Diane Smith is the Senior Director of Customer Service and Experience for TakeLessons. She has over 20 years in customer service with Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue and led a team of over 1,600 customer support representatives. In this interview, Diane gives some customer service interviewing tips and a description of the STAR method of behaviorial interviewing.
The main takeaways are also written below.
Customer Service Interviewing Tips
SC: This is Steven and I’m here with Diane, she’s the head of Customer Support here at TakeLessons. She’s been with us for about six months or so. Her background– she has about a zillion years of experience although she’s only about 28. [Diane laughs] Led the Jet Blue customer support team, had 1,600 people reporting to her in customer service. So she knows a little bit about customer service I would say. So Diane, if you’re a company and you’re looking to hire customer service people, say a gas or utility company, and it’s a larger company like Jet Blue, what are some hints? What are they looking for and what kind of answers should you give?
DS: Hi Kelly, good luck on your interview! Interviews are always challenging, even if you do them every year, but you’ll do great. There’s a STAR method for answering questions. You want to really think of specifics and think of situations.
STAR is the Situation, it’s the Task, the Action and the Result. They want to hear, what was the situation you were presented with? What was the task you felt needed to take place? What was the action you decided to go with and then the final result. Keep that STAR in your mind. If you can’t think of a situation, think of one that could have happened. If you’ve been out of the workplace a little while, just go back over the weekend and think about all the different customer service situations you’ve been faced with. A lot of times one of the things they’re looking for is, how are you going to handle an irate customer, somebody that’s unhappy, how are you going to bring that back around? Also, think of a time when you went really above and beyond to help somebody.
Mainly what we look for in customer service is someone whose engaging, someone who can connect with the customer, feel empathy for them but also has their own personality, not a robot. When you’re interviewing, you want to make eye contact with them. Try not to ramble. There’s nothing worse in an interview than when they go into a five minute spiel on each situation and task and you’re just like, okay, let’s get to the result.
SC: So be very concise and to the point. One way they may look at it is the way you interview is the way you’re going to be on the phone.
DS: Right. And also, be at ease. We really look for that in customer support because customer service, while I love it, it is challenging. You talk to a lot of people that are really happy and you talk to a lot of people that aren’t happy. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, that’s how it’s going to be. The biggest role that customer service has is to keep the customers that we have and give them a great customer experience. If they are unhappy with us, how do we turn that around so we don’t lose them?
SC: You had mentioned some character traits, someone who’s engaging, empathetic. What other characteristics do they want to see?
DS: This is an important one. They’re looking for someone whose thinking is not just black or white. There is that gray area. Policies or guidelines are put in place for a reason but also you want to be able to go with the flow if it’s something that they’ve empowered you to do and make decisions. Customer service is always gray. There are people who just think in terms of black or white and you want the company to know that you’re comfortable in that gray zone. You want them to know that you can work independently; that you don’t need someone standing over you the whole time. You’ll probably be working in close quarters, so show that you can work with a diverse group of people, that you get along with all types, that you’re part of a team. It’s not all “I, I, I”. A lot of times in interviews you’ll want to say, “we”, “this is what we did” and not use the “I”.
SC: Something else that I think would be helpful, I always recommend that they think win/win. In other words, how do I get a win for the customer within the guidelines of the company? How do I maintain a non-adversarial tone in everything that I do and how do we get to a “yes”?
Some folks have done this here: Call in to their call center. Act like an angry customer. Or act like a good customer, ask for information or say, my service isn’t working. Listen to how they perform on the phone – how they handle customer service – and it might give you a good indication of how their training is and what they look for in their customer service interview.
DS: That’s good. Do some research on the company. Find out what you can, what their culture’s like, so when you go in you’re prepared. And just be at ease, that’s the hardest thing in interviews. Like I said, it doesn’t matter how often you do it, so don’t feel alone in feeling nervous because no matter how often you do it, it’s a nerve-wracking experience, but I’m sure you’ll do great.