Interview Questions to Assess Conflict Resolution Skills in Frontline Service Employees

There’s no question that frontline service representatives can hear from angry, frustrated, and upset customers on any given day. When these customers call in, your frontline service employees are the first to have the opportunity to turn a negative customer experience into a positive one. And, with customers more likely to remain loyal and share their positive experiences with others, making sure your service and support employees can handle these interactions is imperative to the success of your organization.


But rather than wait to see how your frontline service employees handle customers with negative experiences, you should be vetting candidates during the interview process to ensure the ones who are best equipped to handle customer conflicts are the ones moving forward in the hiring process. How do you find these candidates? In addition to assessments and simulations, use these four questions during your interview with a candidate to see how they handle conflict management:

1. What’s a mistake you’ve made that you’ve learned from in the past?

Nobody is perfect, so rather than look for the candidate who’s never made a mistake, look for one who’s learned from the mistakes they’ve made. Keep an ear open for a candidate who will discuss their role in the mistake they made, and gauge the responsibility they’ve taken for it. This is extra important when it comes to customer service, and may be something worth probing a bit more for after their initial answer. Not every customer with a negative experience can be helped for any number of reasons, but if the candidate is willing to learn from mistakes they’ve made, they’ll be more teachable if they run into an issue they may create with a customer in the future.

2. Tell me how you’ve dealt with a manager/coworker that you’ve conflicted with?

Company culture can make a strong difference when it comes to employee retention, and nothing disrupts company culture quite like a conflict between two peers or a supervisor and subordinate. While not everyone may be everyone else’s best friend in the work environment, having employees and supervisors who all get along with each other is key to fostering a healthy work environment and reducing attrition. When asking this question, look for the candidate who not only avoids conflict, but helps diffuse any issues through professionalism and a positive attitude. The last thing needed is a work environment filled with aggression because when it comes time to help customers employees might sound more frustrated and negative in their support ” risking the chance to turn a negative customer experience into a positive one.

3. How do you handle a customer who’s angry/upset/frustrated?

Why not ask the candidate point blank how they’d handle a dissatisfied customer? Getting an idea of how a candidate sees a way to help a theoretical angry customer is a good initial gauge into the candidate’s thought process. You can learn how a candidate would interpret the situation, the steps they believe they would take, and the reasoning behind their answer all from asking them. It’s important to test against their answer later in the hiring process through the use of simulations and assessments, but this answer will help lay the groundwork on what to look for later on in the process.

4. What would you do if you couldn’t help a customer?

It’s important to recognize that frontline service representatives may not be able to meet a customer’s needs on their own. Sometimes the customer is asking too much, or the requirements are above the responsibilities of an employee. That’s what makes this question so important ” making sure a candidate recognizes that there’s a chain of command in front of them will help make customer support go much quicker and smoother because the candidate won’t be wasting time trying to “do it all on his/her own” and won’t be keeping the customer on standby for a solution. Look out for candidates who show they can recognize when it’s time to get a supervisor involved in a customer service interaction, and how they handle the customer during that transition.

Using interviews in the hiring process to assess a candidate’s conflict management ability can help ensure you’re bringing in strong talent that can rise to the occasion when a customer calls in frustrated. To learn even more information on developing a good hiring process, download the FurstPerson whitepaper on developing a quality of hire report card below.