Everyone loves a great customer success story. You can talk features and benefits in the abstract all day, but nothing brings home the concept that those features and benefits will actually solve the problem you’re trying to address than hearing it already did the same for someone else. It’s the ultimate sales tool.
Of course, getting customers to agree to participate in a success story isn’t always easy. Some aren’t allowed to participate by corporate edict. Others are afraid to because they don’t want to admit that anything in their organizations was ever not hunky-dorey. Some just don’t want to spend their time that way.
So when a customer does agree to tell their story about their experience with your organization, you definitely want to make the most of the opportunity. Here are a few tips that will help you make that happen.
Start with your organization’s contact(s)
This is a step that often gets skipped. Someone fills out a form, usually in a hurry, and assumes that’s all the background the writer will need to interview the customer. Not true!
It’s always helpful to speak with the people who work with the customer every day – salespeople, customer service, tech support, trainers, or whoever is most germane to the story you want to tell. They often have perspectives to share that they wouldn’t think to add to a form but that come out in the course of a conversation. Especially if the person doing the interview is experienced at drawing out those types of thoughts.
Gather the background from the internal contact and let that help guide the customer questions.
Always speak to the customer
Some people in the organization (read: salespeople, usually) may be reluctant to have anyone speak directly to their customer for fear the new person will do something crazy that hurts the relationship. Not sure exactly what they’re expecting, but if you’re working with professionals there is very little chance of that happening.
It is important for the writer to speak to the customer because that is the best way to get the “real” story. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on an interview and the story the customer tells differs substantially from what the company insider thought had happened. It’s not that either is untrue – it’s simply a matter of perspective, and what is important to each.
Ultimately, you want it to be the customer’s story, and it’s the customer who has to give final approval. Best to get the story they think you’re there to write directly from them. Trust me, it will save a lot of time on the back end.
Prepare good questions ahead of time
Once the conversation with the customer is set up, it’s important to prepare a very targeted set of questions to draw out the story in vivid detail. You can start with a template, but you really need to think about the story you’re hoping the customer tells and prepare the questions accordingly. Otherwise you may end up with a lot of uncomfortable pauses and not much information to build a success story.
While the details may vary, all great success stories consist of four basic elements: who the customer is, what their problem was, how the problem was solved, and the results. You then want to drill down to specifics of that instance within each of those sections, including why the customer chose your solution and how they liked working with your team.
You may not always be able to “stick to the script.” I’ve worked with customers who pretty much launched into the whole story after being asked what issue they were facing. But those are the exceptions.
Often you will have to draw the story out, especially if you’re talking to a technical person. They usually don’t think like marketers think; they’re more likely to recite facts. But a good set of questions can help them get beyond the black-and-white, ones-and-zeroes world they usually live in so they can add a little color to the story.
Must have results
This is another rookie mistake I see from time to time. Someone gets excited that a customer is willing to talk and wants to get him/her on the phone right away. Love the enthusiasm, but…
The credibility of a customer success story comes from results. Hard results in the form of numbers are best – money saved, hours saved, additional revenue captured, measurably improved health outcomes, etc. That’s the Holy Grail.
Unfortunately, not every customer has that information. Sometimes they failed to document the starting point, which makes it hard to measure the difference the solution made; they just know it’s better. Sometimes there is nothing to measure, or there isn’t an expedient way to measure it.
Soft results can work when no hard results are available, but those results must be something with which other organizations can identify. Employee happiness/reduction in burnout, noticeably reduced noise levels, greater collaboration between clinicians, more time to spend on patients, and other factors can be powerful statements – if that’s what your target audience wants to achieve in their own organizations.
If there are no results to report, it’s best to hold off until there are. After all, what’s the point of a customer success story if there’s no successes to report yet?
Find the human element
Some organizations really like to focus on the facts and figures of their customer success stories. They are important, but they are not the story.
The human element is the story – how what you did impacted whoever you were trying to impact. Until our robot overlords take over, the decisions are being made by people. People like stories that make them feel good.
This is true even when your audience is made up of clinicians or IT people. Yes, they are analytical, and they like their facts and figures. But they are not Vulcans making all decisions solely based on logic. If they were, luxury automobile companies and sellers of other big ticket consumer products would have more statistical information and fewer shots of attractive people doing cool things in their ads and commercials.
If they relate to your story on a human level, they are more likely to get excited and view you favorably. All else being relatively equal, they will lean toward the solution they feel best about – even if they’re not quite sure why.
Give it a great graphic treatment
Great graphics can make even a mediocre story more interesting as well as making a great story stand out.
Break up the type with pictures, or diagrams, or screen shots, or some other visual element. If you have facts and figures to highlight, make little infographic-style illustrations out of some of them. If you’re posting a written case study online, see if you can add a GIF or other video element to it, such as demonstrating the product at work.
The more attractive your final form is, the more it will draw the reader in. And the easier your success story is to read, the more likely it is the people who matter to you will read it.
Realize the full value
Customer success stories are one of the most valuable marketing tools your organization can possess. Frequently, they’re also one of the most difficult to obtain, which is why you should treat each one like it’s gold.
Put in the time and effort to dig beyond the basic elements and you will be able to create compelling stories that yield huge dividends for the entire organization.