Job Interview Question: Tell Me How You Dealt with a Difficult Customer

High up on the list of difficult interview questions comes the next in our series: “Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult customer.”

Before you backpedal into a trite version of “The customer is always right,” it’s worth taking a minute to understand what this question is really asking. Does the interviewer who asks this question want to hear that you’ve always had satisfied customers? Definitely not. Dissatisfied customers are a given in nearly every industry.

The interviewer is not looking to hire someone with a perfect track record. The interviewer is looking to hire someone who can confidently and professionally address customer concerns and come to an acceptable resolution with as little interference from management as appropriate.

That’s a tall order for a simple question, so it’s important to put time and thought into preparing your answer. Here’s how to take your experience and build the best response possible.

Use the “Five Ws” to Tell a Compelling Story

You may remember the “Five Ws” from when you were learning how to write essays in school. It’s a simple strategy for remembering that the writer needs to answer five questions to orient the reader to what was important within the story: who, what, where, when, and why. You can use these five questions to form a powerful answer to what the interviewer asks you.

Who was involved in the difficult dispute, and when and where did it take place?

Start by providing the context for your decision. Identify the difficult customer and what position you held at the company. Were you a customer service representative who took the call directly? Were you a supervising manager called in by customer service when the problem had already escalated? Or were you were an account specialist speaking with a long-term satisfied client who was suddenly not so satisfied? Understanding these details will help the interviewer assess the situation and the appropriateness of your actions.

You should identify any pertinent details about when and where this confrontation took place. For example, did the conversation start on the phone and escalate to an onsite visit? Or did you meet with the customer face to face from the start? Providing these details will build a clear visual of how you perform on the job.

What was the customer’s concern, what was your response, and why did you respond that way?

After you build the backstory you can get into the important details such as what the customer’s concern was, how you responded and the reasoning behind your response. What steps did you take to identify the customer’s primary complaint? Did you resolve the issue immediately, or did you work with your supervisor and team to come to a resolution? This part of the answer will help the interviewer understand the situation and assess how well you understood the situation at the time.

It’s important that you take the time to explain the thought process behind your actions. This is the heart of the question because it gives you the opportunity to show the interviewer that you are well-trained and open to input from your employer. The interviewer is looking to hear that you are competent, thoughtful and willing to adjust your approach to different scenarios depending on how your employer coaches you.

Don’t wing your answer to this question. Identify a time you were proud of dealing with a difficult customer and share the story with the interviewer according to these five points.

How have you answered this question in past interviews? Would you change your response now?