4 Essential Questioning Techniques for Live Chat

July 20th, 2017 | Jylian Russell | Live Chat
questioning techniques for live chat

Great questions are the lifeblood of any great conversation. Without them, a conversation will quickly fall flat or find itself running in circles.

And just like any ‘real life’ conversation, those on live chat depend on certain questioning skills to help them smoothly progress and solve a customer’s needs. For the live chat rep then, knowing how to ask questions can be the difference between delivering an okay chat and a fantastic one.

In this post, we take a look at four essential questioning techniques and how and when you should use them in your live chats. Let’s dive in.

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  1. Open Questions

    Open questions are questions that tend to open the customer up to provide detailed responses. These types of questions get the conversation rolling and set the stage for gathering more information from the customer. Open questions also typically provide a response that’s filled with information to help you answer – or at least start to – your customer’s problem (i.e., they likely won’t elicit one-word responses like ‘yes’ or ‘no’).

    Open questions start with one of the following ‘w’ words: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. In customer service, a classic open question is, “How can I help you?” Although using one of these five words will draw answers that are typically long and detailed, some are more specific than others:

    • Who will always give information about people

    • When will always give you information about time

    • Where will always give you information about locations

    Conversely, the words what, why, and how, will give you information which isn’t limited to specific details and as such are the most powerful to use in an open question.

    A word of caution when using why to start an open question. Consider these phrases:

    Why did you do that?”

    Why are you feeling that?”

    Why did that happen?”

    Each of these phrases risk sounding harsh to the customer’s ear – something you certainly want to avoid when building a relationship with a customer. Instead, we recommend rephrasing ‘why’ questions with a ‘what’ or ‘how’ to help soften the question:

    What caused you to do that?”

    What led to you feeling like that?”

    How come that happened?”
    Open Questions Can Help You:
    • Set the stage for an open conversation: “Hi there, how can I help you today?”

    • Pull more detail from your customer: “What does the screen say when you turn it on?”

    • Find out the customer’s opinion or feelings about an issue: “Overall, what is your impression of the laptop’s functionality?”

  2. Probing Questions

    Probing questions help to draw more information on the details the customer has told you so far. These questions are relevant and inquisitive and can be used to help you get the sort of detailed information you need to solve a customer’s problem.

    A few examples of probing questions include:

    “Can you tell me a little more about that?”

    “What specifically did you mean by that?”

    “Can you explain a little more about that?”

    Probing questions focus on specific details while still keeping the questioning open to prompt for elaborate responses.

    Probing Questions Can Help You:

    The ‘deep dive’ and attentive nature of probing questions can help you:

    • Built trust with your customers

    • Demonstrate empathy for their problem

    • Uncover your customer’s needs

    Pro Tip: When using probing questions, try to focus in on a specific point the customer provided in their previous answer.
  3. Closed Questions

    In contrast to open questions, closed questions limit the length of a customer’s response. Classic closed questions typically elicit brief, factual answers, like ‘yes’ or ‘no’. A few examples include:

    “Would you like me to call you back?”

    “Are you happy with that solution?”

    “Was that everything I can help you with today?”

    Another closed question format involves giving the customer several choices to pick from and asking which is most appropriate. Questions like:

    “Would you like a window or an aisle seat?”

    “Would you like me to text or email you the receipt?”
    Closed Questions Characteristics

    Closed questions can be characterized as:

    • Providing facts

    • Being easy

    • Being quick to answer

    Closed questions are really great for drawing specific and definitive information from a customer. They’re also wonderful to use as a last check at the end of a conversation to make sure the customer’s concerns have been fully addressed.

    Pro Tip: Given the short answers that closed questions elicit, throwing them into the middle of a conversation may shake the natural flow dialogue. If possible, try to avoid using them during the primary fact-finding and problem-solving stage of the conversation.
    Closed Questions Can Help You:
    • Verify that the information you’ve collected is correct: “The screen says ‘unable to receive input’, is that correct?”

    • Confirm issue resolution before closing a conversation: “It seems we’ve found the fix. Have I solved your issue adequately today?”

    • Regain control of a conversation when a customer is talking a lot and you need to wrap things up: “I’m glad I was able to assist you with this today, do you need help with anything further?”

  4. The Funnel

    The funnel can be thought of as the ‘overarching’ questioning technique that consists of the other three techniques. Like a physical funnel, this technique follows a pattern of either increasing or decreasing detail and starts with open questions, moves to probing, and closes with closed (or vice-versa). The funnel technique is often used by police forces when taking statements from witnesses.

    blog questioning techniques

    For example:

    “Tell me about your problem with your laptop”

    “How long have you owned this laptop?”

    “Can you tell me specifically what the prompt message said when the laptop froze?”

    “Did you try rebooting?”

    In this example, the agent starts with an open question to allow the customer to provide a detailed explanation of their problem. With each subsequent question, the agent becomes more specific and focused.

    In other scenarios, the funnel can start with a closed question to gather as much specific detail right from the start.

    “Did you try rebooting?”

    “Is the computer on now?”

    “Is your wireless function switched on?”

    “Please start Google Chrome. What is the first screen you see?”

    Use the Funnel Technique When:
    • You need to gather more information to answer a customer’s specific problem.

    Pro Tip: Use focus words like ‘exactly’ or ‘specifically’ to prompt the customer to give you more information about a certain detail.
    • “You said a comment flashed on the screen before the laptop froze. What did it specifically say?”

    Now, let’s take a look at a full funnel in action:

    Gia: Hi, this is Gia at NiceNet100, how can I help?

    David: Yes, I wonder if you can. My internet has been off for about 3 hours and I need to get a lot of work done. I’ve tried accessing with my PC and my phone but nothing works.

    Gia: I am sorry to hear that. What lights on the router are on?

    David: There’s a light on it that’s blinking, I’ve turned it off and on again but it still doesn’t work.

    Gia: Please could you tell me a little more about the blinking light?

    David: It’s a light which has got a globe thing printed above it. It keeps blinking on and off in an irregular way. Sometimes it stops blinking but then it just starts again.

    Gia: That’s useful for me to know, thank you. I’m just going to reset something my end as I think there was a problem with the system which has interrupted your access.

    Gia: Okay, I’ve just reset your access. Is the internet working now?

    David: Aha! Yes, I’m online now.

    Gia: Great! Was there anything else I can help you with today?

    David: No, thank you for your help!

    As you can see, the questions help to systematically and smoothly guide the conversation towards an outcome that leaves the customer satisfied.

    Consciously Applying Questioning Techniques to Your Live Chats

    Even if the above techniques sound new to you, there’s a good chance you’re already using most, if not all, of these questioning techniques in your live chats. Going forward, try intentionally using each of these techniques at the appropriate points in your chats. Chances are you’ll start to see positive outcomes from their use.

    Specifically, a conscious application of questioning techniques to your live chat can help you:

    • Avoid miscommunication: By using a series of well tailored probing questions can provide clarification on a customer’s issue and pinpoint any vital specifics you need to know to help solve their problem.

    • Relationship development: Most people like to be heard, especially when they have an issue to resolve. By asking them in-depth questions, you’ll demonstrate to your customer that you (and your employer) care about resolving the customer’s needs.

    • Calm an Angry Customer: Dealing with angry customers is an unavoidable element in most customer service roles. Questioning techniques, like the funnel, can help calm these situations but focusing the customer’s energy towards the specifics of their issue (and away from their anger).


Great questioning techniques are an essential skill of any live chat rep. If you aren’t already, we definitely recommend trying these techniques in your next live chat conversation. And when working your way through the funnel, don’t be afraid to move both downwards and upwards. If you’re finding a customer hasn’t fully given you enough or the right details, you can always throw an open question in at any point to gather the information you need.

Ready to learn more essential customer service skills? Then head on over to our Live Chat and Customer Service Training Course. In this free customer service skills certification, our team we’ll show you everything you need to confidently and effectively talk with your customers across any channel.

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Jylian is an inquisitive and energetic copywriter based in Canada and regularly works with teams across Europe, APAC, and the US. An experienced SaaS writer, she specializes in social media, fintech, and customer service content.

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