Every time you meet a customer there is an opportunity to find out more about them. But there’s no need to be weird with the questions you ask. The best questions enable you to find out about what your customers are doing with your products and services, and what else they might want to get done.

Big companies in competitive markets, such as Telstra and Optus, segment their customers based on their situation such as ‘family with x number of children, aspirational, own or mortgage house’. If you’re on the phone with one of these businesses, you may be asked a seemingly unrelated question to the reason why you’re on the phone, such as “did you need a phone for any children?” It will sound like a conversation, but is actually designed to find out 1. if you have any children, and 2. what age they might be. This information is important for them to determine where your family – you as a customer – fits into their segmentation, and therefore what products and services you might be interested in next.

So, what should you ask your customers? The first thing to understand is what your customers want your product or service for. If you don’t have some sort of hypothesis, then this is where to start. And if you do have an idea, start asking questions that confirm your hypothesis and help you understand ‘what else’ or ‘what next’ for your customer.

For example, if you have a homewares retail store, your will first want to know if they are buying for themselves or for someone else. If they are buying for themselves, it would be useful to know what their taste is, what sort of house they are buying for, and their lifestyle. Knowing this will give you an idea of not only what to direct to them now, but what might be next for them. So, some questions might be:

  • Are you looking today for yourself or for someone else?

If they answer “for themselves”)

  • Which room in the house are you looking at refreshing or updating?
  • The latest trend is (let them know about the latest trend). What do you think of this trend? Is there anything you like / don’t like about it?

All of these questions so far are conversational, and are not normally answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. At this point, you could then show them something that you think they might like based on their answers. If they’re not ready to buy today, encourage them to take a photo on their phone of something that has caught their eye with your shop name and location in the screen shot so they can remember where they saw it.

Another example is if you have a women’s clothes shop. A different line of questioning could start with “are you looking for inspiration today, or for something in particular?” This is much better than the “are you just looking?” question, which will usually get a “yes” response, and sometimes makes it awkward to restart a conversation.

Regardless of how they answer this first question, a follow up can be “we’ve just had a delivery of (whatever you’ve had a delivery of that might interest them) which can be both dressed up for evening, or dressed down for more casual occasions. Are you looking for something more formal, or more casual?” Hopefully, you will get an answer that gives you a reason to show them a few items (not just one). Once again, these questions are less likely to be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, are conversational, and open a dialogue that shows you’re interested in their needs, and gives you an idea of what might be suitable. If there is something that interests them, again encourage them to take a photo with their phone – or better still, you take a photo with their phone of them in the clothes – with your shop sign somewhere in the frame.

If you have a service based business and much of your marketing is through networking, this is the perfect opportunity to get to know potential customers while also being helpful. For example, you can start with “what’s the best thing about what you do?” and then “what’s the biggest challenge in what you do?”. This will firstly give you an answer to the question “what do you do?” without having to ask it, and will also give you some information about where you might be able to help – whether directly or through another referral.

Questions like this are also good when you can be specific. For example, if you run a cleaning business, you can ask “what do you like best about having a clean home / office?” and “what’s the biggest challenge you have in keeping your home / office clean?”. You can then empathise and give examples of what your customers say about your services, providing an opening to talk about your business, without making it all about you.

Every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to learn about them and help them get a task done. Customers not only remember if you’ve been helpful (or not …), but if you have product that can be captured, make the experience more memorable by allowing it to be shared with friends and family.

First published in Business Life, Vol 1 No 3, April 2016

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