Probing Questions for Top-Notch Customer Service
Probing questions help customer service professionals get to the root of the customer’s problem. In this blog post, we’ll look at what probing questions are, how they differ from clarifying questions, and when exactly you should use them.
We’ll also give you 20+ examples of effective probing questions you can start using straight away to assist your customers better.
What Are Probing Questions?
Probing questions are designed to steer the conversation to get the information you need to assist the customer. Customers often focus their attention on how the issue affects them (and how they feel about it) rather than explaining precisely what it is.
Probing or asking open-ended questions helps you redirect the interaction towards finding a solution by getting you the information and context you need to assist the customer. They’re also very helpful when you get the feeling the customer isn’t satisfied with the solution you’ve proposed or when you just don’t have enough information to proceed.
Probing Questions vs. Clarifying Questions
While the difference might seem subtle, there’s actually a big distinction between probing questions and clarifying questions.
Use clarifying questions when you have a good idea of the customer’s problem and just want to make sure you’ve understood.
For example, “Just to be 100% sure I’ve understood the issue, you’re not able to add new users to the platform. Is this correct?”
As you can see, clarifying questions usually have a yes or no answer. On the other hand, probing questions ask the customer for more detail.
For instance, “I’m really sorry to hear you’re having difficulty with the platform. Can you please give me an example of what went wrong?”
When to Ask Probing Questions in Customer Service
Customers don’t always directly say what their problem is. They may be focusing on their emotions around the situation rather than what the problem actually is. In these cases, asking probing questions can help you get a clearer picture of the issue.
You can also use probing questions to get a deeper insight into the customer’s emotions. Probing questions help you understand how the customer feels and make it easier to tailor your response accordingly.
Avoid Questions That Start With “Why”
You’ll notice in the examples below that none of our probing questions start with ‘why.’ That’s because asking the customer why they did something points the blame in their direction.
Asking a ‘why’ question can be counterproductive, as it’s bound to make the customer feel defensive. This, in turn, causes the interaction to escalate and the customer to become more upset or angry than they already were.
Asking why also shifts the responsibility from you, the customer-facing professional responsible for helping the customer. By asking why, you’re, in essence, asking the customer to solve their own problem.
“Why do you think this happened?” is the perfect example of a probing question you should avoid asking. Remember, you are meant to be the product expert and not the customer.
20 Best Probing Questions To Ask Customers
With that in mind, here are some examples of probing questions that can help you better understand the customer’s issue and how they feel about it.
Remember: You should always combine direct questions like the below with empathy statements to show the customer you’re on their side.
“I understand how frustrating this is for you,” or “I’m really sorry to hear about that,” “I’m sure I would feel the same way if I was in your situation.”
- Have you experienced anything like this before?
This probing question lets you identify whether the problem is once-off or a pattern or recurrence that might point to a bigger issue.
- How long has this issue been causing you problems?
The longer the problem has been going on, the more frustrated the customer is likely to be, and the more apologetic your response should be.
- Could you describe what the problem looks like?
If you’re not following what the customer is saying, having them describe what they see or hear can help.
- Could you provide a little more detail on that?
If you sense you’re close to isolating the problem, this question helps you narrow down towards the solution.
- How urgently do you need this resolved?
This question prompts the customer to tell you how urgent the issue is.
- How has this issue affected you / your business?
This question helps build rapport and gives you more information on the impacts of the problem.
- Do you recall what you were doing when the problem started?
This question helps you pinpoint where the customer might have made an error to help you fix the issue.
- Have you made any attempts to fix the issue yourself?
This question prevents you from offering solutions the customer has already tried on their own, which can be frustrating for them.
- What happened after you tried that?
If the customer did attempt to resolve the problem themselves but wasn’t successful, this question might clarify why their attempt didn’t work.
- What would your ideal outcome today be?
- Could you give me an example?
If the customer is vague about an issue, providing an example can be extremely helpful.
- What was your main reason for contacting us today?
If the customer has a long string of complaints, this can help you narrow down to the main issue at hand.
- Did you see any error messages?
If the customer noticed any specific error codes, these could quickly help you find the issue.
- Could you possibly circle back to …?
Sometimes the customer mentions something in passing that might actually be critical to solving their problem.
- How would you feel about … solution?
If you have a solution in mind, this question helps you gauge how happy (or otherwise) the customer is with it.
- How has this impacted you personally?
This is another good question for finding out how the customer feels about what’s happened.
- Is this issue causing you any other problems?
Quite often, customers already have an idea of what they’d like you to do for them. This question helps you find out what their motivation is for contacting you.
If the problem has a major impact on the customer’s operations, their case must be given the highest priority.
- Would you like me to discuss this with my manager and get back to you?
This question can help you establish whether the issue should be escalated.
- Here is the problem as I understand it – is there anything I’ve missed?
Repeating the issue in your own words to the customer and asking them if you’ve left anything out can help you ensure you’ve understood the whole situation.
- Is there anything else I can assist you with?
Finally, it’s always a good idea to allow the customer to raise any other concerns they might have.
As you can see, probing questions like the above can be helpful in a wide range of customer service situations. If you’re ever in a position where you just don’t have the information you need to assist the customer, probing questions are definitely your best option.
CustomersFirst Academy offers comprehensive customer service training designed to help you grow your skills and advance your career.
To keep learning and developing your knowledge of customer service, we highly recommend the additional resources below:
How to Create an Inspiring Customer Service Philosophy
Is Outsourcing Customer Service Right for Your Business?
8 Easy Ways to Improve Online Customer Service
5 Key Areas of Customer Service You Need to Master