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Hypothetically are permanently stuck on a beautiful tropical island. You decide that you are going to make the most of your new life and open the best restaurant the island has ever seen. Your key ingredients to success are a mouth-watering menu, fantastic ambience and most importantly the best customer service on the island. The only problem is you don’t have your copy of The Right Hire and it’s 5 Interview Template system to provide you the interview questions you need to ask. Furthermore you only have time to ask 1 interview question as there are just too many people to interview. What are you going to do?

Don’t despair. The good news is that if you were to ever find yourself in a bind like this, there is one key interview question that you must ask for any customer service position you are hiring for. I will get to the big question reveal in a minute.

As you know customer service is everything when it comes to engaging customers, increasing sales and staying ahead of your competition. Generally speaking it is about keeping the people that keep you in business happy and coming back for more. That is why it is so important to hire exceptional employees who have the right attitude to deal with any type of customer (both the good and bad). Whether it is receptionist or your top salesperson, you need to make sure you have the right person who can effectively manage your customer service experience.

There are many interview questions that you can ask to draw out the customer service skills you are looking for. All of The Right Hire’s interview templates have a group of questions that assess this skill. No matter what job you are hiring for, top notch customer service skills are a must.

That said, there is one interview question that stands above them all. I have conducted interviews for thousands of jobs. I have tested and refined what really works to assess whether or not an applicant has exceptional customer service skills and those applicants that will cause your customers to run away in droves.

So without further delay….drumroll please… is the one question you need to hire for exceptional customer service:

Tell me about a time where you had to deal with a difficult customer?

So simple, yet incredibly powerful as it gets any applicant that you are interviewing to think back to a time when they have dealt with a difficult customer and how they resolved the situation. Their answer should be able to demonstrate patience, professionalism and most of all tact and diplomacy. Keeping cool while under fire from a disgruntled customer is a must for any applicant you are looking to hire.

Here is the best part about this question the applicant’s answer doesn’t have to end happily. Not all difficult customer experiences have a positive outcome. In fact many times they end in a fiery mess. The key here is that the applicant’s answer demonstrates excellent customer courtesy and they do everything in their power to effectively resolve the situation.

The following are 5 additional probing questions that you can ask to help draw out a great response from the applicant.

1. Please describe the situation.

This probing question gets the applicant started. It allows them to describe the situation and provide you some background regarding their work environment and the customer experience they were dealing with.

2. Why was the customer difficult to deal with?

Now the applicant has to focus their response on why this customer was difficult. You want to hear a response that demonstrates a degree of difficulty. The more difficult the customer the greater the ability you have to look into the applicants customer service skills and how it would relate to the job you are hiring for.

3. What did you do to resolve the situation?

This is where you see the applicant’s customer service skills in action. The answer you are looking for should describe what they did to resolve the matter and why they took that approach.

4. What was the outcome?

Pretty self-explanatory. Just make sure you don’t discount the applicant who couldn’t successfully resolve the situation. Some of your best applicants will have done everything in their power and demonstrate phenomenal customer service experience only to end up with an unhappy customer.

5. Would you have done anything differently?

This is a great question to ask as it gets the applicant to reflect on how they handled the situation. There is no wrong answer and you get some great insight as to what they may have done differently if they were faced with this situation again.

Now I would never advocate a one question interview. If you have read The Right Hire and used our 5 Interview Template system you will know that a carefully crafted interview question process will ensure you hire top talent employees. However in the off chance you are ever in a position where you can only ask one question and you are hiring for customer service skills, this is the question to ask. Using this will help you conduct an interview effectively and hire the customer service talent you need for you and your business to succeed. Remember it….you never know when you will be stranded on a beautiful, tropical island needing to hire top talent!

Happy Interviewing!

Clark Glassford
Founder of Five Interviews

PS if you liked this article, please share this blog with any of your co-workers, friends or family that could benefit from these recruitment tips to help them make exceptional hires.

For more great information on learning how to conduct an interview and hire incredible talent check out these great supporting articles:

Interview Karma: Treating Applicants with Respect

Interview Questions you Should Never Ask

5 Key Interview Questions You Need to Hire SEO Experts



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