Preparing for the Customer Success Story Interview: 3 Steps to Getting all the Information You Need

March 19, 2018 by

Image copyright: <a href='https://it.123rf.com/profile_ivelinradkov'>ivelinradkov / 123RF Archivio Fotografico</a>As we all know, customer success stories – or cases studies – are among the most effective forms of marketing content because of their credibility. They provide third-party evidence that our products or services really do what we say they can do.

Research by Hawkeye [i] even called customer success stories and testimonials the most influential type of B2B marketing content.

But to be truly credible, customer success stories must meet our prospects’ expectations. Business people read them hoping to gain a strong understanding of (1) how our offerings have helped people like them solve problems similar to their own, and (2) what it’s like to work with our company.

Prospects expect our customer success stories to follow a certain format and cover all the bases. They should cover:

  • Customer background
  • Challenge or problem the customer faced
  • Journey to find a solution
  • Solution
  • Implementation
  • Results and benefits achieved
  • Future plans for the solution

Your key to success, therefore, is a great customer interview.

The customer interview is going to be the font of all the best information for your customer success story. Through that interview, you’ll gather practically all the data you’ll need to fill in the success story structure shown above, plus quotes and anecdotes that will lend further credibility to the story.

You’ll also learn what was at stake for the customer, the relationship he built with your company’s personnel, how he felt about the support he received, and more. That information will help you cast your customer as the protagonist in a drama – a drama that will engage your target audience and hold their interest.

As with most endeavors, the key to a successful interview is good preparation. Fortunately, good interview prep for customer success stories isn’t all that hard. It can be done in three simple steps.

Step 1: Start from a questionnaire template

The first step is to create a questionnaire template for your customer interviews. I say ‘template’, because this document will consist of generic questions covering all the basic sections of the case study format shown earlier.

You’ll only have to create this template once. Then, you’ll use it as your starting point for preparing for your customer interview for each customer success story you write. You’ll modify the generic questions from your template in Step 3, tailoring them to the featured customer.

You’ll generally need one to four questions for each of the sections of the customer story outline. You won’t need many questions – just the basics – for two reasons. First, as just mentioned, you’re going to modify these questions for each specific customer. Second, you’ll follow up with additional questions in the interview, depending on the answers you get from the customer in the interview.

Arrange your questions in the same order as the sections they cover in the outline. This is important, because it makes it much easier to use your interview notes in developing the story. Everything will already be in the order in which you’re going to use it.

Here are a few examples of generic questions you can put in your questionnaire template:

Customer background

Would you please give me a high-level overview of your company? Please include any information you think we should mention.

Problem or challenge

What were the problems you needed to solve, which eventually led you to our solution?

Do you have any metrics you can share that indicate the extent of these problems?

What were the stakes involved, i.e., what was the cost of failure or of doing nothing?

What was the potential gain you hoped to achieve? 

Journey

What steps did you take to tackle this challenge?

Apart from ours, what other solutions did you investigate, and why did you choose against them?

As you can see, these questions are rather generic. They could be used as they are – and we might do that with a few of them – but, in general, it’s better to edit them a bit. To get the most out of our customer interview, we want to tailor our questionnaire to our current customer’s specific situation.

To do that, we’ll need some information from someone who is familiar with that situation.

Step 2: Get the backstory form your account rep

So, before we interview our customer, we’re going to first interview the person within our own organization who’s most familiar with the customer’s story.

Usually, that will be the salesperson or channel partner account rep who sold our solution to the customer. In some cases, however, it might be the field engineer who installed the product and helped the customer get it up and running.

These folks tend to be very helpful to case story developers, not just because they know the story, but also because they want the story told. Well-crafted case studies can help sales reps and channel partners close similar customers.  They also serve as evidence of a job well done, which can be helpful in year-end performance reviews or interviews for higher positions.

Your account rep has built a relationship with this customer. He’ll be able to provide some backstory on the customer himself, his organization, the problem he needed to solve, and his hopes for your solution. This will help you refine your questionnaire, and also help you frame better follow-up questions during the interview.

Plus, your account rep won’t just fill you in on the customer and their side of the story. He’s also ideally positioned to describe your own company’s role. So, account reps are usually good sources for quotes, either for the story itself – if your company allows its own employees to be quoted in customer stories – or in associated press releases or blog posts.

Use your generic questionnaire for this interview. That way, you’ll get a complete overview of the customer story, and you’ll have all the information you need for Step 3.

Step 3: Customize your interview questionnaire

Your last step in preparing for your customer interview is to customize your questionnaire for the specific customer you’re going to interview.

The information you collected from your account rep will help you do this. You’ll be able to narrow the focus of some of your questions or make them more specific. For example:

What were the problems you needed to solve, which eventually led you to our solution?

might become:

Before implementing our solution, how had you been testing your aircraft wiring? What were the weaknesses or drawbacks of your previous system? What problems had you been experiencing?

You may find you need to add a few questions to gather more specific information. You may want to eliminate a question or two, either because they seem irrelevant to this customer’s situation, or because it’s unlikely the customer can add to what you’ve already learned from your account rep.

Knowing your customer’s backstory will help you ask better opinion-oriented questions. And asking those questions will likely provide you with more quotable responses you can use in your customer success story.

Best of all, when customers can hear from your question’s that you’re already familiar with their story, they’ll be more comfortable and more expansive in answering them. And that means you’ll have better material to work with as you document that story.

Takeaway Points

To write an effective customer success story, you need:

  • Solid information on all aspects of the story, plus
  • Good customer quotes that add credibility.

That information comes from the customer interview.

To make your customer success story interviews as effective as they can be, use this 3-step preparation process:

  1. Start from an interview questionnaire template
  2. Get the backstory from your account rep
  3. Customize your interview questionnaire for each specific customer

Next steps

Need help interviewing delighted customers and crafting your next customer success stories? Call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or email me at info@copyengineer.com.

References

[i] Tedstrom, John, 3 Keys to B2B Success, Hawkeye, Autumn 2013.

Image Copyright: ivelinradkov / 123RF Archivio Fotografico

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