Have you ever heard of “The Monk’s Method”? No? You guess it’s related to religious topics?
Not really. Guess again.
Curious what it has to do with questioning techniques at all?
Actually, it has – a lot. It will help you figure out why you should learn this lesson and how to ask questions to get the results you want. That skill is essential for your future CSR (Customer Service Representative) role.
So, here’s a funny story to illustrate the method, i.e. how the way people ask a question can determine the answers they get.
Two monks were praying, walking and talking as they do all day long. The junior monk said to the senior monk,
“I’m surprised you’re allowed to smoke while walking around and praying here in the monastery my dear brother. When I joined the monastery I asked our Head Monk about smoking and his answer was a resounding no. How come you are able to smoke with no problem?”
The senior monk smiled and said,
“Am I right to assume, my dear brother, that you asked the Head Monk whether it was alright for you to smoke while praying?”
“Yes,” said the junior monk, “I asked him whether it was alright for me to smoke while praying, and he looked at me disapprovingly and said, ‘Of course not. I’m surprised you would even ask.”
“Ah!” exclaimed the senior monk, “You didn’t know how to ask, my dear brother. It all depends on how you put it. When I joined the monastery, I too asked the Head Monk about smoking, but in a slightly different manner.
I asked him, ‘Dear Master, is it alright for me to pray while smoking?’ And he said, ‘But of course my son. You can pray anytime.”
In asking questions, as well as in all other aspects of communication, it’s not what you say that counts, but how you say it.
You see the point?
A really skilled and useful CSR will know how to chat with a customer and get to the root of the problem. But, how does a beginner know what exactly to do?
If you’re a beginner, don’t worry! That’s why this lesson exists.
It will provide you with in-depth information about the most significant questioning techniques that can be used in customers service roles.
Also, it will help you understand that you have many options when it comes to discovering a customer’s problem.
Note: This is about the discovery of the problem, NOT a lesson on how to solve the problem.
At the end of the lesson, you will feel confident because you will have a library of questioning techniques that will help you engage in a purposeful, targeted conversation with every customer.
Got the point now? Sure.
Moreover, you’ll be able to guide and control the conversation and influence the customer. And not only the customer but those techniques are applicable in your everyday life, too.
How powerful does that sound to you?
In other words, that knowledge will empower you to solve problems for your employer and their online store. That’s how you’ll prove yourself as a valuable and skilful team member. Thus, you’ll ensure yourself a long and prosperous online career.
Isn’t it amazing?
We can’t wait to see your online CSR career thrive! How about you? Excited to start a new journey? Let’s set off, then!
We’re going to start with some reasons why asking a customer the right questions at the right time is so significant.
The Power of Effective Questioning
According to the article Questioning Skills and Techniques, we can use questioning to:
- Build relationships
- Persuade people
- Handle difficult situations
- Avoid misunderstandings
- Manage and even coach people
In today’s busy world our customers have less time on their hands, and a limit to the number of questions we can ask them.
Ask too many questions, and our customers could think we are incompetent or alternatively, they may feel slightly “interrogated” for information.
On the contrary, asking too few questions may cause customers to think we have a lack of interest in their issue or they may doubt we have enough information to resolve their issue.
So how do we find the right balance?
When it comes to choosing the right questions to ask, as suggested by the Hamilton Mercer article, it’s good to know that they will be influenced by these factors:
- The nature of the inquiry
- The details needed to handle the inquiry
- The person’s willingness to volunteer information
- Time-scales set by your organization or the person
So, let’s further explain the importance of mastering different questioning techniques for a CSR on examples as usual because we all learn better from examples, right?
As Shep Hyken, a customer service speaker and expert, says in his video Secrets To Asking Questions Correctly, you’ve certainly walked into a retail store, and a salesperson came up to you and with a friendly smile, welcomed you and asked, “Can I help you?”
Now, compare that with a friendly smile and warm greeting from another salesperson in a similar situation who asks, “What can I help you find today?”
Which one of them would make you as a customer feel more welcomed and pleased?
Totally different ways to ask the same question, even though you may get the same answer. Yet the customer experience is enhanced by the way the question is asked.
It’s all in how you say it.
Follow the link above and watch the whole video in which this expert shares more great examples and secrets.
You see how the same question phrased differently can sound either classy and sophisticated or a little “raw”?
Now you’re completely aware of the slightest differences between these basically the same questions at first sight:
“How can I help you?”
“What problem can I help you solve today?” or even
“How can we help put a smile on your face today?”
Got it? Good.
We couldn’t agree more with this expert when he says that the secret to having people ask the right questions – in the right way – is training. Luckily, you’ve found the right course to learn from!
Here’s another video showing how important asking questions effectively, active listening skills and the confirmation of understanding are for CSRs. These skills help you precisely define a customer’s needs so you can meet the customer’s expectations.
Although the examples demonstrate face to face communication, the same principles can be applied when communicating with customers by any other means (e.g. via phone or live chat).
Another expert, Simon Roskrow, Director at Lammore Consulting, examines the skill of questioning.
Whilst we all understand the importance of asking the right questions, under pressure we often make simple mistakes which undermine our ability to get good quality information,”Simon Roskrow
Watch him taking us through the three biggest flaws in questioning. Although this is also primarily related to sales, it’s applicable to other customer service roles, too.
In case you still wonder why developing your questioning skills is so critical in customer service, watch the next short animated presentation – Tips for good questioning skills.
A wise man once said, “The quality of your life is defined by the questions you ask.”
Before we dive into each questioning technique you should be familiar with, check out a short animated video The Power Of Effective Questioning to help you improve the quality of the questions you ask and therefore improve the quality of your life and future work.
You see how questions give you a lot of power in any conversation? Follow the link and take a peek at some of the great benefits you can gain from using questions properly.
When talking about benefits of effective questioning, you may also want to check out the following 10 Tips for Effective Questioning.
Another excellent article, Questioning Techniques – Asking Questions Effectively, and the video (included in the article) also explore some common questioning techniques, and when (and when not) to use them. The author reminds us of some vital points here.
“Garbage in, garbage out,” is a popular truth, often said in relation to computer systems: If you put the wrong information in, you’ll get the wrong information out.
The same principle applies to communications in general: If you ask the wrong questions, you’ll probably get the wrong answer, or at least not quite what you’re hoping for.
Asking the right question is at the heart of effective communications and information exchange. By using the right questions in a particular situation, you can improve a whole range of communications skills.
For example, you can gather better information and learn more, you can build stronger relationships, manage people more effectively, and help others to learn too.
As the author states in the end, you have probably used all of these questioning techniques before in your everyday life, at work and at home.
But by consciously applying the appropriate kind of questioning, you can gain the information, response or outcome that you want even more effectively.
Questions are a powerful way of:
- Learning: Ask open and closed questions, and use probing questioning.
- Relationship building: People generally respond positively if you ask about what they do or inquire about their opinions. If you do this in an affirmative way “Tell me what you like best about working here“, you will help to build and maintain an open dialogue.
- Managing and coaching: Here, rhetorical and leading questions are useful too. They can help get people to reflect and to commit to courses of action that you’ve suggested: “Wouldn’t it be great to gain some further qualifications?“
- Avoiding misunderstandings: Use probing questions to seek clarification, particularly when the consequences are significant. And to make sure you avoid jumping to conclusions, the Ladder of Inference tool can help too.
- De-fusing a heated situation: You can calm an angry customer or colleague by using funnel questions to get them to go into more detail about their grievance. This will not only distract them from their emotions, but will often help you to identify a small practical thing that you can do, which is often enough to make them feel that they have “won” something, and no longer need to be angry.
- Persuading people: No one likes to be lectured, but asking a series of open questions will help others to embrace the reasons behind your point of view. “What do you think about bringing the sales force in for half a day to have their laptops upgraded?”
OK. Now you know for sure what the power of a skilfully phrased question is and why it greatly matters in customer service and life generally, don’t you? And you’ve also noticed different types of questions you’re supposed to master, right?
Then, you are ready to dig deeper into a variety of questioning techniques and learn more about each of them. Let’s do it.
Various Questioning Techniques
As you already know, the kind of questions you ask will determine the type of answers you get. The following presentation will help you understand the right questions to ask at the right time.
For a start, take a quick look at how its author defined effective questioning, as well as briefly defined, exemplified and showed the purpose of four common types of questions in customer service: open, closed, clarifying, and leading.
Note: Further in this lesson, we’re going to deal with most of these and a few more different question types and techniques relevant for CSRs in detail.
Here’s another super short video showing the use of the same four question types to close a sale. It’s aimed at retail services but it’s still applicable to online customer service.
The next slides about questioning techniques give you some insights into open, closed, probing, leading, and rhetorical questions, most of which we’re going to elaborate on down in the lesson.
There’s one more interesting and short animated presentation for you to see the purpose and examples of these three types of questions – background, probing, and confirming. So, take a quick peek.
This short animation reminds you of the reasons to ask questions and the importance of listening, so take a glance at it, as well.
Remember – listen before asking!
As the next expert source also states, good listening skills are key for not wasting the customer’s time or your own and for getting the information you need quickly and efficiently. Watch the power of listening coupled with open-ended and closed-ended questions in the example below.
Gathering information is a basic human activity – we use information to learn, to help us solve problems, to aid our decision making processes and to understand each other more clearly.
Questioning is the key to gaining more information and without it interpersonal communications can fail. Questioning is fundamental to successful communication – we all ask and are asked questions when engaged in conversation.
Being an effective communicator has a lot to do with HOW questions are asked as stated in the article Questioning Skills and Techniques.
To learn more about why ask questions and how to ask them, follow the link and read the full article.
Although there are numerous reasons for asking questions the information we receive back (the answer) will depend very much on the type of question we ask.
Sounds familiar? Of course.
Your career and success depend upon getting the right information from your customers, right? A CSR who’s skilled at asking the right questions can obtain a great deal of valuable information.
Thus, it’s wise to master the art of uncovering customer needs and issues through strategic questioning skills and techniques.
Don’t you agree?
As written in another article by Skills You Need, Types of Question, questions, in their simplest form, can either be open or closed. This article and our lesson cover both types but also detail many other question types and when it may be appropriate to use them, in order to improve understanding.
Thus, after scratching the surface to find out what types of questions are of interest to you, let’s dive deeper into the most significant ones. Of course, we won’t be able to tackle all question types because there are plenty of them.
Eager to get to know your future secret weapon, its purpose, effects, and examples better?
We bet you’ll be amazed once you start exploring it. Even more when you begin to practice the skills you’ve developed when you start working as an online CSR.
Then, let’s move on! Shall we?
Open vs closed questions
Again, as advised in the article Questioning Techniques, it’s important that you use appropriate questioning skills on the job to help you completely understand each customer’s situation. Otherwise you’re responding to what you assume they mean, which may or may not be right.
Now, let’s see what this source says about these two most common question types: open-ended and closed-ended questions.
Open-ended questions are those that encourage continued conversation. They generally require more than one or two words to answer, and they’ll help you to get more information about a situation. Open-ended questions often give insight into the other person’s feelings. They draw out more details.
Use open-ended questions when you want the other person to open up.
Here are some examples of open-ended questions.
- “Tell me about the factors that are important to you in choosing a long-term care facility.“
- “How would you describe your overall experience with our automated system?“
- “Why is an extension needed?“
Other phrases that similarly would produce the extra information you seek from open-ended questions begin with words like in these examples:
- “Tell me about the factors you consider important when you plan a family trip.“
- “Explain to me a little more about your situation with the appraised value.“
- “Help me understand how you prefer to book your tickets for a flight.“
- “Share with me a bit more about the software problems you’re experiencing.“
So, to summarise, open-ended questions are those that don’t limit or restrict answers. They help you get more information and also give you additional insight into a situation.
Let’s examine closed-ended questions. These have what we call a fixed limit. They generally are answered “yes” or “no” or with a short statement of fact, and they usually give brief, specific information or are used to confirm facts.
Use closed-ended questions when you want to focus and direct the conversation.
Here are some examples.
- “Do you have Part B coverage in place?“
- “Is your system still under warranty?“
- “Would you like the number for our 24-hour help line?“
So, how do you use these two tools of open-ended and closed-ended questions together?
Well, you use the open-ended questions to draw out more information, and you use the closed-ended questions to tack things down and move the conversation forward in a particular direction.
- Open-ended questions are those that encourage continued conversation.
- Closed-ended questions are those that tack down or confirm details, limit or restrict the answer and can be answered by “yes” or “no” or in just a few words.
Notice in the following example how the open-ended questions are used first, to get more information, and then the closed-ended questions are used to focus in on one area.
Jeremy (agent): Good afternoon, Learn-A-Maxx help desk. This is Jeremy.
Mr. Wilkes (customer): Hi, Jeremy. I’m Ron Wilkes. I need some help with a hardware problem.
Jeremy (agent): Hi, Mr. Wilkes. You’ve called the right place. Tell me what type of issues are you experiencing?
Mr. Wilkes (customer): Well, we keep getting this 12-21 error.
Jeremy (agent): OK. Are you referring to the interruption with the power supply?
Mr. Wilkes (customer): Yes. That’s it, exactly.
Jeremy (agent): OK. That’s a simple enough issue to fix. First I’m going to need you to power down …
Effective questioning techniques like these show that you have the ability to get to someone’s real needs and issues and that you’re looking for the meaning that’s deeper than the initial spoken message. It says to the other person, “I’m interested in determining your needs.” It is an effective way to give and get respect in a discussion.
You’re about to find out where to be extra careful and to see some great examples in use.
Ready? Sure you are.
Open questions start with one of the following “w” words: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.
A word of caution when using why to start an open question. Consider these phrases:
“Why did you do that?”
“Why are you feeling that?”
“Why did that happen?”
Each of these phrases risk sounding harsh to the customer’s ear – something you certainly want to avoid when building a relationship with a customer.
Instead, we recommend rephrasing ”why” questions with a “what” or “how” to help soften the question:
“What caused you to do that?”
“What led to you feeling like that?”
“How come that happened?”
Open questions can help you:
- Set the stage for an open conversation: “Hi there, how can I help you today?”
- Pull more detail from your customer: “What does the screen say when you turn it on?”
- Find out the customer’s opinion or feelings about an issue: “Overall, what is your impression of the laptop’s functionality?”
In contrast to open questions, closed questions are really great for drawing specific and definitive information from a customer. They’re also wonderful to use as a last check at the end of a conversation to make sure the customer’s concerns have been fully addressed.
But, that’s what you’ve already learnt, right?
Where’s the catch, then? Well, here’s the author’s pro tip to bear in mind.
Given the short answers that closed questions elicit, throwing them into the middle of a conversation may shake the natural flow dialogue. If possible, try to avoid using them during the primary fact-finding and problem-solving stage of the conversation.
Closed questions can help you:
- Verify that the information you’ve collected is correct: “The screen says ‘unable to receive input’, is that correct?”
- Confirm issue resolution before closing a conversation: “It seems we’ve found the fix. Have I solved your issue adequately today?”
- Regain control of a conversation when a customer is talking a lot and you need to wrap things up: “I’m glad I was able to assist you with this today, do you need help with anything further?”
Although the article is focused on providing customer support via live chat, don’t you think the valuable advice and examples presented here are easily customizable and applicable to any other similar customer service scenario?
You may also find this Changing Minds page on definitions and using Open and Closed Questions beneficial. Do not hesitate to check it out!
Did it? Excellent!
Questions are the best way to find out information about your customers and ensure you understand their needs and develop a firm relationship with them. If you ask the wrong questions, you’ll probably get the wrong answer, or at least not quite what you’re hoping for.
How many times have you heard this before?
So think about the questions beforehand and plan them, as suggested in this video.
You’ve learnt about the two most common question types. Nice. Let’s dig deeper now to make you more knowledgeable and competitive in the online job market!
Ready to continue?
OK. You’ve used your skills of asking relevant open and closed questions. Great!
But you still do NOT understand what your customer is telling you or what exactly they want from you? Or you’re unfamiliar with the customer’s request? Or the customer is indecisive and not sure what they really want?
You feel lost and have no idea what to do next? Don’t worry!
This is the right time for some more probing.
When questioning someone, you may want at times to get into deeper detail about some particular issue or problem.
For example, the other person may have indicated that they cannot make a decision today. This could be because they have an objection or simply that there is more information for you to discover, such as the process by which they make decisions.
Before you start probing, you must spot the signals they are sending that there is more here than meets the immediate eye. To find out what things to look for include, follow the link about probing above.
When seeking more detail, there are a number of types probes you can use, depending on what they are saying and what you want to discover, such as:
- Completeness and some others
To learn about different probing questions and check out the examples, refer to the following Changing Minds article on Probing questions.
Further on, as Pascal, the author of the Userlike’s article 20 Customer Service Techniques to Step Up Your Game, says, these are questions to gain more detail about a situation, and they’re essential for troubleshooting.
When a customer comes with a problem, your mind automatically comes up with possible causes and explanations. Probing questions basically test those on-the-spot hypotheses with the customer. For example: “Did your phone get in contact with any water recently?”
Moreover, in her book The World of Customer Service on page 144, Pattie Gibson explains that probing questions use information already established to clarify points and ask for more details. Often, these questions promptly follow up a previous question and response.
For example, “Who did you speak with yesterday?” “When did you purchase the product?” “Can you always be reached at this telephone number?” and “Tell me more about how you are feeling.”
Probing questions help to draw more information on the details the customer has told you so far. These questions are relevant and inquisitive and can be used to help you get the sort of detailed information you need to solve a customer’s problem.
A few examples of probing questions include:
“Can you tell me a little more about that?”
“What specifically did you mean by that?”
“Can you explain a little more about that?”
Probing questions focus on specific details while still keeping the questioning open to prompt for elaborate responses.
The “deep dive” and attentive nature of probing questions can help you:
- Built trust with your customers
- Demonstrate empathy for their problem
- Uncover your customer’s needs
Pro Tip: When using probing questions, try to focus in on a specific point the customer provided in their previous answer.
Practical Tips for Effective Questioning and Probing Techniques offers similar advice to the pro tip above. Here’s what it says.
Relevant probing helps unearth the customer’s need and reduces ACHT. We need to encourage agents to ONLY do relevant probing when they seek answers to help customers.
- LISTEN to the main query attentively. This helps to get many cues from the query itself – hence reducing the need to probe.
- Do open-ended probing when you need to recommend something to a customer or when the customer is facing an inconvenience. Ensure closed probing when you need the reply in just a yes or no to hand-hold the customer.
- The context and manner of probing must be clear for the customer to understand instantly and courteous for them to respond similarly.
- No irrelevant probing. You must ensure a thorough system check so as not to irritate the customer by asking irrelevant questions.
Note: ACHT stands for Average Call Handling Time.
These questions are asked to clarify doubts or misunderstandings. They will help you pull out information from people who are hiding information or avoiding from telling you something. Some examples are:
- What exactly is the current situation?
- Who exactly is requiring these details?
- When do you need these data by?
- How do you know that XYZ was involved?
- What is exactly this information needed for?
- Where exactly will you be using this?
- What types of products do you need, how and where will you be using them?
- Can you be more specific?
Some more helpful examples of probing questions suggested in Customer Service Tips & Techniques are:
“Could you please tell me more about…”
“I’m not quite sure I understood …Could you tell me about that some more?”
“I’m not certain what you mean by… Could you give me some examples?”
“Could you tell me more about your thinking on that?”
“You mentioned…. Could you tell me more about that?”
“This is what I thought I heard…Did I understand you correctly?”
“So what I hear you saying is…”
“Can you give me an example of…”
“What makes you feel that way?”
“What are some of your reasons for liking it?”
“You just told me about…. I’d also like to know about….”
The same source suggests that asking probing questions can be the building blocks to providing your clients with the best solutions to their problems because these probing questions will help you to:
- Build rapport with your clients
- Understand your customers’ needs
- Illuminate your customers’ hidden needs and wants
- Look for information from your customers
- Direct the conversation
- Increase your customer’s comfort zone
- Name your customers’ fears to help conquer them
- Galvanize customers’ emotions so they’ll take action, with your help
After all, don’t you find probing questions highly useful when exploring in detail customer concerns you’ve previously identified? Certainly.
Now you have an idea how you can draw out particular information from the customer.
Well-tailored probing questions will help you make sure that you fully understand your customer’s needs and concerns.
Let’s just take a quick look at the video on probing questions by lynda.com which summarizes some of the main points of this subsection.
You see? Probing is an integral part of a customer service interaction, so it’s essential for you to be familiar with this questioning technique. Don’t you think so?
Now you’re equipped so that you can ask these follow-up questions to uncover your customer’s REAL needs once you start working. Amazing!
And we’ve just started this fun journey. Here comes another golden technique for you to master.
The Funnel Technique
This technique usually involves starting with some general questions, then moving to the point with asking for more and more details at each next level.
Sounds complicated at first sight? Don’t worry. It’s quite simple, you’ll see!
Just imagine the shape of a funnel while using these type of questions. A funnel has a wide mouth and gradually narrows at the bottom.
Similarly, you start with a lot of general questions on a situation or incident and then narrow it down to one point to arrive at a conclusion.
This type of questioning technique is used by investigators, researchers and detectives. In cases where investigations are involved, these types of questions can be used to gather information and then to narrow down to arrive at a decision.
You can use a lot of closed questions at the start and then widen on to asking open questions thereby making the people feel comfortable answering your questions.
According to another article, Practical Tips for Effective Questioning and Probing Techniques, there are three steps involved in “The Funnel Effect”:
- Open questions: Always start with open questions about the subject at hand, this will give you all the information you require to take the conversation further.
- Probing questions: This is the stage of the questioning which will allow you to delve deeper into the customer’s answers, finding out the reasons and emotions behind those answers.
- Closed questions: Asking closed questions (i.e. questions which only allow a yes or no answer) allows you to confirm both your and the customer’s understanding of what has been discussed in that specific line of questioning. It will also show the customer that you have been listening!
Another expert source, 4 Essential Questioning Techniques for Live Chat, explains the funnel process in a similar way but with more examples and details. Let’s check it out and learn from it!
Here’s what it says.
The funnel can be thought of as the ‘overarching’ questioning technique that consists of the other three techniques. Like a physical funnel, this technique follows a pattern of either increasing or decreasing detail and starts with open questions, moves to probing, and closes with closed (or vice-versa). The funnel technique is often used by police forces when taking statements from witnesses.
And here’s how this author illustrated the funnel technique:
Further on, they offer an example:
“Tell me about your problem with your laptop”
“How long have you owned this laptop?”
“Can you tell me specifically what the prompt message said when the laptop froze?”
“Did you try rebooting?”
In this example, the agent starts with an open question to allow the customer to provide a detailed explanation of their problem. With each subsequent question, the agent becomes more specific and focused.
In other scenarios, the funnel can start with a closed question to gather as much specific detail right from the start.
“Did you try rebooting?”
“Is the computer on now?”
“Is your wireless function switched on?”
“Please start Google Chrome. What is the first screen you see?”
The same source suggests using the funnel technique when you need to gather more information to answer a customer’s specific problem.
Moreover, they highly advise using focus words like “exactly” or “specifically” to prompt the customer to give you more information about a certain detail.
For instance: “You said a comment flashed on the screen before the laptop froze. What did it specifically say?”
Now, let’s take a look at a full funnel in action via live chat, as suggested in our source article.
Gia: Hi, this is Gia at NiceNet100, how can I help?
David: Yes, I wonder if you can. My internet has been off for about 3 hours and I need to get a lot of work done. I’ve tried accessing with my PC and my phone but nothing works.
Gia: I am sorry to hear that. What lights on the router are on?
David: There’s a light on it that’s blinking, I’ve turned it off and on again but it still doesn’t work.
Gia: Please could you tell me a little more about the blinking light?
David: It’s a light which has got a globe thing printed above it. It keeps blinking on and off in an irregular way. Sometimes it stops blinking but then it just starts again.
Gia: That’s useful for me to know, thank you. I’m just going to reset something my end as I think there was a problem with the system which has interrupted your access.
Gia: Okay, I’ve just reset your access. Is the internet working now?
David: Aha! Yes, I’m online now.
Gia: Great! Was there anything else I can help you with today?
David: No, thank you for your help!
As you can see, the questions help to systematically and smoothly guide the conversation towards an outcome that leaves the customer satisfied.
Dealing with angry customers is an unavoidable element in most customer service roles. Questioning techniques, like the funnel, can help calm these situations but focusing the customer’s energy towards the specifics of their issue (and away from their anger).
And when working your way through the funnel, don’t be afraid to move both downwards and upwards. If you’re finding a customer hasn’t fully given you enough or the right details, you can always throw an open question in at any point to gather the information you need, as smartly advised by Jylian Russell.
Wow! You’ve learnt another valuable questioning technique with the help of carefully selected expert sources. It wasn’t that difficult, was it?
In a nutshell, funnel questioning seeks further information either that goes into more specific detail or becomes more general. Feel free to follow the link to this Changing Minds page and learn much more.
Also, check out this video by RealTrainingRightNow which clarifies and summarizes the funnelling process.
Let’s explore another powerful technique now, shall we?
You wonder why this question type is so powerful? Here’s the secret.
One way of influencing a person is to ask them questions that are deliberately designed to make them think in a certain way.
Leading questions either include the answer, point the listener in the right direction or include some form of a carrot or stick to send them to the “right” answer.
You see now?
Leading questions are used to lead the person whom you are talking to. This leads the speaker to give you answers, while they know that you are giving them a choice. You have to be careful NOT to be manipulative while using leading questions.
Some examples are:
“Well, I think this product looks more suitable for your needs, what do you think?”
“What would you prefer, A or B, as they both have similar features?”
As the article 20 Customer Service Techniques to Step Up Your Game explains, these questions subtly guide the customers to a certain direction.
When a customer is complaining about some missing features, for example, you could guide their mindset towards something more positive by asking about a feature that you know they like: “OK, and how’s the new analytics dashboard working out for you?”
Leading questions help speed up interactions with people who find it difficult to make a final decision. They also help the customer confirm information in an easy way, as Pattie Gibson stated in her book The World of Customer Service linked previously in this lesson.
Remember – although this questioning technique is beneficial and super powerful, it can often be seen as manipulative and even offensive because it influences the way a customer answers your question.
Thus, you have to master it and be extra careful when applying it to avoid such a negative effect of obviously steering the customer in your preferred direction.
Got it? Excellent!
In this lesson, we’ve covered some basic question types and the most common techniques you need to know well before you start working as an online CSR.
However, there are many more useful questioning techniques for you to explore further, such as rhetorical, echo, Socratic, Kipling, chunking, empowering questions and many more.
Go ahead! Just follow the link and have fun.
As usual, not to disappoint those of you who are always eager to learn more, here are some more selected further sources to refer to.
Further Learning Resources
- Questioning traps
- Questioning skills (slides)
- Solving Problems with Good Questioning (video)
- Questioning techniques (short animated video) – open and closed questions briefly explained
- What you need to do to understand customers’ needs (video) – Watch another video to find out why it’s important to understand buyer, i.e. customer needs and how to do it in a 5-step process (the first step is asking insightful questions). And it’s not just meant superficially, but how to understand their needs to such a degree that it becomes a powerful tool to build relationships, uncover hidden needs and build trust with discerning buyers.
- 4 Must-Ask Questions To Uncover Buyer Objectives (video) – A clear questioning strategy is crucial to developing a deep understanding of your buyer’s needs and aspirations. The same expert recommends 4 question strategies to uncover buyer objectives. He finds questions to be the invaluable tool in uncovering the full range of needs that customers have, building strong relationships, and emotional connections. Although his field is B2B sales, his advice is applicable to customer service generally, so it’s a source worth checking.
- Open Ended Questions For Sales That Get You Outstanding Results (video) – Although it’s about sales and not customer service, there are great points on why questions are so important to use and master.
- Can You Persuade People by Asking Questions? (video) – The secret to being persuasive in any situation may mean posing the right questions. Listen to what Dianna Booher says about persuading people by asking the right questions.
- Soft Question Selling – Even though this article is focused on sales, it states that proactive people are naturally inquisitive and shows how to be proactive on examples, so it’s worth a few minutes of your time.
The key takeaway from this article could be:
To achieve a superior level of customer service, we need to exceed our customers’ expectations. That is done by showing an obviously friendly and sincere interest in your customers and doing what’s needed to make every encounter a positive situation.”
- Selling with questions – When selling, you do not need to be always giving your sales pitch. With smart use of questions, you can get your customer to sell to themselves. Here you can find a few ways you can use questions.
- Drill vs Hole – How to ask better questions of customers in innovation (video) – Mat Shore Owner of Outside In company talks about how to ask better questions in insight development. Using the analogy from the 40’s he shows how people use closed questions to justify bad solutions and inappropriate technologies. May not be highly relevant for questioning techniques but it’s definitely interesting and worth paying attention to.
- Probing Questions (video)
- Sales Influence Moment #56 – Fun Video – Guiding a Buyer’s Behavior – A fun example to show how you can guide a customer’s behavior by planning and posing the right questions.
- How to Ask Good Questions – Apply the Question funnel of curiosity (video) – Uncovering the good and the bad will help expose the emotional triggers that influence your customer’s decision.
- How to ask powerful sales questions (article + video included) – Although it’s aimed at sales reps, you can find some wonderful tips on how NOT to ask questions.
Now you understand how to use a range of questioning techniques to explore your customers’ real concerns and needs when delivering customer service.
How great does it feel to know you have the right tools to seek the necessary detailed information from a customer?
Excellent! Just bear the following points in mind when you start applying the knowledge you’ve gained here in your future CSR job.
- Open-ended questions are used to gather information and get the person to “open-up” asking questions like, “tell me about,” and “explain to me”.
- Closed-ended questions focus on one specific area and confirm facts, usually create “yes” or “no” answers.
- Probing questions are another type of open-ended questions, but instead of being broad they focus on one specific area. These are valuable to getting to the heart of the problem, using aided recall – which offer possible answers to the questions asked by the employee for the customer to recall upon.
- Leading questions are suggestive nudges which lead toward a desired answer. It is important to be mindful that these questions can create a manipulative sense, and nudging a customer toward an answer is only ethical if it is right for that customer.
Source: Questioning Techniques to Enhance Customer Service
- The funnel technique usually means starting with some open questions and then narrowing it down to one point using probing and closed questions to arrive at a conclusion (or vice versa). It can help calm an angry customer by focusing their attention and energy towards the specifics of the issue and away from their anger.
You see how carefully selected techniques and better-phrased questions enable you to obtain more reliable and insightful information from customers?
So far you’ve learnt how to:
- Keep a conversation going with open questions
- Focus it and regain control of it with closed questions
- Steer it in your preferable direction with leading questions
- Dig for more details and seek clarification with probing questions
- Calm a furious customer with funnel questions and much more
It’s a skill to have a purposeful conversation with your customers by asking the right questions without making people feel interrogated.
Well done! Now you’re moving in the right direction with your CSR online career!
It’s time to show us what you’ve learnt about various questioning techniques and their importance. Looking forward to your brilliant results on the following quiz!
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why do you need to know different questioning techniques, how and when to use them?
a. So that you can manipulate your customers decisions to buy your products.
b. So that you can just show off and find out other people’s secrets because you’ll be able to apply this knowledge in everyday life.
c. So that you can better communicate with your customers, quickly figure out their specific needs and concerns, and help them.
2. Probing questions are the same as leading questions.
3. “You’ve been satisfied with our X product so far, haven’t you?” is an example of …
a. A leading question
b. A funnel question
4. If a customer is angry, what type of questions can help them calm by focusing the customer’s energy towards the specifics of their issue and away from their anger?
a. Probing questions
b. Open-ended questions
c. Leading questions
d. Funnel questions
5. When you want to dig deeper in order to identify your customers’ needs, you should use probing questions.
6. You can obtain extra and detailed information using closed questions.
7. Which questions are useful when you need to receive quick, clear, basic facts from the customer about some aspect of the situation?
a. Funnel questions
b. Open questions
c. Probing questions
d. Leading questions
e. Closed questions
8. Take a look at the following examples: “Please, tell me exactly the problem you’re trying to solve.” “So that I’m not wasting your precious time, what specific steps have you already taken to try to solve the problem?” “If you’ve already tried other solutions, tell me precisely how they failed or fell short.” What question types are they?
a. Closed questions
b. Leading questions
c. Probing questions
9. Which of the following is an example of a leading question?
a. “Why do you prefer the X model to the Y model of our product?”
b. “Don’t you think the X model is perfect for you?”
c. “What specifically was wrong with our product?”