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The Customers You Want (Part 3): Strategic Questions to Ask Your Customers that Will Strengthen Your Business

Published: 14/11/2019

In this final installment of this three-part series on customer service (see Part 1 here; and Part 2 here), I’d like to offer the notion that beyond the revenue they give us, our customers are also a rich source of information and feedback. In fact, finding out how our customers experience us and our services can help us in many ways; not the least of which is creating the potential for tightening our value proposition/brand/marketing, as well as getting input on how to expand our business. To get at this treasure trove of information, all we have to do is ask--but, we have to make sure that we’re asking the right questions, in the right way.

Give Thought to How You Phrase Your Questions

If you’re already in the habit of getting feedback from your customers, that’s great (and smart)! Asking solid questions will get you solid information. However, to get you information that has the potential to advance your business and strengthen your place in your market, solid questions might not be enough because they’re typically worded in an undefined way. I’d like to suggest that there’s a great benefit to simply wording your questions differently--that is, to word them in such a way as to get you more specific information. One of the things that that I’ve learned in my careers both as a psychologist and as a consultant/coach, respectively, is that, quite often, the more specific my question, the greater the likelihood that I’d get a thoughtful, deeper-level answer.

For example, a standard customer service question that many business people often ask their customers is: “What can I/my company do to serve you better?” This is a very generic question that doesn’t really ask the client to get at what’s most important to them. One of the best ways that I know to get to the heart of the matter quickly is to use “ranking” in our questioning. Phrasing our questions to include the words, “the top” or “the single most” or the “top-3 in rank order”, really focuses their attention and thought and tends to get better and more useful results. Here are some ways of phrasing that above-noted question, in a more focused way:

  • “What’s the single most important thing we do that generates your confidence in us?”
  • “What’s the most valuable part of doing business with us?”
  • “Can you remember a specific time when we exceeded your expectations?”

Sometimes, taking it out of the realm of your service can give you an understanding of what’s most involved, deep down, in truly delighting that customer. For instance, you might phrase the same question this way: “What’s the best and most memorable customer service you’ve ever experienced, either professionally or personally?” The answer to this type of question will likely give you clues into what’s most important to that client about great customer service.

Get Insights Into How You Might Grow Your Business

Sometimes, a well-phrased question asked of many, if not all, of your customers, can yield insights that can inform the growth of your business and how you market it. So, rather than asking, “What can we do more of to satisfy you?” go ahead and make that question more focused: “What’s the one thing that we’re currently not providing that, if we were to, would deliver the highest value to you?” As you can see in the phrasing of that question, we’re asking for two definitive pieces of info: the “one thing” and the “highest value”.  Another way of phrasing the question--a way that might be able to get you some competitive intelligence--is to ask, “What’s the one thing that you’d most like to have that you can’t find amongst any photographers in the market?”

Then, to further gauge their interest in that service (and inform if you should move forward with it), you can ask a “closed” question as a follow-up (i.e., a question that can only be answered by a “yes” or “no”); perhaps, something like: “So, if we were to offer that service, would you be strongly inclined to order it from us?”

In terms of getting insights on our customers’ perceptions of the effectiveness of our marketing, we should all be asking our clients, especially a brand new client, “Why did you select me/my company?”

Great Questions Can Also Be Used to Find Out about Other Stuff

Asking more focused questions is even more important when trying to make things right in a situation where things haven’t gone so well or when you get the intuitive sense that things are sliding a bit with a certain customer. So, rather than asking the tired old, “How can we do better?”, it’s more useful to ask: "Is there a recent example where we have not met your expectations?" Once again, by getting really focused in the wording of the question, you can get specific feedback on what went wrong. More importantly, it will give you a good sense of how to make it right and/or how to make sure it never happens again!

And of course, these sorts of focused questions also can be used to gauge how your customers are valuing your photography.


These questions are just one “spoke in the wheel” of great customer service. I understand that how I’ve worded some of the questions in this post might not be to your liking and that’s okay; just put them into your own speaking style. The important thing is to make sure to retain the “spirit” behind them.

Asking thoughtful, provocative questions will yield great answers that will strengthen your business and possibly inform future direction/growth in your business. Beyond this, I truly believe that asking such questions can distinguish you from most other photographers who, perhaps, don’t put as much thought into finding out more about what will delight the customer.

So, I have a couple of questions for you: (a) What are some of your favorite questions to ask your clients? And (b) How have the answers to those questions advanced your business?

Tony Colangelo is a residential and commercial photographer, as well as a photography coach, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is a long-time contributor to PFRE and is the creator of The Art & Science of Great Composition tutorial series.




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