Clarifying question on interview? Help plz

New answer on Aug 06, 2020
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Alex asked on Feb 16, 2020

Lets say the case is: Cola opened new plant in London, and inventory is doubled, however, customers complaints increased by 4x times.

Can i ask here why customers are complaining as a clarifying question? Or i can only ask about the goals of client in this stage

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Vlad
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replied on Feb 16, 2020
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi,

In your case ask what is the number of complaints now and what it was expected to be.

In general, you should ask the following questions:

1) Clarify the business model. Ask how the company actually makes the money. For several reasons:

  1. Even if you think you understand the business model, you need to make sure that you understand it correctly.
  2. Some cases have pitfalls related to a business model (re profitability cases with several revenue streams
  3. You need to understand the revenue streams to make a proper structure. E.g. if the case is about oil&gas company which revenues are declining, ask if it is Up / mid / down-stream problem. In this case, defining a revenue stream is critical to setting up the right structure. (At the end of the day it may be the decline of snack sales at the gas stations:). In case of telecom company it may be the problem of the core business (wireless) or non-core (landlines, internet)

2) Clarify the objective. Here make sure that your goal is:

  • Measurable
  • Has a time-framed
  • Has / has no limitations

e.g. Should I invest 100k in this business for 1 year if I want to get 15% return?

3) Ask the questions that will help you build a relevant structure and remove ambiguity.

E.g. in the market entry case ask whether we are entering the country organically or non-organically

!!! Finally - do the recap after asking the clarifying questions. Although most of the case books suggest to do it immediately at the beginning of the interview, it makes much more sense to clarify the situation first and then to make sure that you understand everything correctly.

Best!

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Ian
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replied on Feb 17, 2020
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Just to add...if you want to ask a question, picture what the interview will say back.

In this case, if you were them, what would you say? Would you reasonably expect them to say anything other than "what do you think?"

Better, think about what you need to do to figure out why complaints increased? What information do you need (suverys, time-series data, information about products, etc.)? What are some possibilities to why (and work backwards from this).

Importantly, what are the possibilities in terms of the context given? You'd be surprised how much information is in the following:

1) Cola - Product issues could be fiziness or taste. Changing tastes are occuring in drinks.

2) New Plant - Quality control issues? Production problems? Delays?

3) London - Demanding demographic group. High expectations. Timeliness super important

4) Inventory doubled - hard to manage this increase (mixed up orders?), how's distribution, etc.

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Nathaniel
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replied on Feb 18, 2020
McKinsey | BCG | CERN| University of Cambridge

Hello there,

It is perfectly fine to ask both questions as part of your clarification effort.
1. Clarifying the goal is an absolute must in every situation
2. In checking why customer complaints increase, it would be advisable not to ask this question directly, but think on the key driver first and ask about them instead. For example, ask if the inventory management process has been aligned to handle the increasing amount, ensuring that old inventories are being given out first to avoid obsolecence.

In this case, you are showcasing your hypothesis and thinking skill, as opposed to simply asking for the answer.

Hope it helps.

Kind regards,
Nathan

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Clara
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replied on Feb 17, 2020
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Hello!

I would ask both:

  • Goal clarification is the most important question to be asked in ANY case, so you should never omit it.
  • In this case, since the complaints are presented as a key piece of the case, I would ask some broad questions in case you are given info that you can leverage to better target the issue tree. Could be that they tell you to wait until your structure is drafted, but nothing to loose here honestly.

Hope it helps!

Cheers,

Clara

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Francesco
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replied on Feb 17, 2020
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Hi Alex,

good questions at the beginning are related to:

  • Goal clarification and constraints of the client to achieve the goal
  • Understand how the revenue model of the client works
  • Clarify the elements that are not clear in the prompt

If you clarify the goal in this case, the interviewer will probably tell you that your goal is to understand why customers are complaining and to find a solution to that. Therefore, by definition you cannot ask why customers are complaining to the interviewer, if that’s the case. However, you can still clarify all the elements which are not clear in the prompt.

Best,
Francesco

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Sidi
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replied on Feb 16, 2020
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 300+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hi! You have to clarify the objectives first. This is the precondition for structuring. You should NOT ask questions that are naturally part of the analysis, before having even structured your analysis. Also, from your desricpion it is comnpletely unclear what question the client has actually asked?

Cheers, Sidi

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Anonymous replied on Aug 06, 2020

Dear Alex,

Actually you can ask both. It will help you to figure out the structure further on. If you asking too many questions, the interviewer will probably reply to you smth like this: we don't know, we'll see later, it's not relevant

Best,

André

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Antonello
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replied on Feb 29, 2020
McKinsey | MBA professor for consulting interviews

No, it's totally fine to ask both questions. Before taking your time to write down the structure, I recommend taking a couple of minutes to ask to the interviewer some background questions about the company, the product, and the competitors to fix the context and draw a more specific structure

Best,
Antonello

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Luca
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replied on Feb 28, 2020
BCG |NASA |20+ interviews with 100% success rate| 120+ students coached |GMAT expert 780/800 score

Hello,

You can ask both. Goal clarification is a must but also knowing the reasons for complains is important because it will give you an idea of the structure to be used.

Generally speaking, you have to ask all the information that could influence your framework.

Best,
Luca

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Anonymous replied on Feb 16, 2020

Hi Alex,

Think about it from how the case is structured: chances are, if the problem is lots of complaints, the answer is going to involve figuring out why. Asking why right off the bat will elicit a response of "um well that's your job", and, even if it doesn't, will trigger the next phase of the case (e.g. the interviewer will start giving you a bunch of numbers) without you having had a chance to structure your thoughts, or to figure out what the overall objective of the problem is.

If your first thought is to see why there are complaints, this is good, but is premature. What I'd do is acknowledge that to the interviewer, but say you'll come back to it once you've had a chance to clarify the problem and put together a framework.

Does that make sense?

Bryan

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Vlad gave the best answer

Vlad

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