This is a great interview question for the applicant who will be having direct contact with your customers.
But it’s also a very interesting question for those who will not be directly handling your customers.
Let’s say you’re hiring someone who will only be working at the computer; or managing inventory full time; or some other area of work that does not have any real contact with customers. What if this employee “bumps into” a customer who is just off-the-charts irate about something. There’s no one else around but them. It could go like this:
“Frank, the position we need filled will essentially be handling inventory all day long. This position will have no direct contact with our customers. But let’s say one day, while you’re taking care of a new shipment of widgets, a customer walks up to you and you can clearly see steam coming out of her. She’s very, very angry. What would you do?”
Frank’s answers will be interesting.
He may say, “well, I would immediately find the right person to handle her.”
Or, “well, I’d ask if there’s some way I could help. I would try to find out what’s going on, what’s making her so angry. With what I find out, I’d ask her to come with me, and I’d say, ‘Mary, let’s find the right person to sort this out for you.’”
Or Frank may go so far as, “well, I’d make it my task to find out what’s upsetting the customer and do everything I could to resolve the upset. I may not be able to fully resolve it from my position in the company, but I would make every effort to do so.”
If your applicant has never been in the position to handle customers, he may have considerable difficulty answering this question. He might hem and haw and say, “honestly, I don’t know what I would do.”
So, those are some possible responses from an applicant who is applying for a position that has no direct contact with customers.
Now to the person who will be working with customers all day long. People in sales, front desk personnel, a receptionist, etc. Let’s find out how they would handle the “irate customer.”
Angry customers happen. Very angry customers also can happen. If you handle one poorly, you don’t just lose their business, you potentially lose the business of their friends or family members they told of their experience. The very angry customer may leave a very bad review for your company. They may be so angry, they find every possible place to leave a review and vent their anger on multiple review sites.
Angry and unhandled customers also don’t go over well with the staff. Over time, this can have an adverse effect on staff morale.
Okay, so you know the potential downside here. Let’s find out how your applicant will handle this type of customer. What steps will they take to get from very angry to very satisfied? Or at least no longer angry and understanding what occurred.
You could ask some additional questions while on this topic with your applicant:
Would you apologize for wrongdoing on the part of the company? If so, how would that go?
If the irate customer continued to yell at you and made it seem like you personally were the culprit — when clearly you weren’t — to what degree would you take it personally?
Knowing what the applicant would do to handle an irate customer will give you some good insight into his future performance.