How to Deal With an Indecisive Customer

A rear view picture of a person scratching their head looking at question marks

Charlie Mitchell investigates how to deal with indecisive customers in the contact centre, helping them to make decisions that they can be confident in.

What Does an Indecisive Customer Look Like?

As implied in the name, an indecisive customer just cannot make a decision. As a consequence, they ask lots of questions and/or keep switching between different options.

Not only can these conversations ramp up handling times, but they can also be tricky to deal with, especially if the advisor struggles to take control of the conversation.

Of course, indecisive customers are frequently dealt with in the sales sector and an advisor’s objection handling skills can really help to ease a customer’s indecision.

But let’s focus more on customer service and consider: how can advisors match the right customer to the right solution, while providing complete peace of mind?

1. Classify the Customer’s Key Objectives

When dealing with an indecisive customer, an advisor needs to keep a strong focus on the customer’s ideal end goal.

A thumbnail picture of Caroline Cooper

Caroline Cooper

To reach this goal, advisors must consider whether or not they understand a customer’s decision-making criteria. In other words, do they know what the customer’s main objectives are?

According to Caroline Cooper, Founder of The Managers Academy “Customers will normally have a preference for one of the following three things: quality, cost/investment or time. It can be useful for advisors to identify which is the customer’s biggest priority.”

If an advisor is unsure of the customer’s key objectives, asking open questions will help to unlock these insights and gather lots of helpful information.

2. Ask Open Questions to Gather Information

Straightforward questions like the following are powerful in classifying a customer’s key objectives:

  • What was your main motivation for calling?
  • Which features are important to you?
  • What is it that you are looking for?

It is easy to use open questions, as advisors simply need to remember to start with the words: “who”, “what”, “when”, “where and “how”. These questions encourage the customer to provide a detailed response.

“Remember that ‘D’ – for “do” and “don’t” – closes the door. Think with a “W” to open it up,”

Nancy Friedman, Founder of Telephone Doctor.

Whereas questions that begin with “is”, or more commonly “do” or “don’t”, are closed questions. This means that the customer can only answer “yes” or “no”.

Remember that ‘D’ – for “do” and “don’t” – closes the door. Think with a “W” to open it up,” says Nancy Friedman, Founder of Telephone Doctor.

“Also, try not to barrage a customer with lots of questions, one after the other. At least, tell the customer beforehand that you have a few questions to ask them.”  

Nancy Friedman

Nancy Friedman

By setting up questions with a statement like: “In order for me to be of value and help you, I have four or five questions to ask you”, this will ensure that the customer feels comfortable and not as if they’re under interrogation.

Alongside asking open questions, use active listening to understand the customer’s main objectives – paying close attention to tone and language selection. Then, the advisor can start to use probing questions to get to the heart of the matter.

3. Use Leading Questions to Confirm and Make Recommendations

Once you have identified the customer’s key objectives, it is time to pair them up with the solution that best meets the customer’s needs.

Building enthusiasm around this solution is important, so it is key that advisors remember to “smile as they dial” and use positive words.

Leading questions are also a great tool for persuading customers to embrace the advisor’s recommended solution. These are subtle closed questions that encourage advisors to respond with the word “yes”.

Take the following conversation as an example of how an advisor can use an open question to find the customer’s key objective and then a leading question to positively frame their recommended option.


What is most important to you?


Speed. I’d like it to be delivered tomorrow.
Excellent. Option A includes next-day delivery. Is that what you’re looking for?

By encouraging customers to say the word “yes”, leading questions can be a powerful tool of persuasion.

“Just remember to be careful with leading questions, as they may have negative connotations, in terms of putting thoughts into people’s mouths,” warns Caroline.

So, make sure advisors do their homework first. Ask lots of questions first to best match the customer’s requirements with a product. Then, advisors can use a leading question to strongly state – and thereafter reiterate – the solution’s key benefits.

Discover lots more interesting questioning techniques for the contact centre by reading our article: 10 Effective Questioning and Probing Techniques for Customer Service

4. Offer Reassurance to Customers

By asking lots of questions and leading the call an advisor can take ownership of the conversation. However, for a customer to have full faith in the advisor, reassurance is important.

The customer should be reassured in two ways:

  1. That the advisor knows their stuff
  2. That the advisor cares about their issue

If an advisor manages to reassure the customer of both of these, the customer will be much more likely to listen to their advice and make a decision.

Let’s take the first point. Using a couple of reassurance statements – just like those below – the advisor can position themselves as an expert.

  • “I recently spoke with a customer who had exactly the same concerns are you do. We decided to go with Option A because…”
  • “I personally love this product because it…”

The first statement shows that the advisor is experienced in handling issues of this nature. The second allows the advisor to demonstrate their product knowledge, while reiterating the benefits of the products.

In terms of reassuring the customer that they care about their problem, it can be best practice for an advisor to use empathy statements, just like the following:

  • “I can certainly see why this is tricky for you, Mr. Smith. Let’s work together to find the right solution.”
  • “I understand that this is an important decision. Fortunately, you’ve called the right place…”

These statements are great for advisors to show customers that they are on their side, while they also help to build rapport, which is important for a positive conversation.

5. Ask Advisors to Keep Plan B in Their Back Pocket

Customers can be indecisive when they have more than one option to choose from.

Customers can be indecisive when they have more than one option to choose from.

Yet if the advisor only presents them with one option in the first place, they remove a potential source of indecision.

“If you give a customer two options, that can be confusing,” says Nancy Friedman. “I wouldn’t give two, I would have plan B in my back pocket, just in case a customer asks for something else.”

Also, by giving two options, you may be giving away everything that you have got – which can lead to an awkward pause if the customer asks for alternatives.

So, figure out the customer’s main motivations for calling before presenting options to them. Then, the advisor can present the solution that they think best suits the customer’s needs.

If the customer would like to hear alternative options, the advisor can then fall back on “option b”, before telling the customer why they believe that “option a” is better suited to them.

For more on the topic of presenting options to customers, read our article: Call Control Techniques: How to Present Options to Customers

6. Build Advisor Empowerment to Uncover Fear Factors

Indecisive customers are often worried about making the wrong decision. So contact centres may also need to think about how they can reduce any associated risks.

Offering anything from tips sheets to demos or maybe even a trial period can help to remove uncertainty for customers.

Of course, advisors need to be empowered to provide these options, while it is also good to consider what is causing the “fear factor” for each customer. This “fear factor” is the “delay reason” that is preventing the customer from making a decision.

A picture of a person with a brown paper bag with a question mark

Venture off-script and use various questioning techniques to decipher what the customer’s delay reason really is…

If advisors are allowed to venture off-script and use various questioning techniques to decipher what the customer’s delay reason really is, their chances of handling the call successfully greatly increase.

“Scripts are for actors,” says Nancy Friedman.

“Bullet points and visual guides are great tools for advisor support, but an advisor should not be constrained by sticking to a script.”

To provide great customer service, contact centres must often go beyond the confines of a script and perhaps talk to their colleagues about how else they can best serve the customer.

Nurturing a collaborative “network judgement” culture is great for this. To create such a culture, read our article: What Is the Best Model for Contact Centre Culture?

7. Avoid Phrases That Cause Customer Confusion

Indecision can be a result of customer confusion. Good call control skills will minimize this issue and keep the conversation on track.

However, the language that an advisor uses can also be confusing. A few classic contact centre examples include:

  • “It’s company policy” – This does not answer the customer’s question, leaving them confused. It may also lead to awkward dead air time.
  • “Can I take your Christian name please?” – Many people will not understand that a Christian name means somebody’s first name. This phrase may also be considered by some as culturally inappropriate and can break rapport. Instead say “Can I take your first name please?”
  • “We don’t deal with that” While this may be true, it is a terrible way of wording it, as it makes the customer feel as though they are a burden. It may also be confusing, as the advisor is supposed to represent the company that the advisor is calling, so should at least have some advice.

By being aware of how these statements impact customers, advisors can be coached to use better alternatives.

For example, the three phrases below can replace those that are bullet-pointed above:

  • “That option is not possible because… But, what I can do for you is…”
  • “Can I take your first name please?”
  • “It sounds like you need our X department. I will transfer you to them right away.”

If your agents can keep conversations clear and use simple language, customers will know exactly what to expect. Hesitancy then becomes much less of a problem.

Uncover lots more confusing phrases to avoid in customer service by reading our article: 15 Things a Call Centre Agent Should Never Say (But Many Do)

Key Takeaways

While lots of tips for dealing with an indecisive customer have been uncovered, the key is to ask open questions and use active listening.

Advisors can then start to probe into the customer’s responses to identify their greatest call motivations and fear factors.

If properly empowered, the advisor can then address these, match the right customer to the right solution and offer plenty of reassurance along the way.

Finally, coach advisors to keep their language positive and clear to avoid customer confusion, while building enthusiasm around the proposed solution.

Find lots more great advice for handling tricky customer contacts by reading our articles:

Author: Charlie Mitchell
Reviewed by: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 11th Aug 2021 - Last modified: 9th May 2024
Read more about - Skills, , , , , , ,

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