Having gone through the process of prepping for and filming case studies this spring, the Meltwater team shares best practices for stellar case studies. Read the post and check out our results for Visit Baton Rouge and the University of Michigan.
Any company that provides a service, especially if that service involves the Internet, (and what service doesn’t include the internet these days?) should be assembling case studies. And, if you’re going to produce a successful one, you’ll need to start with a great customer interview. When expertly guided, customers will hand you a case study on a platter by answering just a few questions. With a good interview, the case study will write (or in the case of video, edit) itself. But if your customer interview falls short, you’re stuck doing a lot of research, trying to connect the dots, and piecing the case study together on your own.
Sometimes it’s a writer who conducts the customer interview, other times a product marketing manager, or even an experienced sales rep. For a video case study, it might be a professional director. Whichever role you happen to have, along with being well-informed about your company’s service(s) and your customer, here’s some customer interview tips:
Customer Interview Tip #1
Don’t be shy. Make sure your customer talks about you.
Given the chance, people usually feel most comfortable talking about what they know best—themselves. It’s human nature, so don’t expect customers to be any different, even when they’ve agreed to an interview that’s supposed to be all more about you. For example, when describing their own products and work processes, customers are likely to go into great detail; when describing yours, they will probably be more inclined to generalize and skip to the next topic.
Before we look at strategies for nudging your way into the spotlight, remind yourself why you’re working on case studies to begin with. The goal here is simple: get a customer who uses your product to say nice things about it.
To help ensure this happens, start by asking yourself what you want these case studies to focus on. Make a list and be sure to put the most obvious item at the top: your product. You’d be surprised how often the transcripts to case study interviews never mention the company whose conducting the interviews’ product or even its basic functionality. Add to the list your product’s key benefits and everything that sets you apart from the competition.
Keep the list short, so you can glance at it during the interview and make sure that the customer touches (in their own words) on the points that matter most to you.
Customer Interview Tip #2
When preparing questions, dig deeper.
All customer case studies follow a tried-and-true, feel-good formula: (a) Meet the sharp, successful customer, who (b) finds him or herself facing a truly herculean obstacle, until (c) your product or service arrives on the scene to save the day.
Your case study is designed to make it easy for someone who is still considering your product to put themselves in your customer’s shoes, imagine themselves on a similar journey, and reach a similarly happy ending. To establish this basic narrative, start by asking your customer: What challenge did you face? Why did you choose our product/service to overcome it? What results have you achieved using our product? These are your core questions.
But for readers to connect with your customer and relate to their experiences, remember, you’re not actually talking to a company, you’re talking to a person. Encourage your customer to share specific examples and recall anecdotes from their personal point of view. By asking the right questions, you can help bring out their natural storytelling abilities while steering them to provide details that will showcase your product’s key strengths.
- Ask about the company’s biggest challenges. Then personalize the question by rephrasing as: What was the most frustrating part of the job that you were able to solve when you started using our product (or service)?
- Ask about the impact your product has had on the company as a whole. Then get more specifics by asking your customer to list their favorite feature and describe their day-to-day routine interacting with your product.
- Don’t be afraid to go for high drama. You can ask: Did our product help you avert a crisis? Did our product enable you to do something you never thought was possible? What did you find most surprising about our product after you started using it? Has our product shifted the way you perceive your job function?
- Don’t forget to ask for measurable improvements (in time, money, manpower) and attribute them to your product’s specific features.
Customer Interview Tip #3
Share questions ahead of time.
Since you’ve already written your questions down, there’s really no point in keeping them a surprise.
In fact, to help your customers prepare, and help you get the best possible interview, send them your core questions and a list of five optional ones with the instruction to choose the three they feel they can answer best.
Ask them to jot some notes down and send them back to you, or set up a preliminary call to review them together. You can then let them know what you’ll want them to elaborate on in more depth.
If you’re conducting a video case study, send guidelines for how your customers should dress. You can keep it general, for instance, “business formal” or “evening wear,” or get more specific like, no patterns and no white tops. If customers have objections, be honest. Let them know that you’re going for a specific aesthetic and that these guidelines will help you achieve it.
You may need to adjust the questions to hit on the specific features and benefits your product or service offers, but as tempting as it might be to just wing it, don’t. Prepare for your customer interview, and ask your customer to prepare a little too.