How to Interview Customer Support Agents

A Guide for Startups

10 minutes.

If you ask the right questions, that’s how long it takes to learn if someone’s good at customer support — 10 minutes.

We’ve interviewed and hired thousands of customer support agents. We’ve asked every interview question in the book, and we’ve found that most questions have no bearing on whether the support agent succeeds in their role.

Bad CX interviews test if you’re good at interviewing. Good CX interviews test if you’re good at the job. In this guide, we’ll teach you how to run an efficient, high-signal interview process, as well as the right customer support interview questions to ask.

Just 3 Steps

Our support interviews contain 3 steps:

  1. Express gratitude (2m)
  2. Interview questions based on real-life customer support scenarios (10-15m)
  3. Leave space for the interviewee’s questions (5-15m)

1. Express Gratitude

Thank the applicant for making time to interview with your company.

(Practically speaking, you’ll get a much better gauge of someone’s ability if they’re feeling comfortable.)

And, on the subject of time — try to join the interview room a minute early. If you’re going to be late, let them know as soon as you know you’re going to be late.

Some of your interviewees will be late. Some of them won’t show up at all. It’s inevitable, and it’s super frustrating. It’s OK to be frustrated! Just try your best & don’t let the frustration spill over onto other interviewees.

2. Best CX Interview Questions: Real-Life Support Scenarios

Going back to what we said in the beginning — bad interviews test if you’re good at interviewing; good interviews test if you’re good at the job.

Here is a customer support interview gradient that shows you the types of interview questions that measure customer support aptitude.

 

CX interview gradient; good, better, best

That last module — “please open up Google Docs, share your screen, etc.” — is an example of a real-life support scenario. It’s a customer question, converted into an interview.

The great thing about real-life support scenarios is that you can very quickly tell if someone intuitively understands how to do support.

Plenty of candidates can ace traditional interviews, but struggle to provide good customer support. There are three red flags you’re looking for, and real-life support scenarios sniff them out instantly:

⛳ Red flag #1: Isn’t fluent with basic web tools

⛳⛳ Red flag #2: Doesn’t recognize when macros (”canned responses”) need to be customized

⛳⛳⛳ Red flag #3: Doesn’t recognize when macros are inappropriate

To construct a real-life support scenario, you take a common customer question, and turn it into an interview question.

It sounds tricky, but it’s straightforward in practice— and we’ll walk you through it!

Customer Support Interview Questions – Our First Scenario

We’ll start by making this scenario:

  • You have a list of macros for common situations
  • A customer emails in, asking two straightforward questions in the same email
    • These questions have macros associated with them
  • You ask the applicant to write a response to the customer. The applicant is encouraged to reference the list of macros.

In the interview, this will be the first “real-life support scenario” question. We’ll make it fairly straightforward, and we won’t ask the candidate to do a lot of writing.

So let’s get started! Open up your helpdesk software and find two simple macros:

  1. One where the user asks you to do something simple
  2. One where the user asks a simple question

Perhaps it’s an “account deactivation request” macro and a “view payment history” macros, like these:

Account Deactivation Request

Hi FIRST_NAME,

We really appreciate the time that you spent with us, and I hope that we were able to add some flavor and variety to your life!

I’m sending this email to confirm that we have deactivated your account. You can log into your DeliciousDelivery account to check if any deliveries are currently en route to your home – after these deliveries arrive, you won’t receive any more meal prep kits. If you’d like to reactivate your subscription, just let me know and I’ll be happy to help you out :).

We are constantly trying to improve the quality of our service – we would be extremely grateful if you let us know why you are cancelling your subscription.

Sincerely,

 

View Payment History

Hi FIRST_NAME,

Thanks for reaching out! Hope you’re having a great week.

Each box should come with an itemized receipt, and if you’ve thrown out these receipts (it happens to the best of us), you can find your payment history online by following these steps:

1. Log into your DeliciousDelivery account

2. Click on “Billing” link at the top of the page (on the navigation bar)

3. Click on the “Payment History” link on the left-hand side of the page

This page will show a printable list of all your deliveries, the date of delivery, and the payment amount. You can click on an individual delivery to see an itemized receipt containing a price breakdown of all the individual meals you ordered.

Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help 🙂

Sincerely,

 

Now, make up an example of a customer reaching out about both issues:

> From: bryanh1992@loopsupport.com

>Subject: please cancel account

I am trying to save money, please cancel my account. Can you also show me how to see how much I’ve spent on each meal?

-Bryan

 

Lastly, include any context needed to explain the macro. Ensure that the context makes it clear that the support agent can fulfill the customer’s request. (Err on the side of including more context than necessary.)

Context: We have an internal tool that lets you look up a customer by their name or email address. From the customer’s page, you can easily cancel the customer’s account.

 

And that’s all you need for a real-life support scenario!

During the Customer Support Interview

We like to share the macros a day before the interview.

At the beginning of the interview, we share a doc containing the questions and context. Afterwards, we ask the candidate to screenshare, open a new doc, and write their response in that doc.

We encourage the candidate to talk through their thoughts, and we encourage the candidate to ask as many questions as they need.

Lastly, we recommend being open-minded about solutions. If a candidate has a solution that isn’t what you had in mind, but still technically makes sense, roll with it!

We’ll walk through two more example scenarios together.

Customer Support Interview Questions – Two More Scenarios

Here are two more scenarios that you can administer during the interview:

  • Choose between two similar macros. Both macros require some customization.
  • Explain something to a customer who misunderstands how your product works.

These two scenarios test for more advanced skills, and make it quickly apparent whether someone can identify the right thing to do in non-obvious scenarios— or if they just “plow right ahead” & ignore what the customer is really asking for.

(Practically speaking, we “short-circuit” these questions— if someone fails the 2nd question, we don’t ask the 3rd question.)

Choosing Between Two Similar Customer Support Interview Question Macros

Like we did with the first scenario, open up your helpdesk software. This time, we’re looking for two macros that are applied in similar situations.

For us, we’ve found macros for these two situations:

  1. Order is late (but otherwise fine)
  2. Order is damaged / unusable

Then, write up a customer question where one macro applies & the other doesn’t apply. Here’s an example:

Subject: Thank you so much! My husband and I love your service – just thought you’d like to know that sometimes the eggs crack during the shipping process. We get 12 eggs each week, and on average 3-4 eggs arrive cracked each time, and they spill onto the other packages. It’s not a big deal, but you might like to hear our experience! Thanks again, you’ve made grocery shopping much easier for our family. By the way, do you have any vegan options? Sincerely, Bryn

This scenario tests the candidate’s ability to read all the macros, and pick the most appropriate one. (We recommend putting the correct macro at the end of the list. That way, you can see if the candidate reads carefully, or if they jump to the first answer that’s “close enough”).

Customer Misunderstands the Product

For the last scenario, we recommend testing how the candidate responds to a customer who misunderstands how your product works.

Here’s how we do this:

  1. Find the most common misconception about your startup. (Ideally, it’s a misconception that can happen to a paying customer.)
  2. Write an email where the customer is confidently asserting that their misconception is how the world works.
  3. Lastly — despite the misconception — have the customer describe a real problem that deserves compensation. (Ideally, we can reuse one of your previous macros for this situation.)

Here’s how it plays out in our scenario.

  1. Common misconception: Customer has a meal kit subscription. They never specified their dietary preference. Their first meal kit (coincidentally) is compatible with their dietary preference. Their second meal kit (also coincidentally) is not compatible with their dietary preference.
  2. Confident assertion: “I’m allergic to gluten, and I’m extremely disappointed that my package this week contained gluten products.”
  3. Real problem: Customer can’t eat their meal kits, because they contain gluten.

I’m allergic to gluten, and I’m extremely disappointed that my package this week contained gluten products. We have received gluten free products before but this week we were surprised to see unfamiliar brands, which had gluten.

 

Context: Our internal system says that the customer has not specified any dietary restrictions when signing up.

 

Additional context: DeliciousDelivery delivers high-end meal prep kits for customers with dietary restrictions. The meal prep kits contain fruits, vegetables, bread, eggs, cheese, herbs, and seasonings. All of the ingredients are labelled to whether they are gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, or any other dietary restrictions. Customers also receive recipe cards to help them prepare meals.

This scenario really helps gauge talent, because it requires the candidate to build a mental model of how your product works, in order to understand why the customer is confidently asserting something that is untrue.

A Few Tips on Conducting the CX Interview

  1. Think of the interview like an interactive story. If they need a hint, give a hint.
  2. Give the first 2 scenarios to everyone. If a candidate does well, give the 3rd scenario as well.
  3. People will find creative answers, and they might not line up with your expected correct answer. That’s fine!

3. CX Interviewee Questions

Lastly, we wrap up the interview by giving the candidate time to ask questions.

The trick is to think of the interviewee’s questions as opportunities to get them excited about your company. Most interviewers aren’t doing this!

This can save you weeks. Here’s how:

If you identify a great candidate, they’re likely receiving offers from other companies.

Assuming you’re offering a competitive salary (you are offering a competitive salary, right?), there’s a very good chance your candidate will accept your offer — unless there’s another company they’re more excited about.

And if there’s another company they’re more excited about, you’ll have to find another candidate.

What You’re Looking for in a Customer Support Candidate

It’s important to have a standardized process! A standardized process makes it easy to compare candidates.

A simple rubric is better than a complex rubric that you don’t use. Here’s an acronym we recommend:

Customer support qualities to look for in a candidate
Customer support qualities to look for in a candidate

For each category, here’s what you’re looking for:

Problem-Solving Skills

  • Do they identify the right macro to use? Can they distinguish between similar macros, based on relevant business criteria?
  • Can they correctly identify when to customize macros?
  • Do they fully understand the customer’s questions?

EQ

  • Do they make the customer feel “heard”?
  • If the customer is upset, do they adjust the tone of the macro? Do they understand why the customer is upset?
  • If the customer’s upset, do they write in a way that defuses tension?

Ability to Use Basic Web Tools

  • Are they able to join the teleconference without any major hiccups?
  • Are they able to screenshare?
  • Can they use a text editor? Do they type quickly? Do they navigate between different tabs easily? Do they use keyboard shortcuts to copy/paste, or do they use their mouse?

Communication

  • Is it easy to read their writing?
  • Do they use proper grammar and punctuation?
  • How elegantly do they fuse two macros together?

Energy

  • Would they get along with your customers?
  • Are they interested in your startup’s mission?
  • Are they on time? If not, did they let you know in advance?

No need to overcomplicate things— you can grade each attribute on a scale from 0-3. The real-life support scenarios will test the first four attributes. You’ll gauge Energy throughout the interview, and particularly during the interviewee questions.

Recap

In short, here’s the interview structure that we recommend:

  1. Express gratitude (2m)
  2. Real-life support scenarios (10-15m)
  3. Leave space for the interviewee’s questions (5-15m)

Keep a simple, standardized grading process. PEACE:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • EQ
  • Ability to use basic web tools
  • Communication
  • Energy

One last thing— we’ve hired hundreds of customer support agents through this process. We’ve found that the best agents typically have unexceptional resumes & unexceptional credentials. These are people that your current interview process might accidentally by rejecting!

P.S.

If you don’t have the time or bandwidth to go through these processes and you want to skip straight to hiring great CX reps, let us know. We’re the experts in CX recruiting and we’ll work our magic to match you with pre-screened candidates in a matter of days so you can get back to focusing on growth 🙂