Practical Tips for Effective Questioning and Probing Techniques

Asking the right questions is key to getting the right answers.  This week we look at effective questioning techniques…

Framing the conversation

One of the most important factors to remember when questioning a customer is proper positioning, which will allow you to gain permission to ask almost anything.

Framing the conversation by telling the customer what you are going to do for them is the perfect way to achieve this.

Explain to the customer that you are going to ask them some questions, tell them why you are going to ask them and also let them know ‘what’s in it for them’ to answer the questions, thereby fully justifying all questions in advance! For example:

“Okay Mr/Mrs Customer, I’m going to ask you some questions about x, y and z so I can give you the best possible solution to your question/issue/situation.”

The Funnel Effect

There are three steps involved in ‘The Funnel Effect’

1. Open questions

Lindsey McGhie

Lindsey McGhie

Always start with open questions about the subject at hand, this will give you all the information you require to take the conversation further.

2. Probing questions

This is the stage of the questioning which will allow you to delve deeper into the customer’s answers, finding out the reasons and emotions behind those answers.

3. Closed questions 

Asking closed questions (i.e. questions which only allow a yes or no answer) allows you to confirm both your and the customer’s understanding of what has been discussed in that specific line of questioning. It will also show the customer that you have been listening!

Lindsey McGhie, Lead Trainer – RESPONSE, Glasgow (

Tell, Explain and Describe (T.E.D.)

When using probing questions, T.E.D. can become your best friend. T.E.D. stands for three simple words that will help you get the answers you are looking for: Tell, Explain and Describe.

By starting a question with one of these words, e.g. “Tell me, how did that affect you?”, you are essentially demanding an answer from the customer without letting them know that you are. This style of wording prompts the customer to give you all the relevant information in regard to the issue.

Any other reasons

Asking the customer if they have any other questions/anything else you can help with, at the start of a call can aid in first-call resolution.

Gordon Walker

Gordon Walker

Asking at this point allows you to plan how your questioning will flow. For instance, it may not be possible to address the first issue raised until the second issue has been resolved.

It is a good idea to deal with each issue individually and go for the easiest or quickest issue to resolve first. This gives the customer a feeling that you are helping them and getting results. If the customer raises a new query during the call you should deal with it before closing the call.

This technique negates having to ask the same question at the end of the call which can increase call handling time as human nature often means if we are asked if there is anything else, we will try to find something.

Gordon Walker, Lead Trainer – RESPONSE, Glasgow (

Flow with the answers

The key to effective questioning is simply to listen!

By listening to your customer’s answers (the whole answer), you have time to formulate what your next question will be. This will also allow you to ensure that the line of questioning has a natural flow and doesn’t sound like a scripted checklist of things you need to ask.

Michael McGarrigle

Michael McGarrigle

The main part of this technique is to ensure you don’t jump from one subject to another. Use the Funnel Effect and move on to the next line of questioning after confirming understanding with closed questions.

Control silences

It is hugely important to listen to your customer. It is equally important to let the customer answer! If, when asking a customer a question, they aren’t immediately forthcoming with an answer, don’t rush in to fill the gap for them. It is, after all, pointless asking a question if you are going to answer it yourself from what you believe the customer might say. Control the silence by waiting for the customer to either answer or ask for clarification of the question if they don’t understand it.

Michael McGarrigle, Performance Coach – RESPONSE Glasgow (

Use positive words

Use positive words and be energetic and enthusiastic in your delivery, as you need to motivate someone to consider the questions you are asking. Ideally you want to inspire them to respond in a likewise manner and to open up the call into a conversation rather than a set of questions and answers.

Use your voice to project professional confidence

Use your voice to project professional confidence as your customer needs to have confidence in you.  Write down what you want to say and recite this so that you are prepared. Attention should be given to ensuring that conversations are natural and not forced. Listen to what your customer has to say and link the answers into the next question.

Use closed questions to check you are speaking to the right person

Christine Bryant

Christine Bryant

Closed questions are best used to check that you are speaking with the decision maker/required contact as there is no point having a long conversation with the wrong person.

Use open questions to establish if there is a need for the product

Consider the ideal call length without impacting on the natural conversation; you do not want your customers to feel they are being held a prisoner on the phone or, conversely, being hurried and talked at. Try to draw the customer into the conversation early on in the call by using open questions and establish if there is a need for the product. If there is no need then  finish the call in a professional manner.

Christine Bryant, Head Of Contact Centre Management, Wunderman

Probe for information

Relevant probing helps unearth the customer’s need and reduces ACHT. We need to encourage agents to ONLY do relevant probing when they seek answers to help customers.

  • LISTEN to the main query attentively. This helps to get many cues from the query itself – hence reducing the need to probe.
  • Do open-ended probing when you need to recommend something to a customer or when the customer is facing an inconvenience. Ensure closed probing when you need the reply in just a yes or no to hand-hold the customer.
  • The context and manner of probing must be clear for the customer to understand instantly and courteous for them to respond similarly.
  • No irrelevant probing. You must ensure a thorough system check so as not to irritate the customer by asking irrelevant questions.

Pinaz Hansotia, Call Centre Helper reader

Use a template

When I was a collection manager, we would give the agents a template on what to ask the customer.

First of all, they would validate that they were speaking to the customer.

Then they would update addresses, phone numbers, etc., and any applicable demos.

Susan Leighton, Project Analyst II at CitiFinancial

Make interaction relevant to the conversation

Most important is ensuring that any interaction with a customer occurs as being conversational, relevant and intelligently positioned.

Customers should never feel they are being asked a random question that poses no relation to the discussion and this can often happen when reading from a script.

Effective call centre agents should be able to gain meaningful insight and information from customers by positioning their dialogue in a manner appropriate to the individual conversation.

Throw away the prompts

Chris Hancock

Chris Hancock

When agents read from a prompt it can be hard for them to emotionally connect with callers. A representative that sounds interested and involved in the discussion is more likely to make the consumer feel they have got some value to gain.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes

The most effective way to develop agents to a high standard is not to use a script and to get them to envisage themselves as the customers. They are then in a better position to understand the process and advantages to their conversations, and empathise with a consumer’s decision-making process.

Empower agents with information, support them as valued resources and they will be confident in knowing how, and when, to ask the right questions.

Chris Hancock, Managing Director, GasboxDMG

Published On: 24th Feb 2010 - Last modified: 4th May 2018
Read more about - Call Centre Management, Hints and Tips, , ,

  1. Highly informative article. Keep up the great work.

    Anonymous 25 Feb at 7:22 pm
  2. Nice article, thanks. Very useful. Check typing error in the title though.

    Estelle 26 Feb at 11:35 am
  3. I can personally say that these techniques are effective in encouraging conversation and problem resolution.

    Raina 6 Sep at 11:32 pm
  4. this has helped me a lot as a call center agent.

    yeng 10 Nov at 12:18 pm
  5. It is very powerfull and effective.

    Chaminda 29 Nov at 1:22 pm
  6. great article and very useful information.

    Farhad Amin 16 Feb at 11:40 pm
  7. Nice article

    sharanya 23 Feb at 5:59 pm
  8. It makes Sales Call much easier

    Shailesh Kumar 19 Apr at 5:21 pm
  9. Great article….. Its make me to feel completed

    Natrajan Muralidharan 10 May at 7:19 pm
  10. Questioning your customer is a process that needs extra care and attention. The customer should never be provoked and neither should you. The initial step is to gain permission to indirectly to question the customer on anything. To do so, you must be friendly and understanding.

    more 11 Sep at 1:43 pm
  11. Thanks for shairing this information guys , its really nice and useful

    Mac 20 Nov at 2:34 pm
  12. Very different from regular articles on probing. I got some really interesting points for my project. Much Appreciated work

    Niketa Nigam 20 Mar at 12:36 pm