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Lost Art of Asking Questions is Priceless

By Jim Rembach posted 04-13-2015 09:23 AM


Proper questioning and inquisition has become a lost art in modern society. For many, it has gone beyond being a lost art in society to becoming financial ruin in the marketplace. Asking the right questions is, in many ways, priceless.

My overly curious eleven-year old asks a lot of questions. Her never unending barrage of “why?” and “why not?” might sound familiar to many parents — but as she grows older it has become more irritating, and I want it to cease. But should I? I read about a recent a poll stating that parents with children estimated that 70-80% of their kids’ dialogues with others were comprised of questions. But those same parents said that only 15-25% of their own interactions consisted of questions. Am I negatively influencing my daughter to become more adult-like foolishly?

Asking questions can be exciting

Think back over your life. It is highly probable that your life was full of more wonder and excitement when you were asking more questions. Your life got even more fascinating when you learned how to ask better and tougher questions beyond just “why”. Chances are that your life elevated even more when you were able to answer questions because of the knowledge you gained from asking questions.

Adults crush the excitement

Just as I am doing with my daughter, you were probably squashed from asking questions. Like with any creature, when the negative consequences begin we avoid the pain. But you were getting positive rewards with your answer giving recognition. It was exciting and you wanted to help others and give more answers. But you were not allowed to ask questions. So you began making up stories and making presumptions on what you learned before. Your brain was filling in the gaps, which is what it was built to do. Over time your volume of asking questions declined (because it irritated others) but you still wanted/needed to give answers.

The same thing happens at work

Employees get the most recognition and attention when they are able to give answers. But those that ask questions are either shunned as being fools or pushed aside for slowing things down. Questioning how we do things around here is for the trouble makers. And we don’t like trouble makers. Disruptors must go.

Your requirement to give (accurate) answers is growing

The requirement for decision-making has accelerated to foolish levels. Pre-judgements and assumptions have replaced thoughtful judging and questions. And this need for speed is one of the root causes that’s driving the decline in the art of asking questions. It’s also resulting in poor decision-making.

Fight the urge for speed

Now, more than ever, it’s vital to slow down and regain the art of asking more — and better — questions. You are guaranteed to arrive at better decisions. You will also avoid a tremendous amount rework later. And that is priceless.

Fight conventional VoC practices

Aside from not asking questions internally, many organizations are failing to ask customers questions that can lead to better customer experience outcomes. You can make your Voice of the Customer program much more valuable (priceless) by asking the right kinds of questions based on your business objectives and what customers are trying to solve.

Not asking questions or only asking a “recommend” question is not enough to expand your understanding of your customer. You must challenge the conventional practice of assumption making using only quantitative data. While collecting only quantitative data may be easier, it’s creating bigger problems that is costing you big.

The lack of questions creates even more questions

All of the quantitative data and limited qualitative data from customer comments is generating even more uncertainty. By not asking the right questions, customer experience leaders find themselves asking:

  • I have lots of data, but what am I supposed to do with it?
  • Am I collecting the right data?
  • What should I be collecting?

There are Three Types of Questions to Ask

In order to know what to do you must go beyond standard practices. You should include in your design process three different types of questions:

  1. Descriptive: These questions are used to help you interpret and understand a customer emotion or situation better. They help you understand situation, condition, interest and intent.
  2. Relational: These questions are used to help you understand the relationship or importance between two or more variables.
  3. Causal: These questions are used to help you to determine whether one or more variables causes or affects one or more outcome variables.

Categorizing your questions will help you to better understand what the customer means in their survey scores. In most VoC programs there are no clarifying questions that can help uncover the real meaning behind scores.

Good questions help you to gain greater insight of your customer that leads you to more relevant follow-up interactions and products. “Can you please explain?” and “why do you feel that way?” both fall into this category. Organizations don’t ask these questions because it takes effort to manage customer comments, and so they make assumptions and complete any missing parts on behalf of customers; which leads to more questions. It’s a vicious cycle.

Turn down the pace

In today’s “get it done yesterday” world, there’s a rush to answer. Our Big Data world and volatile business environment demands this accelerating sense of urgency. But you must slow down and fundamentally understand your customer better in order to avoid poor decisions and to thrive in this environment. While asking questions requires a certain amount of vulnerability, not asking them makes you even more vulnerable.

To be more customer-centric you must encourage your organization to ask customers more questions based on goals, instead of having them rush to complete a survey.

Get customers excited

Just as I am going to do with my daughter, let your organization ask more questions. Also, get someone to help you ask better questions and convert the insight to action. I need to give my daughter the excitement of asking questions and gift of being able to provide answers. And that is truly priceless.

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