8 probing questions to use in customer service conversations

In customer service conversations, customers don’t always get to the heart of the issue right away. Often, you need to find out more detail about both the problem and the impact it’s having on your customer.

That’s where probing questions come in. They’re one of the best conversational tools to keep the customer talking.

So, as a helping hand, we’ve put together a list of eight probing questions you can ask when you need that extra bit of information.

Before we start, what are probing questions?

Probing questions are a type of follow up question. They direct your conversation partner towards providing further details about something they have said.

You wouldn’t start a customer service conversation with this kind of question. Rather, the best time to use them is in the middle of the interaction.

Specifically, probing questions are useful for finding out more detail — be it about the customer, their preferences, their feelings, or their problem.

1.      “When exactly did this problem begin?”

It’s helpful to establish how long a problem has been happening. The answer will tell you how long the customer has been inconvenienced (hinting at their potential mood.) It also sheds light on the severity of a problem.

If a problem has been going on for a long time, there’s a higher chance of the issue being more severe. A short time may be more likely to suggest an easy fix.

2.      “Have you done anything to address the issue?”

Sometimes, it can be helpful to know what a customer has already done on their own to address a problem. This stops you from suggesting fixes they’ve already tried, which both wastes time and causes frustration. It also stops you from assuming a customer has tried an easy fix when they haven’t.

However, there is a caveat to this one. It’s important to ensure that you don’t imply the customer should have done anything — or shouldn’t have.

You could pad the question with an explanation. For instance, ‘To ensure I don’t suggest a fix you have already tried, have you done anything to address the issue?’

3.      “What difficulties did you encounter when you tried X?”

One of the next probing questions you might ask could funnel on from the last one. If the customer has attempted a fix as part of self-service, it may prove useful to know why it didn’t work. Or what happened next that led to the customer starting a conversation with you.

4.      “Can you give me an example?”

A great way to get a clear understanding of something is through examples. As such, asking for an example of what happens, or that clarifies a customer’s query, is another useful probing question.

Examples are useful when a customer hasn’t explained something clearly enough. Asking for more explanation can lead to the Pictionary problem — and frustration on both sides.

Examples alleviate this communication block, as they guide the customer towards explaining the problem in a different way.

The Pictionary problem: where support agents draw the same explanation again and again, in the hope that a confused customer suddenly understands.

5.      “What error codes did you encounter?”

This is one of the simpler probing questions. If the issue the customer has told you about would have given an error code, the natural follow up question is asking what it was. From there, it’s much easier to determine the problem in question.

6.      “You mentioned Y, can you tell me more about that?”

Probing questions that call back on something the customer has already mentioned subtly assure the customer that you’re paying attention to them.

Asking for more detail about a key part of their query directs the customer to the information you most need from them. So, instead of wading through general information, you can pinpoint the detail you need.

This is another probing question that you might use as part of a funnelling technique. This is where you ask a series of questions, getting more detailed with each one.

7.      “How do you feel about Z?”

Probing questions aren’t just for finding out extra information about the problem. You can (and should) also use them to get the customer’s thoughts and feelings about the issue or solutions offered.

Knowing the customer’s feelings about a solution, for example, gives you insight into how satisfied they are with your service or suggestion. Plus, it gives you the chance to address any reservations they may have.

8.      “What would be your ideal outcome?”

This probing question is a great way to gauge customer expectations. And, when you know what they’re expecting, it’s much easier to meet (or smash) those expectations.

Don’t be scared of asking probing questions

Often, customer service emphasis goes on providing customers with answers. But not enough focus goes towards the questions that you need to ask customers in return.

Probing questions are one of the useful questioning techniques to use in customer service conversations. They’re all about following up and getting the extra detail you need to provide the best possible service.  

So, don’t be shy to ask probing questions of your customers. Without the right questions, how can you provide the right answers?

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