The CapTech slogan, prominently displayed at the top of our webpages and on our business cards, is "Others Talk, We Listen®". That motto quite accurately describes how we are successful, and we strive to produce solutions that work for our clients. What are the client's pain points? What do clients actually need, and what are they really asking for?

What if a customer is having difficulty conveying information? Have you ever been at a loss for how to extract requirements or other information from a Business User? Have you ever felt that every question yielded a vague or "YES"/"NO" answer? Here are three easy phrases to prod your customers to supply more information in an easy to use, non-threatening way.

Why do you say that? If your customer tends to answer with minimal tidbits of information, or something that is clearly an opinion, try this phrase:
Customer: "Our current system isn't meeting our needs."
You: "Why do you say that?"
Customer, now expanding on his initial comment: "It was designed for half the users it has now, plus it's a closed system that can't be accessed by our other, newer applications. We would like to be able to export the data to our data warehouse, but cannot."
You: "Those are valid concerns. Let's talk about each one… ."

What do you mean by that? If your client answers with terms or other statements that are too high-level to have meaning, or maybe seem like strong opinions, try responding this way:
Client: "The new system needs to be fast".
You: "What do you mean by that?"
Client, now providing additional information: "We frequently export 20gb of report data to other systems, and import over a million rows of data per day."
You: "Interesting. Now we're documenting volumes of data which really helps… ."

Parrot or Paraphrase back. If your customer says something that's a little surprising or unusual, and you find that you need a few seconds to absorb and process the comment, repeat back what he or she said as a question. This is not looking for confirmation of what was said, i.e. paraphrasing, but rather asking for more information.
Business User: "Our managers need to access the application from anywhere."
You, surprised: "From anywhere?"
Business User, now explaining his comment: "Yes, anywhere. That means in the factory, at home, or in front of a customer."
You: "Does that mean we need to include a mobile component to the requirements?"

Be sure not to repeat any of the phrases multiple times during any meeting - it can become obvious. Also, do not allow them to make the client or user defensive - the only objective is to document requirements and gather information.

In each example, we have taken a single comment and opened up a whole new area that could have easily been missed. Now we have helped the client think through and identify the details of his requirements as well as given us, the analysts, a better understanding of the issues. As we all know, spending the time up front to generate well-written, detailed requirements lead to faster and more accurate delivery, overall lower cost, and happier customers.