Simon Says: Open or Closed?

By Elaine Senecal / Illustration by Chris Lewis

Simon Says - May 2004

The person asking the questions controls the call, right? Yes! Asking questions allows us to direct the next part of the conversation. Asking the right questions moves the conversation along to the direction of a close or a sale.

Your agents should know how to choose the questions they ask in order to gather the information they need. We are talking about close-ended questions versus open-ended questions.

  • An open-ended question encourages the customer to talk, to engage in conversation.
  • Close ended questions are answered with a simple “yes,” “no,” or a brief phrase.

How to decide which way to go? Think about the customer’s level of expertise and the objective of the call. What is your final goal?

For instance, imagine that you are an agent providing PC support through a help desk. One item you need to know is what operating system (OS) the customer uses. Mr. Customer basically knows how to turn on the PC and type, but you don’t know this until you ask, “What OS are you using?”

Most likely Mr. Customer will be too embarrassed to ask what “OS” is and will again explain his problem without answering the question. However, if asked a close-ended question, such as, “Do you know which operating system you are using?” or “Are you using Windows XP?” the results will be much better.

Open-ended questions usually begin with words like – what, how, or why.

Close-ended questions usually begin with words like – will, does, do, did, can, and are.

Will you try it? Does it make sense? Regardless of whether you serve inbound or outbound clients, the same rules apply.

[From Connection MagazineMay 2004]