In 2010, there were over 2.1 million customer service jobs in the US according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is expected to grow 15 percent over the next decade. As more complex products are introduced to the marketplace, call center reps are resolving more complex consumer issues. A key requirement is to be able to understand the customer's need and be able to quickly resolve the issue.
As more companies look to creating contact centers in the United States as opposed to India or the Philippines, it is imperative to successfully ace the interview if you seek one of these customer service jobs. Larger centers rely on sophisticated interview methods such as STAR or CAR behavioral analysis questions. Understanding the question and answer techniques can dramatically improve your chances of success.
Types of Interview Methods
As a former senior manager for a large call center, I've interviewed hundreds of applicants using the STAR method. Candidates who were able to provide their work history using the format below were considered the best applicants for the jobs.
S – Situation, background set the scene
T – Task or Target, specifics of what's required, when, where, who
A – Action, what you did, skills used, behaviours, characteristics
R – Result – Outcome, what happened
C - Context
A - Action
R - Results
Both methods force the applicant to tell a compelling story about their work history. For the hiring manager, these methods provide an opportunity to look at what an applicant has done as opposed to what they will do. Known as behavioral based questions, these methods highlight an applicant's strengths as well as providing an opportunity to show negatives in a positive light.
Preparing for a Behavioral Interview
- Identify situations that show your behavior in a favorable light. Call center managers are looking for situations where you've shown leadership, teamwork, customer satisfaction and conflict resolution.
- Jot down two-minute "stories" for each situation.
- Use examples from recent employers as well as coursework, sports or community service if your work experience is limited.
- Rehearse your examples, and be sure to show yourself in a positive light.
- Be specific. Vague examples or examples where other parties were responsible for the outcome
Sample Interview Questions and Answers
- Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond to satisfy a customer.
“ A NYC customer called into the site to advise us of a shipping mistake. The customer had ordered several large pieces of equipment that could not be installed because the floor would not support the weight. I quickly contacted the equipment manufacturer in Wi and asked about alternatives. They suggested smaller lightweight systems instead of the larger systems. We calculated the electrical load requirements, advised the shipping company to return the larger systems, and immediately shipped out the alternatives. The client received the smaller systems in 4 days and was able to install them without any problems. Throughout the entire situation, I remained in contact with the manufacturer and the customer to ensure a smooth implementation.”
- Describe a time when you had to resolve conflict with a co-worker.
“A co-worker and I were on the same team but different shifts. Because she came in later, she didn’t always know about some of the incentives being offered and accused me of using unfair selling techniques to generate more sales. I pulled her aside after one instance where she loudly stated that it was impossible for “some people” to have such high numbers. I explained that the morning shift supervisors often gave the early shift customer incentives. I offered to leave a copy of all promotions and incentives on her desk so that when she came in, she would be able to go right to work without having to search for the promotions. I received permission from the manager to create these “cheat sheets” for everyone on the team. The other worker was delighted to have this when she came in. She became a top seller and I eventually became a team lead.”
- Give me an example of when you had to make an important decision.
“There was a customer who needed sales information that I couldn’t provide in customer service. The sales reps were in a meeting and there wasn’t anyone available to help the customer buy the product they wanted. I contacted a sales manager in another store and advised him of the situation. He remained on the phone with me as I conferenced the customer in. Based on my quick decision to make the sale, the customer purchased over $10,000 of product. I provided the customer with his sales reps information for follow-up and left the rep with a detailed report of what happened.
HR managers and hiring managers in call centers may interview hundreds of applicants when a site opens or expands. Being seen as a top candidate is easy if you are able to communicate your accomplishments in a clear and focused manner.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Customer Service Representatives Job Outlook