3 Fixes for Common Mistakes Businesses Make When Answering Customer Questions

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Common ground, understanding and a little patience can be your greatest business assets.

4 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For a customer, it’s awkward to ask a question about your product or service. Their lack of knowledge may make them feel timid or even stupid.

Answering a question with complicated phrases and foreign-sounding words delivered in rapid-fire is like shooting dozens of speeding tennis balls at a novice player, not even allowing them to get into position to deflect.

If they do manage to respond with another question and you answer with more insider terminology, they’ll likely feign comprehension before walking away confused, taking with them the money they intended to give you.

In “Do You Hesitate to Ask Questions in Public,” Lee Rosen reveals the internal struggles people have with asking questions. These struggles involve the worries “What if my question reveals that I missed the point?” and “What if my question reveals I’m not smart enough to get it?”

Rather than talk at your potential customers, aim to hear their concerns and then slowly guide them to an understanding of how you can solve their problem.

Here are a few communication tips to help you do just that.

1. Establish common ground

Has anyone provided you directions without first establishing where you were and in what direction you’re heading? The route details may have made sense (“Go a mile past the old barn and turn left”), but without establishing common ground (“Where’s the old barn?”), you were helpless to take the first step.

Many salespeople and business owners address customers’ questions with assumptions about what and why and move too quickly into how. Their answers move the conversation like a rocket, leaving their clients and potential profits behind in the lingering smoke.

Related: 14 Proven Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills

Find your client’s level of understanding. Join them on their path and see the dilemma from their perspective. Then, gently guide them toward a solution.

2. Speak their language

“Did you know that hard drive manufacturers typically specify mean time between failures, which are population statistics that can’t individually predict the behavior of an individual unit? Now, would you like to pay for your hard drive repair with debit or credit?”

Some people may have no problem asking questions about your services, but if you speak in code, they won’t necessarily understand your answers. For improved customer acquisition and retention, speak plainly. “I believe your hard drive is damaged, but I can fix it.”

Whether it’s brain surgery, heating and cooling, web design or one-on-one coaching, almost everybody understands “Fix it.”

3. Repeat

Make sure you’re understood, even if it means repeating yourself. Avoid showing signs of impatience. Instead, take on the role of curious interviewer and ask clarifying questions yourself.

It may seem a waste of time to spend so much time and energy to make sure the person asking you questions feels safe and served. But consider the lifetime value of your customer relationship.

Related: 4 Simple Ways to Communicate Better With Your Customers

The concept is widely known, but in “What Most Companies Miss About Customer Lifetime Value,” Michael Schrage details a few lesser-known benefits of having long-term customers.

Your company benefits from committed customers who share their ideas with you, evangelize on your behalf on social media, share their data with you and introduce your services to new customers. So slow down and take the time to establish an understanding with your current and potential customers when they reach out to you.

To establish common ground, speak a common language and offer a level of patience seldom delivered by your competitors are strategies that can create winning opportunities for you and your company.


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