When humans want to know something, we ask questions. It’s a simple concept, but it’s one that slips by many marketers and most companies. They fail to recognize that paying attention to common questions and sharing the answers is a remarkably powerful form of communication.

That why the FAQ (frequently asked questions) document or web page is one of the most important messaging tools available to companies. What’s often thought of as a “throwaway” that’s tacked on after the “real” messaging gets done actually has the potential to strengthen sales efforts, overcome resistance, minimize misunderstandings, and boost customer satisfaction. The best part is you already know everything you need to develop your own FAQ.

In simple terms, an FAQ is a list of questions frequently asked by stakeholders such as prospects and customers, along with answers to those questions. What makes it work is that it creates a conversation with those stakeholders.

You see, websites, blogs, brochures, and other communications tools are one-way messages. You take something you want your audience to know, and you present it to them. Most often, the information is promotional and concentrates on what you view as the most important points.

What happens when your stakeholders read through your information, but it fails to tell them everything they want to know, or they’re confused about a key point? They could contact you, but that takes additional time and effort. More likely, they may just decide to do business with your competitor — or they may just forget all about it.

That’s where a well-crafted, thorough FAQ page or document fills the gap. By anticipating the questions a prospect or a customer many ask, and offering a response, you take the conversation with that individual to the next step. Consider a prospective customer who is considering a purchase. She’s 90 percent of the way there, but is hesitant about some point. Asking herself, “What about … ?” may create enough uncertainty to stop her from buying. But if she drifts over to your FAQ and sees her question along with your reply, you’ve instantly addressed and removed that hesitancy. More important, you’ve turned a browser into a buyer.

How can you come up with a list of questions for your FAQ? The best way is to simply pay attention. Listen carefully to the questions you’ve heard from prospects or customers, especially those coming to your customer service or support line. If you’re like most companies, there are a dozen questions you probably hear so often that you’re tired of responding to them. Those are exactly the kinds of questions that should end up in your FAQ, because the answers aren’t as obvious as you assume. As customers and prospects spring new questions on you, you can add them to the FAQ, so it becomes even more effective.

Developing an FAQ is inherently easy, but there’s one mistake you cannot afford to make. Your FAQ will not strengthen your sales efforts, overcome resistance, minimize misunderstandings, or boost customer satisfaction unless it’s completely candid and honest. It’s not a place where you want to use marketing language or hide behind weasel wording. If people reading your FAQ sense that you’re not being completely forthcoming, they won’t trust anything you have to say.

On the other hand, candid FAQ answers instantly build confidence and trust in the reader’s mind. Imagine this question on competing manufacturers’ FAQ pages: “How hard is it to assemble your veeblefetzer?”

Company one takes a typical response using marketing language: “It’s amazingly easy to put your veeblefetzer together with common tools you have around the shop. Before you know it, you’ll be coring radishes faster than ever!”

Company two uses a more honest approach: “Most buyers tell us that it takes between 90 minutes and two hours to assemble their veeblefetzers, slightly more for people who aren’t used to mechanical projects. You’ll need a hammer, a #2 phillips screwdriver, a pair of small needle-nose pliers, and a 3/8-inch socket wrench. A bench vise or bar clamp may make assembly easier. Just be sure to read the instructions completely before beginning work, because buyers who encounter problems typically confess that they missed a step.”

Which company’s FAQ would you trust? And whose veeblefetzer would you buy?

Scott Flood creates effective copy for companies and other organizations.

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