Questioning techniques in customer service

To many, customer service means answering questions and solving problems. As such, training typically focuses on how to answer customers in the best possible way.

But there’s an undervalued, overlooked element of service: the power of asking effective questions of your customers.

Without asking the right questions, you can’t hope to provide the best answer for each customer. Fortunately, there are several helpful questioning techniques at your disposal. Knowing them will give your customer conversations a boost, and help you avoid misunderstandings.

So, what are the questioning techniques to use in customer service?

Closed questions

Closed questions are those that invite short, often one-word answers. The most common example of a closed question is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question. They also, however, include questions with short, factual multiple-choice questions.

For example:

“I have X as your contact number, is this correct?”

“What is your name?”

“Would you like option A, B, or C?”

In all the above examples, the answers the customer can give are short, restricted, and fact-based.

So, when should you use this questioning technique? Closed questions are most commonly used at the start and end of a customer service interaction. At the start, they are great for quickly getting the initial details you need.

At the end of an interaction, a closed question can confirm the agreed-upon course of action following the interaction. (Or that the customer is happy with ending the session.)

However, it’s best to avoid too many closed questions when you are mid-conversation with a customer. They can be jarring and bring the flow of the interaction to a halt.

Open questions

The next in the list of questioning techniques is open questions. Open questions, in contrast to closed questions, are those that invite longer answers. They tend to ask for opinions, feelings, or details.

For example:

“What happened next?”

“What do you think of this plan?”

“How can I help today?”

Essentially, any question that invites detailed answers is an open question.

Open questions are a great way to develop a conversation and keep it flowing, avoiding awkward pauses or silences. They can help you find out more detail about why the customer has reached out. They can also invite the customer’s opinion or feelings — helping you to reply more empathetically.

Probing questions

What about questioning techniques that help you to find out more detail about a customer, their preferences, or their problem? That’s where probing questions come in. Probing questions are follow-ups that ask for specific details about something the customer has said.

For example:

“When exactly did this problem start to happen?”

Using words like ‘exactly’ highlights to the customer that they need to provide detail.

Probing questions are particularly useful when customers are being too vague or otherwise reluctant to share details. Use them to find more information about an issue, and avoid misunderstandings.

Funnelling questions

Funnel questions are one of the questioning techniques that involves asking a series of questions. This series of questions start more general — getting the customer to think about a topic — and become more restrictive with each step. They’re so named because they ‘funnel’ the customer’s answer closer to the details you’re looking to find out.

For example:

Customer: “My internet is cutting out.”

Agent: “I’m sorry to hear that. How long is it cutting out for?”

Customer: “About ten minutes each time.”

Agent: “How often are these outages happening?”

The idea is that you’re asking for more detail at each level of this questioning technique, building on the information you’ve received so far. So, you might start with an open question, follow up with some probing questions, and finish with a closed question, to confirm what you’ve learned.

You’ll use funnel questions when you need to dig deeper into an issue or get some specific details. For instance, pinpointing the cause of a technical problem.

Funnel questions can also create a comfortable, natural flow to the conversation, as the customer relaxes into providing increasing information.

Leading questions

Questioning techniques aren’t just about finding out information, either. The way you ask a question can influence the answer and the tone of a conversation. Leading questions are questions that hint toward the type of answer that you want. They’re usually a type of closed question.

There are a few ways to craft a leading question.

For example, you could insert an implicit assumption into the question. This leads the customer to answer based on that assumption.

“How satisfied were you with today’s service?”

(The above subtly assumes the customer was satisfied and encourages a positive answer.)

Another way is to make a statement and ask the customer to agree.

“The sustainability of the product is a great benefit, isn’t it?”

You can also ask a leading question by making it easy to answer ‘yes’. Humans have a natural tendency to prefer saying ‘yes’ over ‘no’.

“Would you like me to get started on option B for you?”

(Here, you have chosen the preferred answer for them, they only need to say yes.)

A final way to use this questioning technique is to provide possible answers. The customer may have had something else in mind, but will likely choose from the options offered.

Leading questions are a great way to keep the tone of the chat helpful, and encourage the customer to respond (and so feel) positively. They can help you to close a sale or encourage a customer to choose a specific plan of action.

However, it’s important not to overuse them. Too many leading questions can come across as presumptive or restrictive. Similarly, be careful about making a positive assumption if the customer has a negative sentiment, as it could appear unempathetic and frustrating.

Clarifying questions

A final entry in the list of questioning techniques is great for concluding your customer service sessions, or sections of a more complex conversation. Clarifying questions confirm the information the customer has given you. It’s a way to make sure that you understand the problem and they understand the solution.

For example:

“So you’re having a problem with X, have I understood correctly?”

You would use clarifying questions when you have collected enough information, or if you’re unsure you understand correctly. This is one of the questioning techniques to use sparingly. Asking if you understand correctly after every message will only cause frustration. It’ll seem like you aren’t listening.

Questioning techniques

Customer service isn’t just about answering questions – it’s also about asking the right ones.

Knowing the various types of questioning techniques — and where they’re most useful — enhances the efficiency of your customer conversations. The right line of questioning will help you get going, get to the bottom of the issue, and maintain positivity.

Though you’re trained to answer questions in customer service, it’s often the questions you ask that determine a smooth experience.

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