Ask Open Questions to Help Your Customers
When Lynn Giuliani, president of Progressions, Inc. (Bellingham, WA), conducts sales and service training, she tells the story of a man making his debut into the Beverly Hills “jet set.” All evening long the man went around asking people questions about themselves. He never once revealed any information about himself. Over the next few days the hostess received no less than five phone calls wanting to know who that charming gentlemen was. People remarked what a wonderful conversationalist he was.
“The man impressed people because he used the art of asking open-ended questions. They got to talk and he listened,” Giuliani says. “People love to talk about themselves.” Great sales and service providers recognize this truth. They encourage customer dialogue and listen well.
Invite Customer Participation
Asking open questions sets the tone for expansive responses from customers. This means you gather lots of valuable information about customers’ needs and you develop a relationship. “Without open questions, the whole relationship development or management aspect is nearly impossible,” says Giuliani.
A closed question is prefixed with a phrase such as did you, would you, or could you. “You’ve done all the thinking yourself. It’s a very directive question. The customer would simply respond with a yes or no,” Giuliani continues. “If you phrase questions openly, however, they direct customers to share interesting facts about themselves, their goals, and what is really important to them in a financial institution.”
Asking open questions is an art. It’s a skill that has to be honed and practiced. “You have to force your mind to continually give someone else the podium. Why? Because the truth is we all love to talk about ourselves, our products, and our company,” says Giuliani.
A Smart Strategy
“Asking open questions coupled with being a good listener makes you the perfect sales and service person,” believes Giuliani. Here’s why:
While doing mystery shops, Giuliani will tell an employee I want to chat with you about a checking account. “It’s amazing how often the rep just starts talking. He or she does a “spray and pray” and pours out all sorts of information about the institution’s checking products hoping something will stick, instead of asking what’s important to the customer,” she says.
How to Frame Open Questions
“I recommend asking two to three open questions before you ever get to the presentation,” Giuliani says. “Spend some time finding out the person’s preferences and life styles. Both impact needs. Discover what’s important to your customer.”
Open questions are phrased to almost force the responder to elaborate. Phrases like tell me, how, what is your opinion, and how do you feel are great introductions for open questions. Giuliani offers these examples:
When people start talking about themselves, they share information about life events such as marriage, changing jobs, retirement, children and educational plans, etc. Life events often translate into special financial needs.
Get Employees Onboard
To help employees master the art of asking open questions, Giuliani suggests: