A manager recently asked me if it was “ok” to ask clients “hard questions” about touchy subjects. There is a natural tendency to avoid “hot topics” with the belief that will enable us to prevent tension in a business relationship (or a personal relationship, for that matter!). As a result, sticking with “safe topics” offers the path of least resistance; however, this is not the path that will enable us to explore new territory and connect at a higher level. To get there requires asking the “hard questions”; in fact, we have an obligation to do this if we are truly committed to delivering exceptional service and avoiding service failures.
“Hard questions” are the ones that enable you to identify the things that really irk the client, those things that will actually cause them to fire us if you don’t learn what they are and then heed the warnings! There is a way to delve into these topics without being negative; in fact, approaching such hot topics in a positive, eager and sincere manner is the secret to successfully navigating this treacherous territory. Your helpful intent will favorably frame whatever questions you ask.
Here are a few approaches that have worked well for me in such situations:
- Conditioning the topic, by introducing it along these lines – “I’m determined to assure that we do an exceptional job serving you, so I’d really appreciate hearing about the critical things we need to avoid doing, as well as the ones we must be sure to do.”
- Asking the client to reflect on the past, their experience with the previous service provider, by opening conversation along these lines – “I’m aware that you experienced some service issues in the past. Can you enlighten me regarding what those were?”
- Focusing on a positive future together, by approaching the touchy areas in this manner – “We want to be the only service provider you will ever need. It’s important to us that we focus on those areas that are most critical to you first and always keep them in front of us. What do I need to know in order to make this work out very well for you?”