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

April 1, 2020

When you apply for a job in customer service, sales, retail, hospitality or another public-facing role, employers may ask you the popular interview question, “What does customer service mean to you?” “What does great customer service look like?” or “What is customer service?”

Regardless of how an employer frames the question, they’re likely interested in discovering how you believe customers should be treated and how you’ll behave when engaging with them. To help you prepare for answering this question, here are a few useful tips and examples for how to discuss customer service in an interview.

Related: Customer Service Skills: Definitions and Examples

Why employers ask this question

When employers ask “What does customer service mean to you?” in an interview, they’re looking to determine whether your definition of customer service aligns with their organization’s expectations.

A positive brand reputation is essential for a company’s long-term success. When businesses consistently provide positive customer experiences, they’re more likely to earn consumer loyalty, referrals and repeat business. In a customer-facing role you are responsible for upholding a company’s reputation by ensuring customers are fully satisfied. Employers are looking for candidates capable of providing excellent service in any situation.

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Discussing customer service in an interview

As you prepare your response to this question, take a few moments to consider the following. This information can help you tailor your response.

  • Customer service policy: Check to see if the employer has a customer service policy or mission statement published on their website. This will help you gain insight into what the company values most and how they expect their employees to perform so you can mention these things in your answer.

  • Product or service: Take time to review the employer’s product or service and identify their clientele. For example, if you’re applying to a bridal shop, you can assume the primary customers are excited brides accompanied by close family or friends. They may be feeling stressed or overwhelmed and will most benefit from a customer service professional who is patient and positive. Consider how you can mirror those strengths in your response.

  • Your experiences: Consider your own experience as a customer and times you’ve enjoyed especially exceptional service. Identify what about those interactions stands out, and be sure to include those in your response.

Related: 10 Customer Service Jobs You Can Do From Home

Examples of how to answer “What does customer service mean to you?”

Here are two ways you can answer this interview question with examples:

1. Share your own experience as a customer

This is especially helpful if you’re entering the job market for the first time or have no prior experience in a customer service role. This type of response allows you to express your knowledge of customer service even if you have never worked in a public-facing position.

When using this type of response, be sure to provide specific examples of what the customer service provider did and why it left a positive impact.

“Good customer service means consistently exceeding customer expectations and going out of your way to help people solve their problems. For example, I recently flew home to be with my father during a serious surgery and had to rent a car. When I arrived at the airport rental desk, the employee informed me there were no vehicles left in stock. I explained to the rental clerk that it was critical I had a car during my stay and told her about my father. She quickly called another location and asked them to drive a car over immediately. She also upgraded my rental for free. Not only was the clerk friendly and helpful, but she was also empathetic and took every opportunity possible to improve my experience. After that, I’ll never use a different rental car company again. That sort of impactful experience can make someone a customer for life.”

Related: Customer Service Resumes

2. Share your own experience as a customer service provider

This is a great way to highlight your skills and professional experience while still addressing the employer’s question.

“To me, customer service not only means helping customers get what they need but also making sure they feel supported. In my role as a customer service representative for a bank, I often received calls from people who’d lost their wallets and needed to cancel their debit cards. One day, I received a call from an older woman whose purse was stolen while traveling. She was alone and distraught. Instead of rushing through my script and passing her along to our fraud protection department, I exercised empathy. I took the time to listen to her story and shared my own experience about having my purse stolen. After a few minutes, she calmed down and even laughed. Then, I assisted her in canceling her cards and, because she’d been a loyal customer for more than 20 years, waived the fee for overnighting a new debit card. She was so impressed with the experience that she referred three new customers to us over the following month.”

While there are many ways employers may ask about your customer service skills and experiences, it’s a good idea to prepare an answer to the question “What does customer service mean to you?” By providing examples to back up your opinion, you can show employers you’re capable of upholding their standards and meeting their customers’ needs.