How to Leverage Questioning to Deliver Tailored Advice
Updated: Apr 30
Customer Service Best Practices
We know from experience that when we proactively provide customers with product suggestions and/or advice they are more likely to recommend us to their friends/family. Nice!
We also know that when we provide advice that is not aligned with the customer’s needs and wants it can be destructive to the relationship. (We all have examples in our lives when salespeople have tried to sell us something, we neither need nor want.)
It is very important, therefore, that a customer service representative understands what the needs and wants of the customer are before launching into delivering advice and/or making product suggestions.
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Questioning and relevant advice go hand-in-hand
Effective and efficient questioning is the quickest and most engaging way to gather information and uncover needs – which you require to tailor your advice and create the best possible customer experience. Questioning allows you to:
uncover unmet customer needs, wants, and opportunities;
clarify and confirm that you have identified the opportunity correctly; and
gather the specific details that will help you tailor the advice you want to give.
Most calls that find their way into customer service will be transactional in nature. While the value of advice may not be obvious, it is still present. To uncover unmet needs where advice is critical, the customer service agent must carefully listen for clues.
“What is the customer saying that may identify a need or problem I can help resolve?”
Clues are indirect messages customers leave us with every interaction. For example, a typical transaction may sound like this:
Caller: “I need to transfer money to my daughter.”
Agent: “Certainly I can help. Which account would you like to transfer from? What is the amount? May I have her account number?”
Use effective questioning to bridge to advice
Bridging to advice requires a bit more digging than simply completing the transaction. An engaged customer service agent can leverage the clues they hear to investigate further. We call these ‘probing questions’ which may sound like this:
Open Question: “How do you normally transfer funds to your daughter?”
Closed Question: “How often do you transfer funds to your daughter?”
In the above example, the customer service agent has used a combination of open and closed questions to delve into the customer’s needs more fully.
How closed questions work
Closed questions invite a ‘yes’, ‘no’ or factual response and are useful for drilling down to specifics and taking control of an unwieldy conversation.
Closed Question: “How much would you like to transfer?”
Closed Question: “Would you like to transfer this today?”
How open questions work
Open questions invite a conversation and are ideal for uncovering big picture needs or significant opportunities to deepen client relationships. By design, they cannot be answered by a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Open Question: “Have you considered opening up a USD account for her?”
Some questioning techniques are neither effective nor efficient
It is not enough to simply ask the customer questions until you have all the information you need. This can sound like an interrogation! Effective and efficient questions draw out the most amount of information in the shortest period of time.
For example, this customer service agent is asking a series of closed questions:
“Do you have a savings account with us? --> Yes
“Are you saving for something specific?” --> Yes
“Is it for your retirement?” --> No
“How about your child’s education?” --> No
This can sound like a game of ‘Guess-What-I’m-Thinking’!
Effective and efficient questioning engages customers
In the above example, it has taken 4 questions to determine that the customer has a savings account they are using to save for something special. We still don’t know what the customer is saving for or if there is an opportunity to help them save better or faster.
Open questions invite the kind of dialogue that will uncover more information which you need to provide the right advice. For example:
Agent: “Do you have a savings account?” --> Yes
Agent: “What do you plan to do with your savings?” --> I am saving for a vacation with my grandchildren.
Now we have significantly more information to engage with the customer:
“How fabulous is that?! When do you want to be able to take the vacation?”
“How old are they? When do you hope to take this vacation? Have you thought about where you would like to go?”
“Have you considered setting up a Pre-Authorized Payment Plan to help you get there faster?”
“Tailored” advice, that is customized to a customer’s specific needs, creates the kind of memorable experience that turns customers into Promoters. This level of advice is only possible when you fully understand the customer’s needs/wants AND are able to tap into clues that enable you to present the advice/recommendation in a relevant way.
Clarifying -- before providing advice -- is key to ensuring your recommendation is relevant to the customer
Questioning is also key to clarifying the information upon which you are basing your advice/recommendation. It would not be helpful to the customer if the advice you are providing is based on an erroneous understanding of the fact. Clarifying and confirming what you understand takes just a few seconds and can greatly reduce the chances of providing erroneous advice:
“If I understand correctly, you are thinking about buying a house but aren’t certain if it is going to be in the next 3 years or after your daughter graduates in 5 years. Is that correct?”
Turn generic advice into tailored advice
By taking the time to leverage clues in the conversation with the customer, questioning will drive the insight needed to turn generic advice into tailored advice:
“Given that you are saving for a trip, I would recommend you considering switching your current Visa to a Visa that helps you earn free travel. Does that make sense?”
When you take the time to look for opportunities to add tailored advice to callers with every interaction, you will not only be delivering a better customer experience but also building more profitable customer relationships over the long-term.
Sharon Oatway is President & Chief Experience Officer of VereQuest. Sharon is a Customer Service, Sales, and Marketing professional with more than three decades of hands-on experience elevating the overall customer experience along with multi-channel contact center performance. Sharon and her team at VereQuest have listened to/read and analyzed several million customer interactions for some of North America’s leading brands. As a result, Sharon is a recognized thought-leader in what it takes to build and sustain great customer experiences.
Established in 2002, VereQuest provides organizations with a wide range of customer experience services including a robust contact center quality monitoring offering. Working with businesses throughout North America, VereQuest provides a unique perspective on a complex, ever-changing customer environment.
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