Effective Questioning Skills

By Nancy Friedman, Telephone Doctor

How important is it to ask good questions? It’s very important. It’s important you use questioning skills to help you completely understand the caller’s situation. Otherwise, you could be responding to what you guess the caller 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 understand the caller’s real needs. It shows that you are looking for meaning that’s deeper than the spoken message. Effective questioning is a powerful, learned skill. It says to the caller, “I’m interested in determining your needs.”

Questioning can be put into two divisions: Open-Ended Questions and Closed-Ended Questions.

Open-Ended Questions: Open-ended questions are questions without a fixed limit. They encourage continued conversation, and help you get more information. Plus, they often provide opportunities to gain insight into the other person’s feelings. Open-ended questions draw out more information. If you want the caller 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?”

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 specific information or 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:

Probing Questions: 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?” This question would be better than reading off 50 topics to the caller. 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.

The Echo Question: 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 caller 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 caller used, using voice inflection to convert it to a question. Some people call it mirroring or reflecting. Others call it parroting. We call it echoing. Whatever you call it, it’s a valuable technique to use.

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

The reason we use that example is because leading questions can also be good or bad. Leading questions, if used improperly, can be manipulative because you’re leading the person to give the answer you want. When they are 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?”, and “Right?”

So where are leading questions useful? Well, they’re useful in helping someone who’s undecided make the right decision, a decision that will 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 because you’re actually trying to tie down the caller’s needs.

The bottom line is to practice using a variety of questioning techniques. It will help you help your callers more effectively. After all, you want to provide the very best customer service, don’t you?

Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training.

[From Connection Magazine November 2004]

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