Starting today, we’re going to ask better questions. Questions that allow you to dig deeper to unearth richer experiences. This is crucial in gaining a better understanding of why someone keeps (or stops) coming back to your programs, products or services.
When I say “dig deeper”, what I’m getting at is being strategic in how we ask questions. There’s a difference between asking questions that allow you to truly hear what someone is saying, and asking questions because you’re searching for certain types of responses.
Digging deeper, goes beyond “I love it!” or “I wouldn’t change a thing”. People are coming back to you for a reason, and these reasons can help you enhance what you’re offering, and can also inspire you to come up with creative and engaging solutions to address other needs that you’re currently not addressing.
Tips and examples
Good questions are:
- Provide a safe space for the person to feel comfortable responding to
- Stretch the person who is responding
I’ve highlighted the last point for a reason. Here’s an example:
Back in 2015, I facilitated a few focus groups for a client, a nonprofit that provides social justice oriented feminist leadership for young women of color. The focus groups were for the organization’s 6-week summer leadership program for young women of color in the New York City area. The organization wanted to know, among other things, how effective the program had been that summer.
Okay, sounds easy. I did a few site visits during the 5th week of the program to facilitate the focus groups. I had my questions ready based on the evaluation questions the organization sought out to explore. During the first focus group, I asked “Looking back on everything you’ve learned during the past 5 weeks, can you share something that you would change?” Some of the responses I got looked similar to “I loved everything!” or “I wouldn’t change a thing” or “Everything was good”.
Initially, I chalked it up to the participants being teenagers. Then I realized they were responding this way because of HOW I asked the question.
So, I tried a different approach for the second and third focus groups:
Looking back on everything you’ve learned during this program, if you could rebuild this program from the ground up, based on your own needs and interests, what would it look like?
They shared personal interactions with the onsite counselors and staff that were unrelated to the program, yet aided in them developing a trusting relationship with staff, therefore encouraging them to show up more for classes, participate more, engage with other participants, and share what they’ve learned with their parents and peers. More importantly, this gave the organization better insight into why participants were coming to this program, what aspects were most effective, as well as what could be improved to make the program better (and all of these suggestions ended up being “blind spots” to the organization as they had their assumptions for why participants came to their program.)
Here’s another example: I facilitated several focus groups for another organization in 2016, whose program provided free doula services to women of color in New York City. During the focus groups, the pregnant and parenting women shared that they’ve enjoyed the program so much and have benefited from working with a doula (and for many, this was their first time working with a doula as they believed that it was financially out of reach) that they wouldn’t change anything about the program.
I asked the same question, and got detailed, richer responses. The program allotted for pregnant and parenting women to meet in person with their doula at least 2-3 times during the pregnancy and postpartum period, outside of labor and delivery, yet the program discovered that the women and the doula were sometimes meeting in person more than that, and desired more in-person interaction. Focus groups and interviews with the doulas yielded similar responses. They also recommended that doulas be provided with borough-specific community resource guides to help doulas could better assist their clients in locating and accessing community resources. Also, the participants had a desire to meet with other participants in the program, with many of them enjoying the focus groups process because it allowed them to interact with other participants, thus giving the organization suggestions for developing social and education events that would bring the participants and the doulas together.
Here are some other questions you can use to dig deeper:
- What would you add to your experience with this (program/service/product)?
- If someone were to ask you about this (program/service/product), how would you describe it?
- How is this (program/service/product) different from other (programs/services/products) you have used or participate in?
- Think back to when you first started participating in this (program/service/product). How were you then compared to how you are now?
Using this activity will not only help you ask more insightful answers, you’ll also gain insight into how your program, product or service is perceived by its users or participants. Pay attention to key words and phrases as they can help you identify how you can promote what you do. Try this activity and let me know how it goes.
RAISE YOUR VOICE: What types of questions do you ask to dig deeper? Share below in the comments section.