Asking Simple (Not Stupid!) Questions


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If a customer feels like you’re talking down to him, you are very likely to lose that customer. However, there are some questions that need to be asked to figure out the customer’s needs. These questions may seem extremely basic to the customer, but they are vital information for your service technicians.

According to Harris Interactive’s Customer Service Impact Report, nearly 90% of customers who stop doing business with a company defect because of poor customer service. The last thing you want to do is aggravate your customer or make her feel like you’re wasting her time. Wording of the question, tone of voice, and an explanation of why you are asking seemingly “dumb” questions in the first place can help ease the process and keep the customer feeling valued.

Listen First and Then Ask Questions
Since Bain & Company estimates its costs six to seven times as much to gain a new customer as to just keep the current customer you have, it makes sense to ensure that your customer feels important from the minute you answer the phone until the last goodbye.

Train your customer service team to listen first before asking questions. When you answer the phones, nearly every customer will start with information on what service or product he needs. He might say, “My air conditioning is out,” or go into more detail about the type of system he wants to install on a new home or to replace an old unit.

From the minute the phone is answered, your employee should have pen in hand or fingers on computer keyboard and write down what the customer says.

Nothing aggravates a customer more than calling a company and explaining that he needs X, Y, and Z and having the person on the other end of the line ask three seconds later what the customer wants. Listening and taking notes can go a long way to alleviating customer aggravation with simple questions, because you eliminate the ones that have already been answered.

By the same token, when a technician or salesperson goes to the customer’s home to offer an estimate on a job, don’t go over the exact same information the customer already offered over the phone. Part of the process should be providing the person going on the call with a sheet that has any pertinent information already filled in.

Apologize Upfront & Explain Your Reasons
Jen Conner, who owned businesses in Indianapolis for 20 years and trained retail employees extensively in customer service methods, mentioned that customers will forgive most things if they know your reasons for doing them.

“Be upfront and just tell the customer why you have to ask the stupid question. Most customers will appreciate your candid approach and a little humor doesn’t hurt either,” said Conner.

Before launching into a series of extremely basic questions, preface it with something like:

I apologize but I need to fill in some basic information. I’ll ask you these questions as quickly as I can.

I have a few questions that I ask everyone. These are meant to help us figure out the best and quickest way to meet your needs.

I need to gather some quick information from you and then we’ll get a technician scheduled to come help you as quickly as possible. I understand your first name is Mary. What is your last name?

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. What would aggravate you if you were on the other end of the line? How can you minimize the aggravation for the customer?

Keep a Pleasant Tone of Voice
Tone of voice makes a big difference when asking simple questions. It is easy to grow bored and for it to creep into the sound of your voice. Maybe you’ve ask 19 customers today to fill in the blanks on the exact same information. You’ve asked these questions so many times that you have them memorized without looking at a cheat sheet and you can rattle them off faster than an auctioneer.

This is when it becomes even more important to slow down and ask the questions as though you are having a fascinating conversation with an old friend. Some things that might help:

Smile as you ask the question. It may sound silly if you are speaking over the phone, because the customer can’t see you over the phone. However, the act of smiling will add a natural lift to your voice.

Remember that the customer in front of you should be the most interesting thing in the room. If you are talking to the customer in person, don’t glance at your smart phone, stare at the painting on the wall, or try to rush through questions.

If talking on the phone, maintain focus on the task at hand.

Keep the Customer Updated on How Many More Questions You Need to Ask
Have you ever agreed to do one of those “quick minute of your time” phone surveys only to find out you’re answering questions for 30 minutes? No one enjoys that.

Keep the questions to only those you absolutely must ask and keep the customer updated on how far into the process you are. For example:

  • Thank you for your patience. We’re about halfway through these questions.
  • Just six more questions and I’ll be able to match you with the best technician to send to your house.
  • I have just two more questions and we’ll be able to figure out the most cost effective and efficient system for your average usage.

Thank the Customer for Helping You Fill in the Blanks
An often overlooked part of making the customer feel important is simply thanking him for helping you.

“Fail to thank the customer and the customer will fail to call you back,” added Conner.

If your goal is to retain the customers you have and get those customers to refer you to their family and friends, then you must let them know just how much you value them. Thanking the customer for providing the information, being patient, or helping you goes a long way toward that goodwill. Remember, keeping the customers you have saves your company time and money and helps improve your overall reputation.

Lori Soard

Posted In: Customer Service

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