Interview Question: What is Customer Service?

Customer Service Representative on phone
Photo: Thomas Barwick / Stone / Getty Images

When you're interviewing for a job, you need to be prepared for all kinds of interview questions, from the standard ("Where do you see yourself in five years?") to the downright wacky ("Why is a tennis ball fuzzy?"). But since you don't have an endless amount of time to prepare, it makes sense to focus the bulk of your preparation time on the questions you're most likely to get.

If you're applying for a retail or customer service position, for example, a common job interview question is, “What is customer service?”

Here’s information on why interviewers ask this question, and on how to prepare and give a good response. You’ll also find examples of strong answers to the question.

What the Interviewer Wants to Know

An interviewer asks the question, “What is customer service?” for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he or she wants to know that you are familiar with the retail/customer service lingo.


Terms like "customer service," "customer satisfaction," and "customer loyalty" are all concepts that you should be familiar with if you are in this industry.

Secondly, interviewers want to be sure that you can identify the many parts that make up good customer service. After all, customer service is more than just being a friendly face, and employers want to make sure you know this.

If you show that you understand what makes good customer service, the interviewer will have confidence that you can handle the job.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Tailor your answer to fit the job. While the basic tenets of good customer service are the same from organization to organization, the details can vary widely. Before your interview, do a little research on the organization and its attitude towards customer service.

Read recent news stories about the organization, and follow the company on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., to find out what face the company presents to the world. You're hoping to get a rough idea of the company's philosophy about customer service.

Many organizations provide this information right up front, as part of their branding strategy. Look on their “About Us” page on their website to get a sense of how they think of their customers, and how they serve those customers. Look for any keywords that you might want to use in your interview answer.


Look for opportunities to drop those keywords into your interview answers. You might feel a little awkward, but the impression you'll give is one of someone who's already aligned with the brand. 

Examples of the Best Answers

Here is a selection of sample answers you can use to respond to questions about customer service. Be sure to tailor your own answer to fit your experience, and the company you are interviewing with:

Example Answer #1

There are many components to customer service, and you need all of them to truly satisfy customers. Customer service involves being a kind, courteous, and professional face for the company. It also involves listening carefully to customer wants and concerns. Beyond listening, customer service is doing everything in one’s power to efficiently and accurately serve each customer. Finally, customer service is about clearly explaining solutions to clients. All of these components of customer service lead to happy and loyal customers, which I know is the ultimate goal of your company.

Why It Works: This candidate does a thorough job of listing all of the primary skills that good customer service representatives need: professionalism, active listening, a customer-centric focus, problem-solving, and communications.

Example Answer #2

Customer service is more than waiting on customers. It includes trying your best to make sure that the customer is satisfied. I know customer satisfaction is extremely important to your company, and it is always something I strive for in my retail experience. For example, I recently had a customer who was disappointed that we did not have an item in our store. I called four other branches of our company, and finally called company headquarters, to find the item. I then had it shipped to our branch, and the customer had the item within four days. Working hard to meet customers’ needs is always my priority.

Why It Works: This is a good example of how to use the STAR interview response technique to strengthen your answer with an illustrative anecdote from your past work experience. In this technique, you describe a Situation, the Task or challenge involved, the Action you took, and the Result of this action.

Example Answer #3

Customer service is listening to customers and helping to resolve their issues so that they remain happy and loyal. Listening is such a critical, and sometimes overlooked, part of customer service. Having worked in a call center for five years, I have plenty of experience listening carefully to the needs of my customers before efficiently working to solve their problems and explain the solutions. Most customers already begin to feel taken care of once you listen carefully to their concerns. Asking clarifying questions, repeating their concerns, and simply quietly listening are helpful ways to demonstratethat you are listening and that you care about their problems.

Why It Works: This interviewee focuses on a single component of good customer service—active listening—to good effect, demonstrating a solid command of the listening process within a customer-facing role.

How to Show Your Expertise

Your answer should acknowledge that there are many pieces that make up customer service. For example, customer service in part means being a good public face for the company. That means being courteous and pleasant to customers or clients.

However, another important part of customer service is communication—you need to listen to people’s concerns and answer questions in a clear, efficient manner.


Explain and identify these parts, and the interviewer will be impressed with your knowledge.

Practice Your Response

Taking time to practice your answer to the question, “What is customer service?” will ensure that during your actual interview you demonstrate the confidence, presence of mind, knowledge, and poise that employers seek in their customer service representatives.

Share an Example

While this question is about customer service, generally speaking, the interviewer is also trying to see if you have the customer service skills that are right for the job. Therefore, if you have time, you might add an example to the end of your answer.

Provide an example of a time you demonstrated the customer service qualities you mention or explain how you learned about customer service through a particular experience (make sure it is a positive experience that demonstrates your skills).


An example can help connect your answer back to why you are a strong candidate for the job.

Dress Appropriately

You can demonstrate your understanding of strong customer service throughout the interview. Keep in mind that not all communication takes place out loud. In addition to being prepared to answer the interviewer's questions, you want to create a positive first impression by dressing appropriately, making friendly eye contact, and maintaining open, confident body language.

Especially in a job interview for a customer service role, it's important that you prove to the hiring manager that you understand how to convey the right messages with your appearance and demeanor. This might mean keeping your makeup or jewelry more (or less!) conservative than you would during your off-time, or just making sure that your interview outfit is clean, pressed, and free of lint or animal hair.

Review More Questions

Also, review more common interview questions about customer service to be sure you're prepared for the interview.

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