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Asking the Right Questions as Both Company & Customer

An irritating experience at a local coffeehouse recently reminded me of how important asking great questions is to forging and fostering a solid client relationship.

So, for you coffeehouse beginners, most caffeine-seekers get to the register (after enduring the long, long morning lines) and know exactly what they want or at least have a general idea. A select few may have some questions or need recommendations. Those are allowed (per the well-known yet unpublished coffeehouse rules). What is not allowed? Being a lazy customer. None of us have time for that! Let me paint the picture for you.  

Cashier: Good morning, what can I get for you today?
Customer: I need a coffee.
Cashier: What flavor? Bold, medium or blonde?
Customer: Medium roast.
Cashier: What size?
Customer: Tall.
Cashier: Room for cream?
Customer: Yes.
Cashier: Anything else?
Customer: Yes, extra hot.
Cashier: Got it. Will that be it?
Customer: No, please add a shot of vanilla.
I’d like to think all of those coffee enthusiasts in that line behind me sighed heavily in unison. Really, customer? She knew exactly what she wanted. She just made the cashier work extra hard for that information. What should have been “tall medium roast, room for cream, extra hot with a vanilla shot” turned into an exhausting scavenger hunt for all of us within earshot.
Honestly, at the time, this scenario was more humorous to me than irritating. But as I thought more about it, it spoke volumes to me about being a good customer and communicating what you really need. On the bright side, it made me realize how astute the cashier was to ask those probing questions. I can’t imagine the end result if she hadn’t. If the customer was going to be lazy, she sure wouldn’t be.
Now, there’s an important business lesson to take from this frustrating encounter. For a healthy business relationship to exist, both parties (customer and the one providing a service or product) must communicate clearly and often and think beyond the present. Companies need to ask themselves questions like:
  • What do I need to know to make the best decisions?
  • What are the customer’s expectations of this relationship?
  • What do customers truly want? What are they asking for?
  • What will make them happy?
  • What should I do next?  
  • How can I truly help them?
  • What information do they need to provide so I can do my job well?
  • Is there anything else I need to know?
  • What’s next?
Asking questions isn’t just for launching a relationship. Things change, and needs evolve. Customers need to know that you’re there as a trusted partner thinking ahead of them and anticipating needs. This may occur on a specific project, during update meetings, in an email or at the time of contract renewal. Asking smart questions shows not only foresight, wisdom and flexibility but a real desire to fill a need and get it right the first time.
Businesses also need to teach customers (here’s looking at you, awesome Coffeehouse Cashier of the Year) how to be better customers. By being great “information-seekers,” you will train customers to think that way, too. You can lead by example. And when your questions go unanswered, you can follow up and ensure customers know what you need to succeed. Soon, they’ll anticipate what you’ll eventually ask for and “help you help them” even more quickly.
In simple terms, I think of it as a tango – each partner knowing his/her role so the performance is fluid, responsive, effortless and beautiful. Not painful and time-consuming. In the meantime, here’s hoping that coffee customer gets some dancing lessons.
Courtney Ellett is founder and owner of Obsidian PR. For more information, reach out to

Posted: 2/24/2016 9:18:56 AM | with 0 comments
Filed under: Big, Business, Client, Courtney, Customers, Ellett, Good, Ideas, Obsidian, Owners, PR, Questions, Relationships, SBC, Small

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