Can Better Questions Lead to More Wallet Share?


by Mike Fisher   Every week, a customer comes into the bank branch to make his business deposits. It’s a routine he’s been doing for years. And then one day, after exchanging the usual pleasantries, the teller asks him if he’s familiar with the bank’s mobile deposit solution.

The customer is floored. He didn’t even know the bank offered remote deposits. The teller doesn’t want him to think she’s trying to push him into it, but the customer is thrilled to learn about this option. Even though the teller is always friendly and efficient, the time savings and convenience of not having to physically go to the bank every week will more than make up for the fees. He only wishes that he’d known about it sooner.

It was a pretty simple question, but it was a good one, and it made a huge difference for this customer. The teller felt good about it, too. She was able to recognize an unfulfilled need, address it and create real value for her customer.

Why Good Questions Go Unasked

Edwards Deming once said, “If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.” For tellers, CSRs, loan officers and other bank and credit union employees, discovery is paramount. Because it’s how needs are uncovered, it opens the door to everything else. If your team isn’t asking good questions to figure out what the customer needs, then they’re probably missing out on opportunities to add more products and create stickier relationships. And when the bank down the street advertises something you haven’t mentioned, that customer could be out the door in no time.

But here’s the big question: If you can’t build customer loyalty and gain more wallet share without first asking some good questions, then why don’t they ask? Here are some reasons I often hear from banking groups:

  • Feels too “salesy.” I don’t want it to appear like I’m pushing a product. The reason they feel this way is that the product doesn’t fit the need. If they learn how to ask questions first, though, they can offer a product that meets the need, thus solving a problem (or helping) the customer. This also makes them more of a problem solver than a salesperson.
  • Lack of product knowledge. I don’t want to ask a question if I am not comfortable explaining a possible solution. It’s only natural that an associate who’s not familiar with certain products isn’t going to open up the opportunity for a discussion about them. If the customer wants more information and they don’t know how to respond, they worry they’ll look bad.
  • Fear of rejection. If they tell me they’re not interested, it feels personal. It’s hard not to take rejection from the customer personally, especially if you go into it with the mindset that your questions are only bothering them. Compounding this issue, if the associate brings up a product simply for the sake of trying sell it rather than fit a need, they’re most likely going to hear “no thank you” a lot.

While no one in a bank or credit union may have the word “sales” in their job title, selling is a shared responsibility across the organization. The good news is, with some specific sales team training, you can help increase your team’s questioning confidence and bridge the gap between service and selling.

It’s About Skill and Will

The first step to better questioning is recognizing that a variety of factors influence sales success, and if any of those dimensions are out of alignment, it will have a ripple effect on the person’s willingness and ability to ask good questions. If their view of their abilities is low, for example, then they’ll be less committed to doing the activities it takes to be successful. In other words, if I don’t feel confident in my ability to ask good questions, then I’ll avoid doing it.

While tellers and CSRs pride themselves on their customer service focus, many have a negative view of selling, seeing it almost as the opposite of customer service. If they think selling means pushing products on people in a self-serving way, then it’s not surprising that they won’t have a high commitment to activities like questioning.

And then there are those who have a low belief in product. This is often the result of not knowing enough about the product or understanding how it creates value for the customer.

Developing Their Questioning Confidence

The right sales team skills training — including how to have meaningful interactions, clarify customer needs, demonstrate value and practice active listening — is vital for bringing the view of abilities dimension into alignment. Managers also need to be equipped to coach their employees in these areas, as well as on product knowledge. One bank we worked with recorded brief “lunch and learn” segments with internal experts on different products. The managers then asked employees to listen to recordings on specific products and report back what they’d learned as part of the coaching process. As a result, they’ve been able to build up their belief in product (skill), resulting in a higher commitment to activities (will).

When it comes to the view of selling, customer service and sales training should emphasize that, like service, a values-based approach to selling is about uncovering and fulfilling needs. You ask questions to help your customers solve problems, not in order to push products on them that they don’t need.

One bank associate, who’d been hesitant to ask questions in the past, saw an immediate difference after learning this approach. He dared to ask a customer a great question:

“What are some of the biggest challenges holding your business back?”

It turns out, this customer was stressed out about clients that didn’t pay their invoices on time, because it meant that he couldn’t pay his employees on time. Then the associate asked another great question: “Have you ever considered a business line of credit?”

After explaining how it worked, the customer immediately took advantage of the offering. He (and his employees) have renewed peace of mind, and this associate has discovered something else: Helping customers feels so much better when you meet their needs. It’s an entirely different feeling when you can wake up each day knowing you’re going to help people solve problems rather than pushing products on them!


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