A good lawyer never asks a question for which he doesn’t already know the answer.  That’s not necessarily just about being smart and being prepared.  Frankly, it’s a manipulation technique used to sway juries and judges:  When they get a witness on the stand, the most important thing for an attorney is to control the situation and allow just the right narrative to come through to the audience.  People can object to the ethics, but the technique is age-old.

When we in the CX field speak of a similar rule, not asking questions to which we should know the answer.  Likewise, it’s not about just being prepared; it’s more in speaking to respect for our Customers.  Normally we are referencing surveys, and I’ll start with that, but there’s also another application of this rule I’ll mention in a minute.

As far as surveys are concerned, a broader and more important (because it encompasses this one) rule of thumb is to keep it as short as possible.  That’s for two reasons:  First, it better respects our Customers’ time (remember, that they’re doing us a favor to offer us their opinions, for which we should be tremendously grateful) by not roping them into a time-intensive investment of telling us their thoughts.  Secondly, and related but more utilitarian, that savings of time and show of respect will lead the Customer to more likely complete the survey in the first place and thus increase our trove of insight:  make it easier and show them respect, and you’re more likely to get what you’re seeking.

Which leads me to a great tool for making your surveys better:  Don’t ask them any questions that you (corporately at least) should already know.  You’re wasting your Customers’ time asking them on a survey what their widget model is or why they called your helpline.  We have a service ticket or a registration already (it’s the interaction with our Customer that triggered the survey in the first place, right?), so why are we asking them things that are already in our data?  We’re specific to remind our Customers not to include any sort of personal information when filling out our surveys.  Sometimes, we’re even explicit not to bother because we’re not going to reply to them if they ask us to (how’s that for the brush-off?).  But if they have an interaction with our brand that triggers a survey, all the demographic and ethnographic information is already there…somewhere.  We should be leveraging our own data sources to tie them out, not relying on our Customers to self-identify and do all that work for us.

The Customer’s dealings with our surveys should be straightforward:  We know who you are and why you called (not to be creepy, mind you).  We know what happened during the call and all the particulars about it…we’ve got that covered, at least from our perspective.  Now, all we need is the final piece of the puzzle:  How’d you feel about that interaction?  Asking them to reiterate transactional, factual things about the initial transaction suggests that we’re not paying attention to what happened ourselves… ‘Hey, remind me again why you called?’  Imagine if that initial interaction had been negative because the Customer didn’t feel you were being responsive?

I worked with a group that asked Customers on their post-support survey how many interactions it took to solve the issue.  When they received the data there was a lot of discussion and debate about the use of the word ‘interaction.’  I actually had a Customer support executive say, “well our Customers don’t know what the meaning of ‘interaction’ is anyway.”  So why ask them?  The purpose of that question was to ascertain whether or not, from the company’s perspective, it had taken multiple touches in order to solve the problem from a resource-use perspective.  Well, if Customers see it differently (and not in any way associated with your own resource use, because why should they care?), why are you bothering them with it?  (Caveat here:  It can be a useful insight to determine if your concept of ‘interaction’ is aligned with those of your Customers.  It’s an esoteric inquiry and one that can help offer insights into how your Customers view your internal processes as expressed outwardly when they interact with them.  That sort of subtlety was not at the heart of this organization’s question.)

But there’s a second way, aside from the surveys, this asking of information gets aggravating for Customers, and it’s in the midst of your interactions with them in the first place.  This should be an iron-clad rule for Customer support and service right up near the top of the list:  Never, never, never require your Customers to repeat their information to you.  If I’ve entered my membership number or identified myself to your IVR, the operator should not ask for the exact same information (if verifying for security purposes, perhaps a different sort of validation can help…I’m talking about actually identifying oneself over and over).  If you have to pass me to ‘the department responsible for that,’ my information should pop right up there without me having to do anything…your notes about our interaction so far included!

Look, we use the word ‘we’ corporately far too often when we shouldn’t (“well, we don’t allow that”) but rarely do we consider that our Customers don’t care what our internal processes are, nor why we’re not talking with each other.  When ‘we’ receive information from a Customer, as far as he or she is concerned, we’ve been told.  That’ corporate ‘we’ is who your Customers are dealing with when they call or email or text or chat.  They don’t care that Jane’s system doesn’t talk with Bob’s system nor with Cindy’s system nor with Pete’s.  All they know is that, regardless of who picks up the phone or responds to the email or is chatting in the box, apparently none of them are talking with each other.  You’re all one entity to the Customer, and just that it’s a team effort to all be on the same page, all the same information needs to be on that page.

This is one of the most fundamental, and strangely one of the most missed, failures companies make…they put so very much effort into building out data and information architectures and analysis systems but then don’t pass on any of the benefits to their Customers, even in the simplest of ways.  It’s amazing to see all the money and sweat put into building out these systems, but the huge miss in that none of it seems to be done for the benefit of the Customer.

Invest in your tech infrastructure.  Put a lot of emphasis on data and information.  But above all, make sure you’re sharing it with each other.  Make sure you’re not relying on your own Customers to fill in the blanks that shouldn’t be there in the first place…that’s your job!