Investigate Customer Issues … asking questions!

Investigate Customer IssuesThe customer will usually tell you what the issue is. Sometimes the explanation makes perfect sense from the customer’s point of view, but you may not have the necessary information to properly begin to investigate the customer’s concern. You may be able to tell the customer or client what information you need to resolve the problem. In some situations, the issue may be complex and you have to ask questions to reveal the needed information. Don’t forget about body language. Dr. Albert Mehrabian of UCLA indicates that 55 percent of communication is non-verbal. So if you are on the telephone, your questioning skills must be even sharper. If you are face to face with your customer, you can take advantage of body language to help you fully appreciate the customer’s message.

In conversations with customers or clients, you will find three types of questions very useful: background, probing and confirming questions.

Background Questions

Background questions are those that help you pinpoint the nature of the customer issue so that you can either direct the customer to the proper person or department, or retrieve the customer account information so that you have the transactional information in front of you. Customers may sometimes resist background questions because they want to begin discussing the problem or issue as soon as possible.

If a customer or client is upset and needs to vent, you may need to listen for a while and not be reluctant to take notes. This will also help you to formulate your background questions. It is helpful to the customer or client to let them know that you need to ask a few questions that will allow you to serve them better. In your own style, you could say something like, “Let me make sure that I understand your concern or issue. I am going to ask you a few questions to ensure I have the necessary information to resolve the issue. Is that OK with you?” When you let the customer or client know how you will proceed to help them and get their agreement, this reassures the customer that you do care about them and demonstrates that you realize what information you need to help them. The most important point is that the customer or client understands why you ask what may seem like elementary questions.

Probing Questions

Probing questions help you delve into each client or customer problem or complaint to identify the real issues and begin to formulate an acceptable resolution. The exact questions you ask will vary with each client situation. The notes that you took earlier will be helpful in this stage of the customer service encounter. You will need to formulate and ask the necessary questions and it is helpful to begin with the following stems for open-ended questions: who, what, when, where, and why.

Probing questions should be open-ended so that the customer or client is encouraged to provide an expansive answer rather than simply “yes”, “no” or “maybe” answers. Some sample stems for probing questions are:

• “With whom did you work during this transaction, sale or issue?
• “What did (name) promise this product would do?”
• “When did the (situation) occur?”
• “What happened next?”
• “What resolution do you want to this issue?”
• “Where did you buy this item or received the service?”
• “What do you need to happen now?”
• “Is there (why) a reason why you selected this model over that one?”
• “Could you tell me more about that?”
• “Could you give me an example of the problem or issue?”

During the probing stage, you are asking for information, not evaluating or challenging it. An irate client or customer may exaggerate their frustrations by saying, “I must have been on hold for an hour” or “I can’t anyone to help me with this problem.” The appropriate behavior is to acknowledge the customer’s frustration and show empathy. The fundamental issue is that the customer is anxious to have the problem or issue resolved. That is important.

Confirming Questions

Confirming questions serve to verify that you are on the right track and have the necessary information to construct a solution for the customer or client. The customer becomes more comfortable as you demonstrate that you have correctly understood the customer’s message or complaint. Do not accept silence as evidence of customer agreement. Silence frequently signals that the customer has given up on making you understand, or is frustrated or angry, or that he or she is embarrassed to admit confusion. Confirming questions help you to know what your customer is thinking when he or she does not offer vocal feedback.

Some sample stems for confirming questions are:

• “I understand that what you are saying is . . .”
• “Am I explaining this in a way that you understand the instructions?”
• “Am I covering the main points that you expected?”
• “Is the resolution that I recommended satisfactory?”

The tone of your voice is extremely important when asking confirming questions. You must be careful to ask a simple question such as, “Do you understand?” in such a way that your customer does not hear, “Even a moron could understand this.” Although that is not the message that you intend to send, you must take care to ensure that it does not come out in that way. Listen to your tone and the tone of others to ensure that phrasing and vocal tone communicate genuine concern. This technique works on the telephone as well.

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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