It's no secret that your customers are a great source of information. They can help you improve your business, gain a better understanding of your market and the competition, and even bring you referrals. If you already talk to your customers, great. That's smart. Good questions will get you good information. However, for information that will get you an advantage in the marketplace, you need better questions. As you are talking with customers, consider changing the wording of your questions to get better information. Here are a few examples:
Good Question--"What could our company do to serve you better?"
Great Question--"Tell me about your favorite service experience you have had, whether in business or as a consumer."
Great Question--"What is the one thing none of your vendors do that you wish they would?"
The standard customer service questions inquiring about how to improve service are often met with pat answers, "Everything's fine." This does not give you insight and may lead to the false sense that your business is safe. By digging for actual examples of delight and frustration you can better determine the real standards you are being measured against and then you can develop a strategy to meet those.
Good Question--"How is our team doing on your project?"
Great Question--"What's the most recent example of how we have exceeded your expectations on this project?"
Great Question--"Is there a recent example where we have not met your expectations?"
By simply making the questions more specificly focused on extremes of service and a more recent time frame, you are getting actionable information.
Good Question - "Are there additional ways in which our two companies can work together?"
Great Question--"The biggest challenges we help our clients with after we have helped with (the challenge you are currently providing solutions for), include, (provide a list of two to three additional services). What challenges are you facing in those areas?"
Often I have asked great customers for a referral only to have them not be able to think of a single reference. However, when I mention a specific prospect by name, those same customers will aid in any way that they can. The reason that they could not come up with a referral, but are eager to help when a target is named, is not about lack of willingness. It is about providing context. A named target gives them a place to focus their good intentions. A general request, because it lacks context, is not met with the same energy. This is true for trying to expand your business with an existing customer. Naming the types of services that are typically next in line frames the contexts of your offer more clearly.
A characteristic of better questions is specificity. By moving from general to specific questions, you generate a higher level of engagement with the listener. Specific questions often cause more thoughtful and detailed responses which is necessary to gain the insight you are hoping for from a customer.
There is an architecture to writing better questions that will increase the effectiveness of your questions. I have written about this in the following, A Sales Technique that Leaves Everyone Happy.