Before you can give a great answer, you need to understand the question. Sounds easy, right? You know as well as we do that it isn’t! Customers often have a hard time communicating their needs, and may not even know where to start – that’s where you can help. Try out these ways to gain clarification:
Repeat the question
Read the question, summarize and restate it back to the customer as a question/confirmation. This will show them that you are interested in understanding what they’re asking, and can save you time — and save you from getting a negative rating if it turns out they were looking for something different.
“Hello, my name is Joe and I’d be happy to help with that. It sounds like you want to know the steps for painting the exterior of a house. Is that correct?
Or are you looking for information on how much it will cost to hire someone to paint the exterior of a house?”
Ask clarifying questions (and explain why you’re asking them)
If the question is ambiguous, or if you don’t feel like you have enough information to answer it, ask clarifying questions. Doing this early on can ensure you give the best possible answer in the least amount of time.
“Hello, my name is Josephine and I’d be happy to help with your question. First, though, I need to get some clarification. Would you like information about the statute of limitations for negligence in Kansas or in Missouri? The reason I’m asking is that the limitations can vary greatly from state to state.”
Use your expertise to anticipate the need
Remember that customers aren’t experts on the topics they’re inquiring about — if they were, they wouldn’t be coming to you! That means they don’t always know enough to ask the right questions or seek out the smartest solutions. The best Experts use their expertise to evaluate the question and then anticipate what it is the customer really needs to know, while still addressing what the customer asked in the question. If you clarify what the customer needs, that way you don’t spend time explaining Concept B in detail (since that’s what you think they’re asking about) when the customer actually asked about Concept A. In those cases, explain first why you are shifting to Concept B and why Concept A isn’t going to work.
A customer asks a Home Improvement Expert how much it would cost to replace the retaining wall behind her house. The Expert, knowing that a complete replacement isn’t always the only option, asks the customer clarifying questions to evaluate whether or not the wall can be repaired instead (a less costly option). The Expert determines a repair might be an option, recommends she show the wall to a structural engineer who can confirm the best course of action, and then provides two different estimates — one for replacement and one for repair.
Also, keep in mind that customers sometimes use insider terminology incorrectly. If you suspect this might be the case, ask clarifying questions to ensure you are both talking about the same thing.