15 Example Probing Questions to Better Understand Your Customers

A magnifying glass and wooden puzzle with question mark - probing questions to put together the puzzle concept

Want to make sure your agents thoroughly understand your customers’ problems? Try introducing more probing questions into the conversation.

What Is a Probing Question and Why Is It So Important?

A probing question is a question that you ask to gain greater insight into what someone has just told you.

Asking probing questions in customer service can help you improve the overall experience by responding to a customer’s actual needs instead of making assumptions. It can also help to improve First Contact Resolution (FCR) rates.

As Neil Martin, Creative Director at The First Word, explains:

A thumbnail photo of Neil Martin
Neil Martin

“There are functional questions that you ask to find out who they are and what has happened. But we also want to ask probing questions for an equally, if not more, important purpose, and that is to understand how they feel.

“If you can understand how they feel, you can understand why they have contacted you and, crucially, how you can best help them.”

15 Sample Probing Questions for Customer Service Calls

Here are some probing question examples – also known as probe questions – that can be used during telephone conversations to help gather more information and better understand customers’ feelings.

1. “When did this situation begin?”

Establishing when the problem began is key to isolating the root cause.

Establishing when the problem began is key to isolating the root cause.

This will also give the agent greater insight into how long the customer has been suffering with the problem, which has the potential to influence their next steps.

2. “Just to make sure I’m not missing anything, can you please tell me what you were doing when the issue first began?”

It’s also key to find out whether the customer inadvertently created the issue themselves. You just need to be careful about how you frame it so you do not sound accusatory.

3. “Has this happened before?”

Understanding this will tell you whether the problem is a one-off incident or systemic.

You can also gain insight into how to solve the issue by asking the customer how they’ve dealt with the issue previously.

4. “Could you tell me how it looks/sounds?”

You need to gain an understanding of the whole picture.

If you can better visualize the problem, you may be able to link it back to something you’ve previously come across for a faster resolution.

5. “Have you tried to fix this yourself before contacting us?”

By getting to grips with the actions the customer has taken to resolve the issue, you can ensure that you are not passing on any advice that has previously failed.

6. “What difficulties did you run into when you tried to…?”

If the customer has tried to fix the issue themselves, look more closely at this. There may be reason in their logic, meaning that you can work together to problem-solve.

7. “You mentioned [insert issue here]. Could you tell me a little bit more about that, please?”

It is often the case that a customer will provide a really long response to your opening question, but you want to focus on the issue at hand.

Active listening and probing questions (such as the one mentioned immediately above) will enable you to do that.

To develop you agents’ active listening skills, read our article: How to Train Active Listening in the Call Centre – With Four Exercises

8. “Just to make sure that I fully understand the problem, could you give me an example of what you mean by…?”

When customers fail to explain the issue clearly, help them out by asking for an example. This will clear things up for you and make it simpler for the customer to articulate their problem.

9. “What do you want to get out of this call today?”

Sometimes customers expect you to be mind-readers in solving their problems. This question can help you to gauge customer expectations and manage them thereafter.

p class=”important-gold”>For more on managing customer expectations, read our article: How to Manage and Exceed Customer Expectations – With Examples

10. “What impact has this had on your…?”

Knowing this will help you to determine the customer’s main priorities. With these priorities, you can find the best possible solution and adapt your approach in respect of this.

11. “How long have you been thinking about this?”

How often you think about something is a reflection of how much you care about it. If it’s a long time, this is a cue to show real empathy and start to put things right.

For practical advice on training advisors to use empathy in the contact centre, read our article: How to Coach Empathy in the Contact Centre – With Three Training Exercises

12. “Is there a timeframe that you’d like us to work within?”

Does the customer have an important event coming up? How urgent is their request?

This will help give you a sense of the importance of the matter to the customer and it also sets you up to manage their expectations.

13. “Is this issue with your [insert item/ service] causing other problems?”

If the problem is preventing the customer from doing anything else, we can realize just how frustrating the issue is for them, setting us up for a sincere apology with a show of genuine empathy.

14. “How did you feel about that?”

This question is one to ask once you’ve built rapport, as you can then feel more confident in directly asking the customer about how the situation has impacted them – without startling them.

15. “Do you have any worries or concerns about doing [insert solution]?”

If the customer does not sound convinced by the solution that you’ve put forward, this probing question will give them the opportunity to raise any concerns.


Probing vs. Clarifying Questions

Though closely related, clarifying questions and probing questions are fundamentally different in both nature and intent. Clarifying questions are typically brief and are designed to clarify the subject being discussed. For example, “Is this what you said?” and “Did I summarize what you said correctly?”.

Want More Advice on Having Better Conversations?

For more advice on coaching advisors to have better conversations with customers, read our articles:

Author: Megan Jones
Reviewed by: Robyn Coppell

Published On: 2nd Jun 2023 - Last modified: 26th Feb 2024
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, , , , ,

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