OEQs, All Day Long

By Tom Griffen 
Yep, thats right. An article about something you already know: Open-ended questions (OEQs). No doubt a textbook retail topic youve heard discussed a thousand times. Its often repeated like some sort of new, profound idea, when in fact its ageless in its wisdom. OEQs, undoubtedly, are included as workshop discussion points at every training event youve ever attended. Seriously, the message is like a broken record. Something you are tired of hearing, something you might even dismiss with a wave and say, Yeah, yeah, whatever. I get it.But do you? Do you get it? And do you get it enough to truly embody its simplicity? Keep on reading.
Asking OEQs is mentioned so doggone often that its become cliché—which, by definition, is an ingenious idea made common through overuse. OEQs in a retail setting was once an original, ground-breaking idea. Imagine the day it was introduced. It must have flipped the retail paradigm on its head. Such a simple reframing of the customer interaction, yet one that would finally rid the environment of worn out comments such as, Can I help you? or Is there anything else I can do for you?Yes! Can I get an amen?
When deployed thoughtfully and with retail intentions, OEQs help you get to know your customer better, and quicker. I mean seriously, why would you ever choose to ask a yes/no question over a chance to deepen your relationship with a customer? What are you afraid of? Rejection? Come on people, this is retail. Get over it.
We live in a world where the default answer to a yes/no question is a rapid-fire, in-your-face and abrupt, NO! Would you like to be in our database? NO! Would you like me to help you find a pair of shoes (or a bike, or a camp stove, or whatever)? NO! Can I make a suggestion for mid-race nutrition? NO!
Thankfully, the NOs you get arent always what they seem and youre able to recover from having gone the yes/no route. To put it into the retail context, NO often means NOT YET. You need to treat the customers NO as a dangling possibility for a future YES. Still, you are best served by eliminating your yes/no tendency altogether. 
Believe it or not, the strange crux of it all is that asking OEQs is still an elusive skill in specialty retail. You can try to deny it, but it happens all the time (It might even be happening right now). Your staff, and possibly you are guilty of being generic. Just admit it, there are times when there is absolutely nothing special about your service. True, right? Recent retail statistics tell is that 80% of companies believe their customer interactions are superior, yet only 8% of their customers agree. Hits a nerve, doesnt it? Ouch!
Whether its due to lack of experience, general laziness, ineffective training, or poor management, your world is ripe with employees interacting in a way that teaches them nothing about the customer. Nothing! As such, they are making their jobs harder and way less fun. And worse, your store is missing out on a chance to completely outfit the customer. And outfitting grows our business with higher UPTs and fatter receipt tickets. You cant let this cash slip through your fingers by asking bad questions. 

Every retailer needs a punch in the arm once in a while. This is yours. Train your staff to ask OEQs. Create a simulated context and let them fire questions that let the customer talk about their favorite subject, themselves. Build OEQs into their muscle memory so that come game time, they are OEQ-ing, all day long.

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