The average phone call with customers lasts two minutes longer than it needs to. Here’s how to fix that.


I read that the average customer service call lasts two minutes longer than it needs to. And from personal experience in my own business and my years of customer service work, I believe this.

Twenty years ago I began teaching a conversation control technique called Ask 3 Closed-ended Questions Back-to-Back.

I learned the technique from a consultant I hired to work with my employees in a call center in Tulsa. This consultant, Sally Cox, had trained police officers to immediately assert their authority over situations. Sally taught my people some of the same things she taught law enforcement.

Sally taught my team to instantly regain control of a conversation with a customer, and move the call to closure by asking the customer three closed-ended questions back-to-back.

Here’s how the technique works.

First of all, let’s get clear on what a closed-ended question is.

Closed-ended questions are questions that can be answered in one word:

“Do you like pizza?” is a closed-ended question.

“What is your favorite kind of food?” is an open-ended question.

Closed-ended questions work because customers are limited to one word (or perhaps a series of numbers.) Asking closed-ended questions will give you some immediate control over the phone call, but to maintain that power, you must ask closed-ended questions that require your customer to go to the left brain to retrieve the answer. (left-brain responses are more focused, as opposed to an emotional right-brain rant.)

Here’s an example.

Sally had my staff launch three strategic closed-ended questions the moment they felt they were dealing with a long-winded caller. These are the questions my employees asked.

  1. What is your rental agreement number?
  2. Can you read me the location code located at the top right-hand corner of your agreement?
  3. Can you give me the exact dates of rental?

These questions never failed to get the long-winded caller to stop talking. They never failed because the questions are all closed-ended, relevant to helping the customer, and they all require the customer to use the left-brain to retrieve the answers.

When you are caught on a long call with a storyteller or rambler, ask 3-closed-ended questions back to back. Make sure the questions are closed-ended (answered in one word or series of numbers), relevant to helping the customer, and require the customer to use the left-brain. When you do, you’ll instantly be back in control of your phone calls.

In this video, I discuss the Ask 3 Closed-Ended Questions Back to Back Technique. Share this video with your employees for a quick training on call control.

Now you can give your employees even more great skills for delivering the best customer experience and for handling difficult customer situations. Sign up for my email list and learn specific tips, approaches, and phrases to help your employees help your customers.