How to Conduct Customer Case Study Interviews
Customer case studies are a crucial part of a B2B content marketing strategy. While blog posts get visitors to your website and gated content captures their contact information, case studies offer different advantages. They tell stories about real customers who have experienced real benefits using your product.
However, producing case studies requires an additional step other marketing content doesn’t. You have to interview the customer and learn about their experience. In a perfect world, they would tell you everything you need to write an awesome case study. But in reality, most customers will be unsure what information you’re looking for.
It’s not only up to you to ask the right questions. You also need to conduct interviews in a way that helps the customer feel comfortable and results in you efficiently collecting the right details.
I’ve done dozens of customer case study interviews over the past couple of years—and made plenty of mistakes early on. Fortunately, I learned a lot and now know what it takes to conduct successful customer case study interviews.
Record and transcribe the interview
If you take anything away from this article, it should be this tip. Don’t attempt to jot down notes during the conversation. And definitely never try to recall the details from memory. Simply record the interview and transcribe it in a Word Doc after.
The record-and-transcribe approach ensures you capture great quotes and have all the information you need to craft a story. I like to go through the transcription and highlight interesting tidbits I’ll include in one color and prospective quotes in another. Then I copy and paste everything into another doc and put the pieces together until I have a coherent story that fits my company’s case study format.
I’ve found that this process makes writing a case study easier than even a blog post or whitepaper. All the information is made readily available to me, I just have arrange it in a narrative with a start, middle, and end.
Keep the interview under 30 minutes
The most time-consuming part of writing a case study in transcribing the interview. And it’s not a particularly exciting undertaking either.
I went overboard with interviews when I first started producing case studies. I would talk to customers for 45+ minutes, resulting in transcriptions that ran upwards of 10 pages. That not only made my job harder than it needed to be. I also ended up with redundant details. Unsurprisingly, asking a different version of a question gets you the same response.
I eventually learned there is no need to overdo it. If you follow the other tips outlined in this article and keep the conversation on track, a half-hour interview will result in more than enough information for a 1-3 page case study. Transcribing the interview and converting it to a first draft is an efficient process and customers are more likely to say yes to an interview request if you only need 30 minutes of their time.
Give the customer some background before the interview
Being the subject of an interview can be an anxiety-inducing experience for a customer, especially if they’re not sure what you’re going to ask. Making an effort to put their mind at ease isn’t only the right thing to do. It also helps them feel comfortable so they open up and provide interesting information.
As you arrange the interview, give the customer some idea of what they’re in for. Share how long the interview will take and a general overview of what will be discussed. As a side note, this is also a good time to reassure them you’ll share the case study with them before you publish it (many customers insist on having final approval).
All that said, don’t share the exact questions you’ll ask. Remember, you want genuine answers. If the customer knows what is coming, they’ll have time to craft optimal responses which takes away from the authenticity of the case study. I stopped making this mistake after a customer came to an interview with prepared responses that sounded like they were written by a PR person.
Ask for stats before the interview
Including statistics is a great way to enhance a case study. You can share the unique benefits the customer experienced from your product and support those claims with data. In fact, case studies are excellent marketing collateral for making a real-world ROI case for your software.
However, you can’t expect customers to recall exact statistics during the interview so you’ll have to make that request during the scheduling process. Ask them to come prepared with any data that quantifies the benefits they’ve experienced since implementing your solution.
You might also need to request certain statistics post-interview. It’s common for customers to share positive experiences you haven’t heard before (that’s what makes case studies great). If you’re surprised by a particular benefit they mention, follow up after the interview and ask if they have relevant metrics you can include alongside that anecdote.
Break the ice
At this point, all the pre-interview arrangements have been squared away and you’re on the call with the customer. Even after you exchange pleasantries, you should still ease into the interview.
First of all, let them know you’re going to record the interview but reassure them you won’t share the conversation with anyone else. Then hit the record button and start with some softball questions. Ask them to describe their company and role responsibilities (answers to both questions provide relevant information for the case study intro).
Once the conversation is flowing and you have a rapport with the customer, you can transition to the more thought-provoking questions. By that point, their nerves will be settled and they’ll be in a good headspace to give you the gems of information you need to write an awesome case study.
Work off a list of questions
It should come as no surprise that a successful case study interview comes down to preparation. If you try to “wing it,” you’ll not only overlook key questions that would have resulted in great details for the story. You’ll also come across unprepared and the customer will be looking to get off the call as quickly as possible rather than giving you thoughtful responses.
Be respectful of the customer’s time and put yourself in a favorable position by having a list of questions to ask. Going into the interview, you should have an idea of what key points you want the case study to include. Write out 8-10 questions that will result in you collecting necessary information and organize them to match the structure of your case study template. As you go through the transcription process, you’ll start to see a logical story arch.
In the next section, I share some general questions you can use. Keep in mind that conducting case study interviews is something you’ll get better at with repetition, so you’ll likely add and remove questions to improve your process.
But be prepared to ask follow-up questions
As we’ve mentioned, the beautiful thing about case studies is the customer expresses the unique benefits they’ve experienced using your product. And so often, those benefits will come as a surprise to you.
As you ask your prepared questions, listen carefully to the customer’s responses. When they say something interesting you didn’t anticipate, go off script and ask them to elaborate if necessary.
A lot of times, the customer will provide long-winded answers and a small part will stand out. Let them finish their thought then recap the interesting takeaway and ask if you heard it right. They’ll usually confirm it’s accurate and provide a more concise explanation that makes great case study fodder.
Avoid influencing the customer’s answers
When I conducted my first few case study interviews, I made the mistake of trying to explain my questions. I didn’t want to put the customer in a spot where they were unsure how to respond so I gave them some potential answers they could give.
What I was really doing was leading them to give the answer I expected. I would ask, “What advantages have you experienced from X feature?” Then list some of the benefits we use in our marketing messaging. This not only led to one case study looking the same as the next. It also resulted in each one covering the same points as our standard marketing collateral.
The quality of our case studies drastically improved when I noticed what I was doing and stopped. I would simply state my question and the customer would respond based on their own experience. And naturally, those answers would often be unexpected and include benefits our marketing team wasn’t aware our product was providing.
All you need to do is confidently state your questions and listen as the customer shares their story. They’ll ask for clarification if they don’t understand and then you can provide additional context.
End the interview by asking for closing thoughts
As you near the end of the interview, you’ll already have an idea of what you’re going to include in the case study. You’ve listened closely to what the customer has said and picked up on a handful of details that will make a nice story.
However, I often get my best quotes right before ending the call. I thank the customer for taking the time to speak with me, assure them they gave me great information, then ask, “Do you have anything else you want to add that I didn’t ask you about?”
Most customers don’t have anything else to say but will provide a high-level recap of their experience and a nice complement for your product and team. More times than not, those kind words make an ideal pull quote to feature front and center in the case study.
Questions to ask in a customer case study interview
A case study ultimately turns out great when you ask the right questions in the interview. I want to help you succeed so here is the list of questions I use, along with a brief explanation of why I ask each one. Note that I have slightly revised them to be useful to any company.
What is your name and your job title? What are your main role responsibilities?
Asking the customer for a brief bio is the perfect softball question to kick off the interview. Every case study should feature a person speaking on behalf of their company. And including their job title and role responsibilities helps the story resonate with relevant buyer personas your team will eventually share the case study with.
Can you tell me about your organization? (industry, location, number of employees, typical customers)
Background information on the customer’s company is a required component of any case study. It’s also beneficial to have industry-specific case studies so your sales team has relevant collateral to share with prospective customers.
How long have you been using our product?
This simple clarification question ensures you have the timeline correct when you sit down to write the case study.
What type of use case do you use our product for?
You obviously won’t state the question this way but should ask how the customer uses your solution, assuming it has different features and applications.
What was your process before implementing our product?
Get the information you need for the rising action in your story arch. Discover how the customer was attempting to tackle their problems before your product came along, whether that be an offline process or using a competitor’s solution.
What challenges were you experiencing before implementing our product? What led you to our product?
Now build off the previous question and find out what disadvantages they encountered with their old approach. Their answer will also help you introduce your solution in the case study and share what initially attracted the customer to it.
How did our product solve your challenges?
Connect all the dots and learn how your product solved the customer’s problems. This question often leads to follow-up questions since most customers experience unique benefits.
What does your process look like today?
Bring the story to a conclusion by asking what their process looks like now that their challenges have been resolved. Make a note to request statistics to support any specific advantages you’re hearing about for the first time.
Do you have any closing thoughts?
Get your great quotes and end the interview on a high note.
Recap: How a customer interview becomes a case study
In my experience, these nine questions fill a half-hour interview and help me collect plenty of information to write a case study that matches the following format:
- An overview of the customer’s company.
- The professional background of the person representing the company.
- An overview of how they use our product.
- Their process prior to implementing our product.
- The challenges of their previous process.
- When and how they discovered our product.
- How their challenges were resolved and the benefits they experience.
- What their process looks like today.
- Relevant statistics quantifying the benefits they experience.
As you transcribe your interview, highlight all the details you want to include in the case study. You can then logically arrange it all and refine the copy until you have a compelling story that will make an impression on prospective customers.
Does your SaaS company have happy customers with great stories to share about your product? If so, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll conduct interviews and write great case studies to support your content marketing efforts.