Ask better questions for improved client communication
Do you know why customers would prefer to stay away from salespeople? It often happens to us (and we certainly believe many of you too) when entering a store. We do all can to avoid the salespeople in the store. Even if we are sometimes looking for something specific, we do not want to be advised by a seller. Unfortunately, sellers still have the reputation of being forceful hard-selling salespeople, for it is widely believed that sellers do not act in clients’ best interests, but in those of their own.
A few weeks ago a colleague of ours asked his client about their level of satisfaction with the service of a freelancer that they requested. The client wanted to express their displeasure but held back and only commented briefly, "The freelancer did not want to be involved with my ideas for building my house." For some context, the freelancer was an architect.
Often businesses, freelancers and service providers make the mistake of believing that the customer knows a lot less than they do. They do not let customers have their say, both to impress customers, as well as to inform and train them.
In the world that we live in today, it is no secret that customers make use of the Internet and many other sources to gain knowledge. Some customers could be even more aware and informed than “the seller in the store” (freelancers and other service providers). They certainly are more aware of their needs.
Especially with important projects such as building a house, most customers spend a lot of time choosing the location (transport links, leisure options, neighbourhood, etc.), design (environmental compatibility, energy efficiency, comfort, etc.), material and much more. In most cases, customers already have an exact idea of what their house should look like when they engage an architect. And unless a freelancer or service provider knows what customers think about a product they will not be able to respond effectively to customers.
As a result, one of the most important tips in better client communication is to use questioning techniques rather than close-ended techniques. This means more insightful questions, which cannot be simplified with ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and usually require more elaborate replies.
Amongst the plethora of open-ended questions, there are two questions that we believe to be more important and more significant than other forms of questions.
The first question is: ‘Why?’. More often than not, customers have not fully thought through their reasons behind a particular decision. If you, as an expert, ask them specifically about this, you will learn the reasons, goals and motives for this decision which can better inform the service you provide.
Let us take the case of an architect as an example. As specialists in their field, they could chat with customers about many things, such as the environmental compatibility and energy efficiency of the materials used. But the customer may not want to hear that because they have already made their selection. But if the architect asks why they prefer this particular material they could then learn the reasons for their choice. And if their answer is not enough (like an answer such as, ‘This material is better because of its energy efficiency’) - then you can always say: ‘Would you please tell me more about it?’
The second type of question that I recommend for customer discussions is: ‘What else?’. This type of question is just as important as the first question. It allows you to extract more information from your customer. It actually builds on the first question. With this question, you will learn more and more about the motives and goals of the customer and can position your answers and your arguments accordingly.
Do you have more tips on how to communicate more effectively with customers in Hong Kong? We would love to hear from you!
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This article was published in the Freelancing.HK-News 71.