How to Use Funnel Questions – With Examples


Illustration of funnel question concept

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We explore how to use a customer service questioning technique known as funnel questions.

The Funnel Effect

“The Funnel Effect” involves asking open, probing and closed questions – in that order. The diagram below highlights this.

A diagram discussing The Funnel Effect
  • Open questions require detailed answers. They cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no”. Asking these questions helps to gather information from the get-go. Sometimes, the open question “How may I help you?” is all an advisor needs to ask before probing.
  • Probing questions allow advisors to home in on crucial bits of information gathered after asking open questions. They also help uncover grey areas within a customer’s account of events, understand the impact and clarify preferred outcomes.
  • Closed questions help take control of a conversation once the advisor has all the information they need. Restricting customer responses to “yes” or “no”, these questions are also great for confirming details within the answers to open and probing questions.

After finishing on a closed question, advisors can press ahead and focus on finding a solution.

Within many contact centres, going through this process is known as putting a query “through the funnel”.

Funnel Question Examples

To further highlight the difference between each type of funnel question, here are some examples.

Open Funnel Questions Probing Funnel Questions Closed Funnel Questions
How can I help you? When did the situation start? … is that right?
What are you looking for? Has this happened before? Do you agree?
Which product features are most important to you? What difficulties did you face when you tried to…? Have you already tried to…?
What is preventing you from…? Could you describe what it sounds / smells / tastes like? Would you like to find out more about product X?
Could you tell me what you see on your screen? So I fully understand, could you give me an example of what you mean by…? Are you interested in buying something too?

Using these questions within the filter helps to deal with challenging calls. During simpler transactional calls, advisors may take the lead. To do so, they can ask more closed questions and apply techniques like signposting to provide a more effortless customer service experience.

However, in a world where self-service and automation is eating up all of these easier calls, advisors must become more skilful at questioning. The Funnel Effect is, therefore, an excellent string to the modern advisor’s bow.

3 Funnel Question Scenarios

Here are three examples of contact centre conversations in which the advisor uses the Funnel Effect to troubleshoot and move the call towards a solution.

1. The Faulty Return

Advisor: How can I help you today?
Customer: I bought something that doesn’t work. I’ve tried everything. How can I return it?
Advisor: That’s not good. I’m sorry to hear you’ve tried everything and it’s not working. I can help you return it. First, could I ask, what type of product is it?
Customer: It’s a laptop. It keeps freezing.
Advisor: Yes, I can imagine that’s frustrating. How often is it freezing?
Customer: Every half an hour or so.
Advisor: That’s okay. The reason I ask is to see if you have long enough to disable any security features and remove your personal data before you send it back, which you do. Could you do that yourself or would you like my help?
Customer: I can do that myself, thanks.
Advisor: Excellent. So, to return the faulty laptop you must [CONVERSATION CONTINUES]

After beginning the call with an open question, the advisor uses two probing questions. However, they bridge between the questions by using empathy statements such as:

  • “That’s not good. I’m sorry to hear you’ve tried everything, and it’s not working…”
  • “I can imagine that’s frustrating…”

Doing so helps to build rapport with customers, and it also helps to avoid overwhelming customers with question after question.

Interestingly, the closed question also attempts to pre-empt a future contact. If the customer begins the returns process before realizing that they must wipe data from their laptop, they may call again. Asking the simple question could prove valuable in simplifying service.

2. The Faulty Fix

Advisor: How may I help you?
Customer: My washing machine isn’t cleaning properly.
Advisor: I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with that. Let’s see what we can do. Could I first ask: how high are you filling up the washing machine?
Customer: About halfway.
Advisor: That’s excellent. Many people overfill their washing machines, causing this issue. It’s great that you’re not doing that. What I recommend is that you run a maintenance wash. Have you done that already?
Customer: No.
Advisor: Good. That is our best bet, then. Do you still have the manual or would you like me to talk you through it?
Customer: Yes, I have the manual, thanks.
Advisor: Fabulous. It’s a straightforward process. The key things to remember are… [CONVERSATION CONTINUES]

From the customer’s first response, the advisor can narrow down the cause of the issue to one of two options:

  1. The customer is overfilling their washing machine
  2. The washing machine needs a rest.

The advisor then probes to discover which is at play. Upon learning that the issue is not due to a customer mistake, the advisor begins using positive words to build rapport.

“Excellent”, “great”, “good”, “best”, and “fabulous” are used, helping to generate enthusiasm around the solution of a maintenance wash.

Finally, the advisor twice demonstrates their expertise while bridging their questions. They tell the customer:

  • Many people overfill their washing machines, causing this issue.
  • It’s a straightforward process. The key things to remember are…

Doing so reassures the customer, so they feel as though they are in good hands.

3. The Moving Customer

Advisor: What can I do to help you today?
Customer: I’m moving house. What is going to happen to my policy when I move?
Advisor: Congratulations. That’s exciting! Just so I can answer your question, where are you moving?
Customer: Just up the road. Still in Coventry.
Advisor: Excellent. As you’re still in the country, everything will stay the same. You will need to update the address on your policy, though, once you’ve moved. Would you like me to send you a link to do that online?
Customer: Yes, that’s helpful. Thanks.

[CONVERSATION CONTINUES]

To answer the query, the advisor must find out more. They do so with a probing question, which helps to uncover where the customer is moving.

It is then simple enough for the advisor to provide a sufficient answer. Yet they again pre-empt a future query with a final closed question. That query would have been: “How do I change the address on my policy?”

Not only that, but they also influence the future channel choice of the customer, relieving future strain on the contact centre.

Predicting future customer behaviours like this and coaching advisors to influence them is a progressive contact centre strategy that can increase efficiency.

Asking Good Probing Questions

Rea Alducente

Rea Alducente

“Probing is the art of delving deeper into what caused the issue. Asking probing questions ensures that you find the underlying cause of the issue,” says Rea Alducente, a popular industry vlogger otherwise known as Rea Ninja.

After finding the root cause of an issue, advisors may work towards an appropriate solution. But it is not always as easy as in the examples above. Sometimes customers are not sure of themselves. Other times advisors will have never before come across the issue.

Advisors must, therefore, work on their probing skills, which include active listening, self-awareness and patience. Keeping an open mind is critical, as assumptions are often the enemy.

Skilled in each of these areas, advisors will naturally ask great probing questions. Until they reach that point, however, asking TED questions are often a good hack. TED stands for:

  • Tell me – e.g. Tell me, what happened when you…?
  • Explain to me – e.g. Explain to me how it looks?
  • Describe – e.g. Describe what you were doing when you first noticed the issue?

By adding these prefixes to their questions, advisors will automatically probe customers, encouraging them to share specifics.

Just try to mix it up. Avoid always saying “Tell me…” and remember to use common courtesies – such as “please” and “thank you” – to maintain a friendly tone.

Interested in learning more probing questions to add value to your contact centre conversations? Here is an excellent list of examples: 17 Probing Questions to Improve Your Customer Service

Accompany Questions With the Right Attitude

To ask great questions, advisors must want to like and help the customer. Asking advisors to be wary of the “Halo and Horn Effect” encourages this positive mindset.

  • The Halo Effect – When the customer brings out the best in an advisor, they begin to build a good rapport. The advisor then takes on a figurative halo.
  • The Horn Effect – When the customer has their back up against the wall, making them feel defensive, advisors often feel an urge to provide worse service. Unwilling to support the customer, they assume a figurative horn.
The halo and horn effect

Yet it’s not only when dealing with angry customers that advisors experience “The Horn Effect”. As Carolyn Blunt, a customer service specialist, once told us: “If you have customers who ring time and time again, draining your energy, your eyes start to roll… Here we go again.”

Such a negative mindset sticks with advisors as they move from one call to another. Even with pleasant customers, the advisor feels bitter from the previous call, infecting their call handling skills.

However, if they remain aware of the Horn vs. Halo Effect, advisors can better recognize their emotions and ensure they do not impact their customer service approach.

After all, mindsets are vital. Advisors must be willing to ask the best questions to ensure that the Funnel Effect elicits the right results.

Final Thoughts

The Funnel Effect is a technique that allows advisors to follow a tried-and-tested process when finding root causes to tricky customer queries.

Use open questions to gather information, probing funnel questions to focus on the vital details and closing questions to confirm and proceed. With such a structure, advisors feel confident in taking on difficult contacts.

Having such confidence is great because mindsets matter. A confident advisor – who avoids the dangers of the Horn Effect – is likely to deliver superb customer service. With great people, processes and technologies surrounding them, advisors can create exceptional service experiences.

Thanks to Charlie Mitchell for this article

Discover more questioning techniques to bolster customer service in our articles:

Published On: 30th Mar 2022 - Last modified: 4th Apr 2022
Read more about - Skills, , ,


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