In our professional and personal lives we ask questions every day – but are we asking them in the most effective manner? Have you thought about how the way you ask a question influences the answer? Strong communication is essential for any business and it begins with asking the questions to get the answers that will be actionable and informative.

How do you master the art of asking good questions? According to the Wall Street Journal, “Good questioners try to look at the world around them with a curious, observant eye and a ‘beginner’s mind,’ taking time to wonder about things others take for granted.”

Asking effective questions is especially important when interacting with your customers. While each situation is different, that perspective and these five principles will apply to every conversation.

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1. Use Open-Ended Questions

The first step to asking a good question is to formulate it correctly. Avoid questions that solely result in a yes/no answer. An open-ended question will provide a complete and meaningful answer that can increase your customer engagement. Asking a new customer, “Do you think our product will work well for your business?” prompts them to answer quickly and move on. Try rephrasing the question in a way that forces them to expand on their answer, such as “How do you plan to use our product for your business?” You will get an answer that gives you room to probe further and ultimately provide better service or an insightful solution to a problem they might not even know they had.

2. Avoid Leading Questions

It’s very easy to ask leading questions when you interact with a customer. If you include the answer, or imply one in how the question is asked, you will not get a complete, honest or authentic answer. An example of a leading question would be, after a customer is leaving the new class added to your schedule, “Don’t you like that we’ve added this new evening class?”. In this instance, since they obviously just attended the new class, the customer will most likely answer positively. A better approach might be: “What thoughts do you have on our weekly schedule?”. This is also an example of an open-ended question that asks for a thoughtful, honest, and complete answer from your customers on the services your provide.

3. Try Funnel Questions

If you aren’t having any luck engaging with a customer and probing for more information, think about starting with more general questions to circle in on the real issue. Maybe a customer who used to stop-in weekly suddenly disappears for multiple months, instead of reaching out and asking “Why did you stop?” try calling and asking first “How are you doing?” then follow it with “Oh, you’ve been really busy, do you think it will calm down soon?” and then finally, “Great, how about I check in in another month and we can get you back on the schedule?” or “I’m sorry to hear that, what can we do better next time?”. This strategy will give you more information than one open-ended question could, and it provides a good framework for probing into the experience you offer your clients.

4. Reflect or Summarize a Thought

As important as it is to ask open-ended, neutral questions, it is also helpful to ask reflective or summarizing questions to convey that you were listening and that you comprehend what was said. This style of questioning can be extremely helpful when you are discussing a complex topic or dealing with an irate customer. The goal is to get honest feedback and be able to get the customer to a point of satisfaction. You do this by beginning your  question with, “Am I understanding this correctly….” or “What I hear you saying is…” to confirm that you understood their comment and to make sure that you are moving forward on the proper tactics to solve their issue.

 5. Be an Active Listener 

The final advice to ensure you are asking the most effective questions and ultimately getting the best responses is to be a good listener. You may be wondering – what does listening have to do with asking questions? Asking questions is just a part of the equation; you also have to take in the information that is being shared with you and this involves listening, or better yet, active listening. Active listening is not just hearing the words, but attentively engaging with the conversation by nodding or providing physical cues, and getting feedback that you are hearing their intent.

In summary, be curious, ask questions to learn, engage with others, and do so in a way that will make you a better communicator. These methods can support you when managing your business. Everyone can be a better communicator – and it can all start by asking effective questions.

Any tips that we missed? Put your favorites in the comments.

Jeff Olson

Jeff Olson

Jeff is the Customer Care Manager at PaySimple responsible for leading the Customer Care team which provides award-winning support to small business owners. Jeff joined the PaySimple team in August 2014, and is a Colorado native who enjoys photography, traveling, running, live music, food trucks, and exploring everything Denver has to offer.

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