Effective Questioning Skills


By Nancy Friedman Telephone Doctor

QUESTION: How important is it to ask good questions? ANSWER: It’s very important.
It’s important you use questioning skills to help you completely understand the customer’s situation. Otherwise, you could be responding to what you guess the customer means, which may or may not be correct. Questioning goes beyond listening.

Effective questioning is a real compliment to your skills. It shows that you have the ability to get real needs. It shows you’re looking for meaning that’s deeper than the spoken message. Effective questioning is a powerful, learned skill. It says to the customer…I’m interested in determining your needs.

Questioning can be put into two divisions – Open-ended Questions and Closed-ended Questions.

Let’s take open-ended questions first. Open-ended questions are questions without a fixed limit. They encourage continued conversation, and help you get more information. Plus, they often give insight into the other person’s feelings. Open-ended questions draw out more information. When you want the customer to open up, use open-ended questions that start with WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHY, WHEN and HOW. A few examples are:

"What are some of the things you look for in a hotel?"
"How do you feel government could be more responsive to your needs?"
"What are your concerns about this new program?"
Right…it’s the 5 "Ws" – who, what, why, where and when & sometimes "HOW." Try it. It works!

Moving on to closed-ended questions. Closed-ended questions have a fixed limit. They’re often answered with a yes or no, or with a simple statement of fact. Closed-ended questions are used to direct the conversation. They usually get brief specific information, or are used to confirm facts. Here are some examples.

"Do you have health insurance?"
"Do you want the new brochure?"
"Would you be interested in that?"

We use the open-ended questions to get more information, and the closed-ended questions to focus in on one area.
Additionally, there are several other type of questioning techniques. A few are:

Sometimes you ask an open-ended question to get more information and you only get part of what you need. Now it’s time for a probing question. A probing question is another open-ended question, but it’s a follow-up. It’s narrower. It asks about one area. Here’s an example:

"What topic areas are you interested in?" would be better than reading off 50 topics to the customer. It’s a PROBING question.
A few other examples are:

"Are you able to tell me more about the form you received?"
"What did you like best about Paris?"
Probing questions are valuable in getting to the heart of the matter.

Here’s a good technique for getting more information. You can use this like a probing question. The idea is to use the last part of a phrase the customer said. Slightly raise the tone of your voice at the end of the phrase to convert it to a question. Then pause and use silence – like this:

………………….The bill you received?
An echo question repeats part of the phrase that the customer used, with voice inflection, converting it to a question. Some people call it mirroring. Some – reflecting. Others call it parroting. We call it echoing. Whatever you call it, it’s a valuable technique for your use. The echo question.

Many things can be good or bad. Take fire for example. Fire warms our home, cooks our food, and does many useful things. Uncontrolled, it can burn down our houses.

The reason we use that example is because leading questions can be good or bad. Leading questions, if used improperly, can be manipulative because you’re leading the person to give the answer you want. But when used properly, you’re helping that person. Some examples of proper leading questions are:

"You understand what I’m saying, don’t you?"
"You’ll want to know about our same day delivery service, right?"
"You’ll want to go ahead with this, won’t you?"
Leading questions often end with suggestive nudges toward the desired answer. Some ending phrases would be, "Don’t you?" "Shouldn’t you?" "Won’t you?" "Haven’t you?" "Right?"

So where are leading questions useful? Well, they’re useful in helping someone who’s undecided make the right decision. A decision that’ll benefit them. You use a leading question ethically, when you help someone do the right thing. Some folks call this technique the "TIE DOWN" technique due to the fact that you’re actually trying to tie down the customers needs.

Bottom line: Practice using a variety of questioning techniques. It’ll help you help your customers better. And, after all, you want to provide the very best customer service, don’t you?

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