Once in a great while I have the ability to read people’s minds. Since you are reading this blog, I’ll bet that you are a good supervisor of customer contact professionals. I will also bet that you wake up every morning believing that you are a nice person.
And I will bet one other thing: when someone on your team does something you wish they wouldn’t, whether it is coming in late too often or snapping at a difficult customer, you get frustrated and it shows. And then when nothing changes, you wonder what to say to them.
That is where this blog comes in. I would like to change your perspective from what to *say* to what to *ask*. Because when you start asking good questions and taking a learning posture, even in really difficult employee situations, you suddenly gain the power to create real performance change. Compare these two situations and see what I mean:
Not so good:
You: Jones! You shouldn’t talk to customers that way. That sounded incredibly rude.
Jones: (Sigh) Yes, boss.
You: I’ll bet that customer was very frustrating. What were you seeing?
Jones: I’ll say. This person was demanding a refund three months after the warranty expired.
You: Wow, that must have put you in a tough spot.
Jones: To be honest, it did. I didn’t know what to say, so I eventually ended up arguing with him.
You: Would you like to learn what I say in situations like that?
Which of these two dialogues are more likely to get Jones to change? The one where you took the time to learn how Jones sees the world, of course. And the same principle would be true if he was coming in late, logging his cases incorrectly, or not taking enough showers. When you ask appropriate questions, and then track the other person’s responses, you gain valuable data you will never, ever hear by putting someone on the defensive – and this, in turn, helps you create solutions that benefit both parties.
Good questions have three goals: (1) they show interest in the other person, (2) they help people acknowledge their behavior in their own words and save face, and (3) they focus people on solving the problem themselves. Above all, good questions learn from and benefit the agent. Here are some common types of good questions:
“Does it bother you when customers ramble on?”
“It sounds like it’s been hard to get in to work on time lately. How has it been going for you?”
“What kinds of situations take the longest to resolve?”
“Are there certain customer situations that get under your skin more than others?”
“I’d like to learn more about that. What was your experience?”
“What would you do if you were in my position?”
When you use this approach, you have lots of company: for example, good therapists and good police officers are highly trained to ask lots of questions, not just to gather data but to take the heat out of potentially explosive situations. More important, the right questions help you leverage the other person’s thinking to solve problems, particularly in the non-stop world of customer contact. So next time you need help with a difficult employee situation, just ask!
Rich Gallagher is a communications skills expert, author, and former help desk executive. His book What to Say to a Porcupine: 20 Humorous Tales that Get to the Heart of Excellent Customer Service (AMACOM, 2008) was a national #1 customer service and business humor bestseller that was a finalist for the 2008 Business Book Awards, and his latest book How to Tell Anyone Anything (AMACOM, 2009) explores the mechanics of difficult workplace conversations. Visit Rich online at www.pointofcontactgroup.com