Rephrasing for success

Common Sense Tip of the Day:

Are you asking the right questions, in the best UI, and in the right way?

Questions can be a useful component of your applications, but they do need to be posed carefully for the greatest success.

As our audiences have become more comfortable using speech, it’s sometimes their first inclination. If you query: “Is that the correct account number?  If yes, press 1; if no, press 2.”  Your callers may become frustrated by a perceived lack of functionality when they inadvertently respond verbally rather than via touch tone.

The solution?  Change the question into options:  “If that’s the correct account number, press 1; if not, press 2.”

Speech is ideal for asking questions, but when a question is meant to elicit a specific response, your caller may provide the wrong data. Take the question: “Do you have your account number available?”  Some callers will say, “Yes”, some will say, “No” and some will say the account number.  Which is the correct response?

If “Yes” is correct, the system will need to authenticate the caller. If “No”, you’ll need to go through alternate means to locate it, or your caller will have to dial back. And if they just spit out the number and you’re not equipped to recognize and move on, get ready for error recovery.

When in doubt, choose a better question!  “What’s your account number? (silence) Or say I don’t have it.”  With this you account for “Yes” responses, those who have the number, and also those who do not.

And just a quick word on the value of “have” v. “know”: people typically don’t like to admit that they “don’t know” something, but don’t mind saying that they just “don’t have” it handy. It’s a small and subtle way you can go the extra mile in improving the customer experience!

Let’s talk about more ideas! You can reach us at 1-800-454-6453 or just email

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