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Using Probe for Effective Communication

Updated on March 7, 2013

What is Probing?

To obtain information from customers, you frequently have to ask for it. Whenever you make requests for information, you're using the skill of Probing. Usually, probing takes the form of asking questions. But you are also probing when you request a demonstration or explanation.

There are two types of probes--open and closed. A request for information that allows the customer to speak freely is an open probe. Open probes generally begin with "what", "how", "why", "tell me", or "show me". Such probes give customers an opportunity to respond in whatever way they wish.A request that limits the customer's response to a few alternatives is a closed probe. Closed probes generally begin with "do", "are", "is", or "which". They can be answered by "yes" or "no" or a choice among limited alternatives.Use open probes in the beginning of a conversation to gain information and when you want to expand on something, especially if a new topic has been brought up.

The following situation call for open probes.


"Well, at least that problem is fixed."

Tech Rep:

"Oh, what other problems are you having?"

Sometimes open probes fail to get the information you need, or they may not be the most efficient way to find out what you want to know. When that's true, you'll find closed probes will help you undercover the specific information you need.

Closed probes are also useful to check whether you've understood something said or done. Confirming with closed probes helps you avoid misunderstandings. Closed probes to confirm also demonstrate that you're paying attention.

When you probe to confirm what has been said or done, your'e simply making sure that you have understood what's going on. You don't need to agree to confirm your understanding. Nor should you indicate support for negative statements about yourself or business.

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