“What does customer service mean to you?” — It’s one of the crucial customer service job interview questions they’ll ask you. Why? Let me illustrate that with a story.
Last year for his birthday, I got my boyfriend a social cartography book that was (surprisingly) hard to find. The book traveled across the continent to reach me — but it arrived slightly damaged.
I immediately got in touch with the customer service of the small bookshop that sold it to me. They were more than happy to send another one, plus some lovely bookmarks, in no time. I was left speechless.
Fast-forward a year and this bookshop has become one of my favorite places to order books from — even though it’s so far away.
All because of their exceptional customer service.
Your customer service proficiency begins with understanding what great customer service means to you. That’s precisely why interviewers ask that question. And here, you’ll learn how to answer it.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Why interviewers ask “what does customer service mean to you?”
- How to answer “what does customer service mean to you?” and what must-have bits to include
- Examples of good answers you can steal (and modify slightly)
- Common mistakes to avoid when answering this question
Don’t waste days compiling overused interview techniques. Get original answers to every single question you could expect.
Why Interviewers Ask “What Does Customer Service Mean to You?”
Associates, representatives, specialists, team leads, consultants — no matter the role, if you’re applying for a job in the customer service field, you’ll certainly hear the question “What does customer service mean to you?”
Here’s why the question is frequently asked.
To check your understanding of the role
Asking “what does customer service mean to you” helps interviewers check how you see the role, what values you attribute to it, and whether you understand its importance.
When you think of great customer service, what comes to your mind? Efficiency and directness? Or patience and kindness? Or perhaps exceeding customer expectations?
There is no right or wrong answer. As long as you think it through and give a meaningful reply, anything goes.
✅ Pro tip: Don’t use bland definitions. You want to show your personality, present your unique viewpoints, and use precise language to convey them.
To give you the opportunity to display your soft skills
Interviewers want you to talk about soft skills you think are crucial for the customer service role — and to prove that you have them.
Here are some examples:
- Quick thinking
- Active listening
- Conflict resolution
- Positive attitude
You can demonstrate some soft skills, like communication or active listening, during the interview by being actively engaged, asking smart questions, and displaying positive body language.
Others, like conflict resolution, you can prove through engaging stories from the past which provide examples of how you displayed the skill.
✅ Pro tip: In these cases, use the STAR (Situation-Task-Action-Result) framework to form your answers — it will help you prepare a strong answer in advance plus rehearse for a confident delivery.
- Situation: Set the context
- Task: Talk about the task ahead of you
- Action: How you solved it (ideally by displaying a certain skill)
- Result: The outcome (quantitative, qualitative)
More details in the video below:
To hear your personal experiences
Here’s the thing —
Those times when you were the customer who experienced a certain problem can be a major influence on how you think about your CS job. And the hiring manager certainly knows that.
You’ll want to copy what you appreciated about their approach and avoid any behaviors you disliked.
Or, if you’re an experienced candidate, you can also mention the situations when you made your customers happy.
✅ Pro tip: Avoid giving general answers or talking about scenarios that didn’t happen. Remember a real situation, be specific, and go into as much detail as possible.
How to Answer “What Does Customer Service Mean to You?”
Here are 6 factors to help you answer.
Reflect on your personal experiences
Understand your personal experience with customer service.
Here’s why it matters:
- It shapes your expectations and attitude towards customer service
- It’s likely that you experienced both good and bad customer service, which might have helped you empathize with the customer’s perspective
- It helps you understand what you value most about customer service, as well as what you don’t like (and it might help you convey this to the interviewer)
- It helps you understand how good and bad customer service experiences shape people’s perceptions of a brand
All of this will help you be more prepared for the question and give a meaningful answer.
Connect your past experience to present circumstances
Connecting your experiences with the customer service role you applied for will undoubtedly prove you’re experienced, a good fit for the role, and able to contribute to the prospective company in a meaningful way.
It helps you:
- Show how well-acquainted you are with customer service roles, responsibilities, and goals.
- Highlight your strategic thinking, as you’re thinking about how your past experiences are aligned with this specific position you applied for.
- Demonstrate you know the value of customer service, as you relate how your past experiences shaped your views on customer service.
- Illustrate that you recognize the importance of customer service within a business ecosystem.
All of this will make your answers more credible and detailed.
Showcase your problem-solving skills
Show how you would address common customer issues and highlight your problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills.
Some common issues customers face:
- Technical issues
- Product or service questions
- Delivery and shipping problems
- Billing and payment issues
- Account access, forgotten passwords, and lost data
But each situation is different and poses unique challenges. You can’t use a one-size-fits-all technique. That’s precisely why it’s important that you showcase your problem-solving skills such as:
✔️ Analytical thinking
✔️ Critical thinking
✔️ Problem identification and analysis
✔️ Conflict resolution
✔️ Resource management
✔️ Risk assessment
✔️ Communication and emotional intelligence
✔️ Ethical considerations
Problem-solving skills aren’t tied to one specific job or function — but are especially important for high-pressure roles that involve dealing with lots of people on a daily basis. (Yes, exactly like customer service.)
Make sure the interviewer knows you’ve got the skill, and back up your claims by telling a story and mentioning work accomplishments.
For more information, check out this detailed guide: Answering Problem-Solving Interview Questions: Tips and Examples.
Demonstrate effective communication
In customer service, communication is the primary tool through which you interact with customers, solve their problems, and build relationships. It also plays a key role in high-pressure situations you need to de-escalate daily.
What’s great about communication skills is that you don’t have to (only) talk about them in an interview — you can jump right in and demonstrate them.
Spoken words make up only 7% of overall communication, so make sure your non-verbal cues and body language are on point — smile, be polite, ask interesting questions, and stay engaged. (Btw, if you want more tips like this, head to our article: 9 Ways to Sell Yourself in an Interview (+ Examples).
Plus, in your answer to “What does customer service mean to you,” include something about your approach to communication with customers: do you prefer a concise approach or do you want to let your customers vent as much as they need? How do you communicate with customers via different channels (email, phone, social media, or chat)? How do you stay professional if a customer becomes aggressive?
Use the STAR approach to illustrate a story in which you displayed your communication skills.
- Situation: Set the context.
- Task: Describe what you needed to do.
- Action: Describe how you did it (how you communicated something)
- Result: Describe the outcomes
✅ Pro tip: Practice your story as much as you can! Our Mock Interview Tool will help you perfect your answer and provide instant feedback on how to improve. You can record yourself as many times as you like until you feel comfortable and confident.
Talk about surpassing expectations
Exceeding customer expectations leads to increased customer satisfaction. This, in turn, brings loyalty, reduces churn, and improves brand reputation. All that combined means more revenue.
But what are you doing to get there?
Perhaps you’re all about personalizing customer service and coming up with a custom approach for each person, based on their situation, preferred style of communication, services, and products they used in the past.
Or maybe you like to exceed customer expectations by anticipating problems and acting before they arise.
Some additional ways of exceeding expectations you can discuss:
- Underpromising, overdelivering
- Surprising customers with occasional discounts or gifts
- Actively seeking feedback from customers
- Seamless communication via different channels
No matter the way, be sure to be detailed in your answer and use real-life examples.
Demonstrate a customer-centric mindset
Customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable, so it’s safe to say that customers are the backbone of any business.
By putting customers first, you can increase their satisfaction and retention, improve company reputation, increase revenue growth, and improve your product or service.
In your answer, focus on the ways you can contribute to the company by being customer-centric and provide success stories from your past where having a customer-centric mindset brought success to you and your team.
Examples of Good Answers to “What Does Customer Service Mean to You?”
Entry-level customer service role
Interviewer: What do you think great customer service means?
Candidate: I don’t have direct experience in customer service, but I’ve been on the receiving end of it numerous times. What made me happy as a customer was being heard, understood, and having my issues resolved quickly without postponing or transferring me to someone else. So to me, good customer service is all about being a reliable point of contact to customers. And I believe adaptability and outstanding communication skills I’ve gained through my academic experience will help me excel at handling customers effectively. This role is the perfect opportunity for me to apply my skills, acquire new ones, and ensure a positive customer experience, thus contributing to the success of your company.
Mid-level customer service role
Interviewer: What does exceptional customer service mean to you?
Candidate: Having worked in the field for 5 years, I can say my views on good customer service have changed. To me, customer service is the art of consistently exceeding customer expectations, not merely meeting them. It’s not about resolving issues, but about anticipating customer needs and providing proactive solutions. In the B2B space, that means not only addressing customer concerns but placing them in the broader context and connecting them with business goals like improving our product or increasing revenue — and then seeing how we can support those objectives. Customer service is deeply connected with all other business areas, and a healthy, strong CS team is crucial in ensuring client satisfaction and business success.
Senior-level CS role
Interviewer: What does customer service mean to you?
Candidate: Customer service is orchestrating an experience that delights customers, all the while aligning it with the strategic goals of the business. I led CS teams that achieved a 20% increase in customer retention, which resulted in a $5 million annual revenue boost. The secret was understanding each step of the entire customer journey and optimizing each touchpoint to meet them exactly where they were. We worked hard on onboarding processes, created user manuals, and reduced paperwork by implementing electronic forms and digitalizing documents. Customer service is also all about leveraging data to continuously improve, and implement the latest technologies, like AI, to improve productivity and reduce response times. Essentially, customer service is a linchpin that connects a business with its most important stakeholders — customers, driving growth, and boosting brand loyalty.
If you’re considering a managerial position, go through our guide: 13 Customer Service Manager Interview Questions + Answers.
But in a customer service interview, you can also expect numerous general interview questions:
- Tell me about yourself
- Why should we hire you?
- Why do you want to work here?
- What are your salary expectations?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- How do you handle conflict?
- Why did you leave your last job?
- Describe your current job responsibilities
- What is your greatest weakness?
- What are your strengths?
Mistakes to Avoid When Talking About What Customer Service Means to You
“To me, customer service is delivering proactive, immediate support to customers and making them happy”.
Well, that’s nice and true. But you could have just as well said, “to me, customer service means serving customers.”
Avoid being vague and general: google “what is customer service,” read definitions, and then make yours different and personalized.
To add your unique spin on it:
✅ Think about what makes it so special that you want to work in the field.
✅ Reflect on your experience *both* as a customer and as a CS representative.
✅ Pick out a successful interaction with a customer and reflect on what made it so special.
It should help you come up with your own answer.
Not providing examples
Not providing real examples will make you look unconvincing, boring, and inexperienced.
Whenever possible, provide real-life examples in your answer to “What does customer service mean to you” (and, of course, use the Situation-Task-Action-Result method).
Doing so will help you:
- Formulate the answer easily
- Be more specific
- Provide more credible details
- Testify that you’re experienced in the field
- Be more engaging
If you get this question and you don’t have relevant previous experience, put yourself in customers’ shoes and remember a story when you were the customer and got the help you asked for.
Not tailoring responses to the job opening
You need to make sure interviewers know your values align with the company’s and that your skill set matches their needs.
You can look through their social media and website for clues about what they value and how they see customer service. Career pages will usually contain this information.
For example, if a company says they put their customers first and empathizing with customers is their number one priority, you’re going to want to remember a situation from your experience when you went with the patient, empathic approach. Even if your preferred one is, for example, being quick and direct).
That said, do not make stories up so that interviewers like you (yes, I’m now reminding you not to lie in your interview) — just pick out relevant experiences from your work experience (or personal life) that illustrate these shared values.
Summary of the Main Points
- Interviewers ask “What does customer service mean to you?” to check your understanding of the role, your personal experience with customer service, and to give you the chance to demonstrate your skills.
- Your answer has to be unique and original: avoid bland Wikipedia definitions.
- Emphasize your personal relation to customer service, focus on your customer-centric approach, and prove your problem-solving skills.
- Reflect on your past experiences and connect them to customer service roles and responsibilities to prove your competence and skill.
- Display outstanding communication skills (be engaged throughout the interview, smile, be polite, ask insightful questions).
- Avoid being vague, tailor your responses to the company you applied for, and always use examples in the form of storytelling (STAR method is your friend here).
Need a hand? There are 3 ways we can help:
- Tired of interviewing and not landing the job? Discover actionable lessons and interview practice here (Rated with 4.9/5 by 1,000,000 users).
- Preparing for a customer service interview? Read about 11+ Customer Service Behavioral Interview Questions + Best Answers.
- Read about Interview Anxiety: How to Calm Nerves Before an Interview.
What constitutes good customer service?
It’s individual, as different people will value and prioritize different factors. Some of the key elements are empathy, outstanding communication, problem-solving, a proactive approach, exceeding expectations, and customer focus. Building relationships, not merely fulfilling transactions, is at the heart of great customer service, and should as such be the goal of customer service teams.
What are some examples of exceptional customer service?
Anticipating customer needs (proactive vs. reactive), personalized assistance, quick and efficient problem resolution, transparent and honest communication, responsiveness, community engagement, and easy returns and exchanges.
Why is customer service so important?
Customer service can have a strong impact on the fate of a brand because it directly influences key business areas like customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, reputation, competitive advantage, product development, and revenue. A company’s relationship with its customers determines the success of a brand, that’s why customer service is so critical.
Should I mention my personal experiences as a customer in my answer?
Yes, because they shaped your view on customer service and helped you understand the values you appreciate. Your personal experiences as a customer can also help you be better at your job — either by replicating what you liked or spotting things you didn’t like and doing them differently. Additionally, if you don’t have customer service experience, drawing inspiration from your experiences as a customer will help you prepare answers to a lot of questions.
How to become better at customer service?
Understand your customers through active listening and healthy communication. Anticipate their issues and needs based on past interactions and data available. Hone your problem-solving skills, practice empathy, and constantly work on improving your product or service knowledge. Regularly assess your performance and seek training and guidance from more experienced coworkers. Stay organized and keep a positive mindset.
What are three important qualities of customer service?
Problem-solving, customer focus, and transparent communication are at the heart of good customer service. When combined, these qualities contribute to a positive customer experience that increases customer satisfaction and loyalty, brand reputation, and ultimately revenue.