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Asking the Right Questions

Asking the Right Questions

/ Current Issue, Operations, Strategy
Asking the Right Questions

Knowing how will help to excel at customer interactions.

There are many elements to building strong customer relationships and maximizing your interactions with them. One integral skill needed for this is the ability to ask the right questions at the right times with the right tones.

When you can do this, you elevate your understanding of and communication with other people, including customers. However, the reality is that most people just aren’t very good at it. The good news is, we can all get better and more adept at this integral skill.

Two essential groups of questions to ask

In every customer interaction, two essential questions - or groups of questions - can serve as powerful tools to unlock valuable insights and build meaningful connections. Mastering these questions empowers you to navigate conversations with precision and understanding, ensuring that you address your customers’ needs effectively.

There is an added bonus at the end of this article that will really take your questioning skills to the next level by helping you connect with your customers on a deeper, more personal level.

One, questions related to a customer’s objective in the business relationship.

Understanding the needs of your customers overall - including what led them to you, or you to them - is essential. You must know what their expectations, goals, and desired outcomes are, so that you may create the best collaboration with them possible. When you understand this, you can create the best offer to address their needs.

In addition to your own research about them, thoughtful and engaging questions help your customers fully express their expectations and objectives. When you interact with a customer or potential customer at this level, you may even help them see things they need and didn’t think about or realize before you spoke.

Mastering these questions empowers you to navigate conversations with precision and understanding...

Finally, this type of engagement builds rapport and creates an environment conducive to open communication, where your customers feel comfortable sharing their goals and vision.

This group of essential questions goes beyond merely addressing customers’ immediate needs: by focusing on gaining a comprehensive understanding of the long-term goals and aspirations that underpin their engagement with your company.

A. Aligning expectations

By uncovering your customers’ objectives, you can ensure that your products, services, or solutions are aligned with what they hope to achieve. This alignment fosters a sense of mutual purpose and strengthens the foundation of the business relationship.

  • Alignment question example: “I’d like to understand your goals and expectations better. What specific outcomes are you looking to achieve by using our product/service?”

B. Tailoring solutions

Armed with knowledge of the customers’ objectives, you can tailor your offerings to provide value that directly supports their goals. This targeted approach enhances the relevance of your solutions and makes your customers feel understood and appreciated.

  • Tailoring solution question example: “Please provide more details about [specific aspect of their needs], so we can better understand how to customize our product/service to best fit your situation?”

C. Enhancing communication

Asking questions about your customer’s objectives encourages open and transparent communication between you and them. When they share their objectives, they are more likely to express any concerns or feedback, allowing you to address issues promptly and build a stronger rapport.

  • Objective question example: “To ensure we tailor our approach to your unique needs, could you share some of the specific objectives or milestones you’re aiming to accomplish? This will help us align our efforts more closely with your desired outcomes.”

D. Nurturing long-term partnerships

Demonstrating genuine interest in your customers’ objectives goes a long way in building trust and loyalty. By consistently aligning your efforts with their goals, you position yourself as a strategic partner invested in their success, thereby nurturing long-term partnerships.

  • Genuine interest in your company question example: “I’d like to learn more about your journey and what led you to explore our [product/service]. Could you share a bit about what inspired you to take this step?”

E. Adapting to evolving needs

As business goals may evolve over time, regularly revisiting this essential question ensures you stay up-to-date with your customers’ changing objectives. This adaptability positions you as a responsive and proactive ally in their journeys.

  • Adapting to evolving needs question example: “As your business continues to grow, your needs might evolve. Would you mind sharing any insights into your future plans or potential changes that might impact the solutions you’re looking for?”

Incorporating these types of questions into your customer interactions allows you to demonstrate your commitment to their success, strengthening the foundation of your business relationships.

Doing so creates a customer-centric approach that ensures your company’s offerings continue to meet their evolving needs. And it solidifies your position as a trusted and valued partner in their journeys towards achieving their objectives.

Two, questions related to getting to know the customer as a person.

Your ability to get to know your customer or potential customer as a person plays a pivotal role in achieving success. Often, customers may not explicitly express their true motivations, making it essential to read between the lines and discern what truly matters to them.

Understanding the customer as a person is vital, as it enables you to connect to them on a deeper level and offer solutions that align with their desires, concerns, and aspirations. Unveiling their motivations allows you to gain valuable insights that go beyond the surface and allow you to anticipate their future requirements proactively. It then positions yourself as a trusted partner in their journey.

To identify these key factors about your customer, as well as those influencing their decisions, active observation is crucial. But more importantly, the types of questions you ask from the beginning will help you understand them on a deeper level and how to best continue your engagement with them.

Understanding the customer as a person is vital, as it enables you to connect to them on a deeper level...

To help you form a deeper, more authentic bond with customers, you can ask the following four types of questions.

A. Open-ended questions to encourage connections

It should go without saying that all connection-type questions should be open-ended, as these types of questions invite individuals to expand on what they are saying and be more descriptive. Close-ended questions require an easy “yes” or “no” or a one-word answer that will end a dialog pretty quickly.

B. Clarifying questions that demonstrate active listening

You should always try and repeat a part of their answer back to them when you ask a follow-up question. This lets the customer know that you’re listening and want to fully understand.

C. Questions about the future that inspire growth and support

It’s important to know the answers to these types of questions, so that you and your team can adjust future plans and tailor them to the customer.

D. Respectful and reflective questions to deepen engagement

Asking questions about their preferences around communication style allows you to meet them where they are.

For example, you can ask them if they simply want to know the bottom line, or if they prefer all the details. You can also ask them if they like structure, if they need to know everything that goes on at all times, or if they prefer a more hands-off relationship. This helps you understand how to best meet their expectations through your product and services while meeting their personal needs in style.

By continually treating your customers as people, and taking the time to foster genuine connections, you can establish longer-lasting relationships: that extend beyond mere transactional exchanges.

Timing and Tone

Timing and tone are two critical elements that can significantly impact the success of your customer interactions. Mastering the art of choosing the right moment to ask questions and adopting an appropriate tone can lead to more fruitful and positive exchanges with your customers.

The significance of timing cannot be overstated. Knowing when to ask specific questions can make all the difference in capturing valuable insights and building strong connections. By seizing opportunities when your customers are more receptive and engaged, your inquiries are more likely to resonate effectively.

...it’s essential to tailor your approach based on the individual customer and the nature of the conversation.

Reading the situation, and avoiding interrupting or asking sensitive questions during critical decision-making moments, is important. Instead, find suitable junctures to introduce your queries smoothly, thereby enhancing the flow of the conversation. Moreover, following up thoughtfully can give your customers the time they need for contemplation and provide more thoughtful and accurate answers.

Equally important is adopting an appropriate tone. Establishing rapport through a friendly, inviting, and approachable demeanor can create a comfortable atmosphere, encouraging your customers to open up and share their thoughts freely. Demonstrating empathy and understanding in your tone shows genuine care for their needs and concerns, making them feel valued and appreciated.

As such, it’s essential to tailor your approach based on the individual customer and the nature of the conversation. Some customers may prefer a more formal tone, while others may respond better to a casual and conversational style.

Additionally, avoiding assumptions and maintaining a neutral and open-minded tone fosters an environment where your customers feel comfortable expressing themselves honestly.

Incorporating these strategies into your customer interactions not only improves your ability to connect with customers, but they also strengthen the foundation of your business relationships. It’s important to not always ask questions related to the business, but also questions specific to them to understand what they need.

By mastering the art of timing and adopting an appropriate tone, you can navigate customer interactions with finesse and confidence. Your ability to choose the right moment to ask the right questions and communicate with sincerity will enhance the quality of your exchanges, ensuring that your customers feel valued, heard, and respected.

Let’s be clear, asking the right questions at the right time with the right tone involves having situational awareness. This refers to the ability of an individual to perceive, comprehend, and anticipate the various elements and dynamics within their environment. It involves staying cognizant of relevant information, understanding its implications, and making informed decisions based on this awareness.

When you can put this all together, it’s a questioning work of art.

Paul Bramson

Paul Bramson

Paul Bramson is the CEO/founder of The Paul Bramson Companies. Often described as a powerhouse on keynote stages and in training arenas, he is a thought leader in the areas of sales, leadership, communication, interviewing, and negotiation skills, with over 25 years of experience in educating, speaking, and coaching.

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