ReadyToManage Webstore

Customer Service

Service Excellence on the Phone: Confusion Should Not Reign

September 16, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Customer Service

The “five W, one H” approach of who, what, where, when, why and how is a good checklist to think about when fielding calls, particularly when talking with new or unfamiliar callers. However, a simpler and perhaps more effective model is to use the telephone topic target questions of “what I must know”, “what I should know”, and “what I would like to know” about a caller and his or her needs? This model suggests that our first priority is to establish the core caller need, the “must know,” first, as there may not be time to go beyond this. Then we can move on to the secondary, or lesser needs, before finally looking for tertiary or “nice to know” factors that will only emerge if the caller is willing to share these and time exists.

The key way to collect information about any caller is to ask good questions so that you can get the right information and ensure maximum clarity quickly on the call. Effective questioning is a powerful skill and one which conveys to the caller that as a receiver you are interested in determining his or her needs. There are two broad types of questions: Open-Ended and Closed-Ended.

  1. Open-ended questions encourage or draw-out more information from the caller and often provide opportunities to gain greater insight into a caller’s deeper needs. We should therefore use open-ended questions which start with who, what, where, why, when, and how.
  2. Closed-ended questions are often answered with a yes or no, or with a simple statement of fact. Closed-ended questions also typically get specific information or confirm facts.

There are several other types of questioning techniques that can be used. These are:

  • Probing Questions: Sometimes you ask an open-ended question to get a caller to open up but only get part of what you need. A probing question is typically an open-ended question, but follow-up on what has just been said in order to get more detail.
  • Echo Questions: An echo question takes the last part of a caller’s sentence and repeats it back to the caller as a question. This is often also called mirroring or reflecting and helps to show that you are listening but are interested in getting more information, if possible.
  • Leading Questions: Leading questions can be manipulative because you’re leading the caller to give the answer you want but if they are used properly, it may help get quickly to a possible answer or solution. Leading questions often start with statements such as, “Don’t you think?”, “Do you feel that?”, “Haven’t you said?” etc.

In summary, the more we practice using a variety of questioning techniques, the better we will be able to get quickly to the heart of the caller’s needs.

The featured video clip is drawn from the ReadyToManage, Rapid Skill Builder Service Excellence on the Telephone Video Vignette Set.

Related Resources

Share this article.

About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

View all posts by Dr. Jon Warner →

Related Posts

Shop the ReadyToManage Webstore for 100's of downloadable coaching, training and development resources!
About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

Newsletter Subscribe

ReadyToManage Webstore Close-Out Sale


ReadyToManage is your one-stop shop for world class employee and personal development resources.  Our mission is to assist individuals and companies in developing management, leadership, and business skills in themselves and their employees through effective and affordable development materials and courses.

Newsletter Subscribe

Join Now!

Search Topics