I’m getting better at asking questions of my customers. Business coaching is a skill, and I’m growing in this area. Business coaching is all about asking questions. When my coaches ask me questions, I realize how far I have to go to begin asking great questions of my customers. But we can all grow and excel at this important interpersonal skill.
5 Ways to Ask Better Questions
1. Ask deep questions. You could ask questions that are shallow – they elicit small amounts of information. The shallow questions might get to the heart of the issue, but it doesn’t pull out a lot of information from your customer. You want a lot of information, so ask deep questions.
shallow: “Do you struggle to lead your team with confidence?”
deeper still: “Can you tell me 10 ways in which past failures are keeping you from leading your team effectively today? Can you give me some examples? Now prioritize the top 3.”
2. Ask strategic questions. You could ask questions that are non-strategic – they don’t allow for the discovery of the important stuff. The non-strategic questions basically cause the person answering to tell you the unimportant stuff. And you never want to waste their time dealing with issues that are unimportant, so ask strategic questions.
non-strategic: “How long have you been in business?”
strategic: “Consider your business history. What were the three greatest triumphs in your history, and what can you do to replicate that success?”
3. Ask ‘why?’ four times. It’s weird but I’ve seen a pattern in asking the ‘why?’ question. At first, it may feel awkward to keep asking this question, but you typically hit an ‘Aha!’ moment after four times. It won’t always be four, but four seems to be just enough so as not to tick off the one you are questioning, and just enough to get to the heart of a matter.
You: “Why is your business struggling?” Them: “because sales are down.”
You: “Why are sales down?” Them: “because we lost the Smith contract.”
You: “Why did you lose the Smith contract?” Them: “because we failed to deliver the product on time.”
You: “Why did you fail to deliver the product on time?” Them: “because we did not sufficiently document the due date of the product.”
Now, you could either keep asking the why question, or conclude your probing with “ah… it seems like there is an issue with defining the scope and delivery of your services. Is that correct?” If so, then you can explore this issue further and try to resolve where the failures are occurring in the company.
4. Change their situation. When a coach is helping me see through my problems, I often can’t see past the real problems of my current situation. So, take your customer into an imaginary world by changing their situation. Then the customer is able to ignore the real world, and try to resolve their issues with no hindrances.
You: “If a cash shortage was not an issue, and you had all of the cash you needed, what would you do next to move the company forward?”
You: “Let’s say that your current partner did not exist, how would you run the company differently to remain competitive?”
5. Contrast here and there. Ask your customer to step into a future world of amazing successes and achievements (‘there’). They may describe a future perfect world, where they have perfect customers, all of the cash they need and an amazing team. You need to do this part first. Now, tell them to describe in vivid detail what their current customers, cash balance and team are like (‘here’). The contrast between Here and There is often amazing to you and them. Now walk them through a process of how to get from Here to There in 90 days, 6 months and 1 year.
You: “Please describe in detail what your most perfect customer looks like in the future. Be very specific.”
Them: “My future clients would see my value right when they walk in the door, they are ready to pay the high price that accompanies that value and they let me lead them in our relationship.”
You: “Okay, now describe what your real current customer looks and acts like.”
Them: “Frankly, they are jerks and difficult to deal with. Most of them are cheap and complain about our services.”
You: “What steps could you take in 90 days to begin to move your current customers to the more ideal customer you just described to me?”
You: “What steps could you take in the next 6 months to begin to move your current customers to the more ideal customer you just described to me?”
You: “What steps could you take in the next year to begin to move your current customers to the more ideal customer you just described to me?”
These are just a few ideas you can ask your customers to stimulate new thinking and to develop deeper relationships with your customer.
One caveat: you can’t ask questions of the wrong customers. If they don’t believe in what you are doing, or trust you, then you don’t have the right to ask questions. You have to take the type of client that will allow you to probe into their life with good questions. So don’t try this on the client who just said, “That tax return costs $80?!? Are you crazy? All you did was key in my W-2!” This is either the wrong customer for you, or they are not a client that will endure your strategic questions. So be careful who you use these questions on. Don’t blame me if you come back and leave a comment below stating that the questions didn’t work. They will NOT work on everyone – beware.