customer. This support could be in the form of redressing their complaints post-sales or providing additional assistance, before or during a transaction, to improve their satisfaction.

The customer service department is a significant part of any successful business. Understanding this, companies hire professional customer relations personnel to handle clients' requests, which often are not too technical and require the judgement and discretion of a human. Consequently, as a customer service representative, you deal with customers with genuine human feelings. To handle both their wants and emotions, you must be:

  • Friendly: You greet your customers with a smile.
  • Polite: You say ‘please' and ‘thank you' and use formal language if required.
  • Helpful: You answer their query as thoroughly as you can. If you cannot, politely direct them to who can.
  • Positive: You should always try to have positive interactions with customers. If they approach you with a problem and seem negative, try to turn it around.

Consider this example of positive turnaround. Suppose you're working in a supermarket on a sunny day and a customer who wants a BBQ approaches you to ask about the lack of burgers on the shelves. Unfortunately, you cannot fulfil this very order, as all the burgers in the shop have already been purchased. You could respond with something like this:

Hello, I'm really sorry about that. All our burgers were purchased this morning, and we are currently sold out. As we are so close to the beach, this happens quite a lot on sunny days. I will mention this to my manager and see if we can get more stocked for the next hot day. In the meantime, we do have a great selection of sausages that you could use for your BBQ, or you could visit our larger store in town. Let me introduce you to Frank. He will take you around the sausage shelf and help you select the best. I will call our other office to confirm if they have burgers in stock.

This response shows that you acknowledge the customer's issues and looking to improve your service so the same problem does not repeat itself.

The importance of customer service

Customers tend to return to places where they enjoyed a good and polite experience, hence the need for a competent customer service department. Their regular patronage strengthens the business and increases its revenue. Customer service is also essential for a business's reputation. If someone has a splendid experience with a company, they will discuss it with their friends and family who, convinced by the endorsement, will probably give the business a try themselves. The satisfied customer may also write a positive review online, which more people will see and could persuade them to patronise the business.

Reviews are incredibly important for a business's success. People want to read opinions that highlight the experiences of previous customers of a company. These comments usually reach a wider audience and, when positive, tend to convert noncommittal users to patrons, leading to more revenue for the company.

Why do employers ask, 'What does customer service mean to you?'

Employers ask to see if you have the necessary skills to deliver strong customer service. They look for empathy and friendliness during the interview, as they want to see how you engage a customer.

How to prepare for your customer service interview

Recruiters interviewing candidates for a customer-centric role – for example, in retail or hospitality or on the customer service team of a big brand – usually ask, 'What does customer service mean to you?' Anticipating this question aids your interview preparation and quality of response. Also, it's important your answer is specific to the company. Here are some ways you can personalise your preparation for your interview:

Research the brand

The brand that you are interviewing with may have a customer service policy on their website. Take some time to browse their website, and make detailed notes on any customer service policy there.

For example, imagine you have an interview with a travel agent who books luxury holidays in Australia and New Zealand. This kind of upmarket holiday booking service typically includes a high level of support throughout the entire process, including the initial booking, paying off any balances and an agent on hand to manage any issues during the holiday. The travel agent's website would make this premium customer service delivery very clear.

Then, thoroughly read what the company offers in terms of customer service and relay in your interview how you can match these demands.

Think about the target audience

Try to think about the brand from the target audience's perspective. Using the luxury travel agent example again, consider what you – the hypothetical customer, in this case – would expect from them.

People using a luxury travel brand expect a seamless holiday experience and an adventure different from their regular activities back at home. They are excited about the trip but may also be a bit nervous about paying so much money. In this case, you could think about ways to use good customer service to reassure them and help them feel better about their trip.

Prepare some examples

To answer 'What does customer service mean to you?' comprehensively, you may need to provide examples of times you delivered or received excellent customer service. Try to think of which examples to use ahead of time. If you have held a customer-centric job before, you can easily reference past specific instances where you provided excellent customer support. Customer-centric jobs are popular in the service industry, like retail or hospitality, or any profession where you often speak to the public.

Don't worry if you haven't had a customer-centric job in the past; you still have customer service experience. If you have ever spoken to a staff member in a shop, been waited on in a restaurant or been to a hairdresser, you have been at the receiving end of customer service. You can apply this experience to answer the interviewer's question. The process begins with you thinking back to a time you spoke to somebody who helped you or made you walk away with a smile on your face. Next, try to describe what they did and how they made you feel. Then, explain to your employer how you intend to replicate this.

Examples of customer service you can offer

Your employer might ask, 'what does good customer service mean to you?' One effective way to answer this question is by summarising what you think constitutes good customer service and then give an anecdote.

Customer service as a customer

If you do not have any customer service experience, you can use your experience as a customer to answer this question. For instance:

For me, good customer service means providing friendly and helpful service and working a little bit extra to help out customers. For example, I recently went to the hairdresser's and my hair colouring didn't turn out as expected due to a problem with the dye. I discussed my concerns with the hairdresser, who was very apologetic and did everything she could to improve the style and told me that she will no longer be using that dye. She also gave me a voucher for a complimentary haircut in the future. This level of customer service is the reason I will return to the same hairdresser in the future.

Customer service as a provider

If you have experience providing customer service, you can mention it here as this helps the employer learn a little more about your skills and job history.

Customer service is imperative to a good business. It's about helping customers in any way they need, as well as thinking of other things that they might not already have asked for. For example, I used to work in a busy pizza restaurant in Sydney. I'd make sure that I greeted all customers with a smile, brought their menus and took their orders promptly, and when their pizzas came, I'd make sure that I offered them all of the sauces and free extras that we provided. If a customer told us that it was their birthday, we would bring them out a complimentary cupcake at the end of the meal.

This response shows attention to detail and demonstrates competent customer service skills.

Customer service skills are at the centre of most businesses. Good customer service encourage customers to return and spread the word to other potential customers. This is why customer-service questions are popular in interviews. As long as you are aware of the importance of customer service and the customer service policy of the particular brand, you can answer this interview question convincingly.


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