On my way to work, a man carrying a suit case asked me if this metro line goes to Richmond.

There are two trains on our metro, one that goes to the Airport in Richmond (the stop is called YVR) and one that goes into Richmond’s Centre (called Richmond-Brighouse).

The next train to arrive was to Richmond-Brighouse and my initial thoughts was to say “Yes, this train goes to Richmond”.

Luckily, instead of just assuming the guy wanted to go the Richmond Brighouse way, I instead asked him which stop he wanted to go to.

He clarified that he wanted to go to the Richmond Airport.

It is common knowledge to me that Richmond means Richmond-Brighouse but that is because I live in Vancouver, for someone who is not familiar with the city, they have no idea about this slight difference.

This is the same when it comes to a customer.  Because you spend your day going over all the problems that can exist, it is very easy to assume you know exactly what the customer is asking, which can possibly derail their entire experience with you.

If you ask the right questions, you can ensure you don’t send your customer down the wrong path saving your customer a lot of time and aggravation.

8 thoughts on “Clarify Customer Questions

  1. An excellent analogy of an often overlooked aspect of customer service. It is so important to ask the right questions from the onset rather than attempting the shortest path.

    Nice post.

  2. Agreed, excellent analogy. Clarity is key!

    This also works conversely, I’ve realized that in my communications with coworkers, sometimes I feel like I don’t get the answer I’m looking for, whether from a member of the technical team or SEO. Then I realized, I need to make my questions more clear so that I can get the answer I need. If the man wound up at Richmond Brighouse he’ll have likely realized that Richmond has more than one meaning – and he should have just asked for the Airport.

    A great lesson for all on the importance of clarity in communication. Thanks Greg!

  3. Yes, for sure Lima!

    But when you are asking questions on something you don’t fully understand, its tough to ensure you are clear and why it is more up to the more experienced person in the conversation to be the leader in clarifying.

    But you are correct, being detailed about your question to begin with is very important and definitely not followed by a lot of customers when they email support.

    Maybe I should write a post about best practices to use when emailing customer support and stress that giving too many details is better than not enough.

    Thanks for reading and retweeting!

  4. Hey Greg – Great article! Here’s the bottom line. You must ask an extra question – or questions. The worst “moment of misery” you can have with a customer is one that is due to a breakdown in communication. Example: Someone says I need it quickly. Don’t assume you know what the customer’s expectation is. As the extra question: “How quickly do you need it.” It helps clarify the expectation and keeps you from making a mistake.

    Shep Hyken, author of “The Amazement Revolution.” (http://www.AmazementRevolution.com)

  5. In terms of customer service I think it helps to let the customer know what sort of information they can give you that will allow you to best serve them. Your questioning was doing just that, but perhaps in some cases it is possible to empower the customer in advance so they are able to ask clear questions.

    For example, if a customer emails you saying their website is broken, how do you help them? If you have given them specific things to look for then they can get a resolution more quickly.

  6. Ashley,

    For sure, this is something we are starting to do at my company. We try to clarify what they need help with and through their selections preemptively give solutions to questions that relate to the question selection and also ask for information that may help us solve the problem that relates to the issue.

    I find if customers can solve their own questions they are happier than having to ask for help and if they do have to email you you further make them happy by reducing the amount of back and forth they will have to do to reach a final conclusion to their issue.

    Thanks for reading and your feedback!

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