6 Tips for Making Your Customer Success Stories More Compelling

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.


Great case studies start with great stories.

A Case Study on How to Get More Case Studies

They’re effective, trustworthy, and prospects actually read them–but marketers can encounter surprising resistance in securing case studies from their customers. Here’s how to overcome the three most common challenges standing in the way of compiling a great collection of customer success stories.

CHALLENGE #1: Your company’s sales reps keep blowing off your requests to schedule case study interviews with customers. And much to your irritation, you’re starting to sense they don’t want the PR or Marketing teams anywhere near their accounts. What gives?

I put this problem first because it’s more common than many marketers realize. Salespeople are indeed protective of their painfully won customer relationships – and live in fear that marketing will do something to screw them up. So, they put you off with different excuses. The customer’s still having some issues with the product…they’ve only recently signed up…they’re on the verge of buying an additional solution/service that will make for a better case study…you get the idea. You’re going to have to walk over the sales rep’s dead body to get to their customer.

Solution: First, keep in mind that these excuses may very well be legitimate concerns, although if there aren’t any good results to report within a few months of implementation, your company could have a larger challenge to address. As for the fairly new account, almost an entire case study can be written that focuses on what led the customer to your company in the first place, why the customer ultimately chose your company over the competition and the solution itself.

So all that said, how do you deal with the sales person who won’t budge? What else: a bribe. These people, even more than most, are driven by rewards…so be sure to make this a contest that everyone can win. The reward for securing a case study can be anything from a gift certificate for a hot new restaurant to cold hard cash. I recommend the latter. A generous amount of it. A good customer case study can deliver priceless returns to your marketing, public relations and sales programs.

Even better, make it an ongoing program with new and increasingly desirable rewards for each subsequent case study agreement secured. Any investment you make in prizes will be more than worth it if you end up with an impressive library of case studies.

You will, of course, need to assure sales that you won’t ruin their customer relationships. I try to handle most of the case studies I write like this: send a questionnaire to the salesperson or account manager so he/she knows what questions I’ll be asking the client; have an initial call with the salesperson to get background; then invite the salesperson to be a part of the client phone conversation. I know firsthand these steps go a long way in showing the sales rep that the customer will be treated in a professional, respectful manner. Getting both the salesperson and client’s perspectives also makes for a more layered, contextual customer success story.

CHALLENGE #2: Your customers state that proprietary reasons prevent them from participating in a case study.

This one comes up a lot for companies that sell to notoriously secretive government agencies and Fortune 500 companies. And candidly, it’s the toughest nut to crack. Not even a juicy bribe, like a discount for add-ons or at contract renewal time, will always persuade the customer to agree to a case study – although I have seen this tactic work before.

But in my experience, more than anything it requires a solid working relationship between people in your company and the customer’s.

Solution: Time and again, your company has gone beyond the call of duty for this client and you’re fairly certain there’s considerable gratitude and appreciation for it. Well, now it’s payback time. Don’t be afraid to remind the customer of all that’s been done – but in a way that makes the customer see the value in publicizing it.

Have the person who’s the most “in” with your customer do the asking, something along the lines of, “This partnership has really solved some persistent challenges for your target market– particularly when we solved problem a, b, c, etc. I think more widely promoting this breakthrough to others struggling with the same problems could make a big impact. Can we collaborate on a case study together? We have very skilled writers on hand to craft it, and of course, you’d have final editorial approval.”

Important note: This conversation should also present the case study as a marketing or public relations asset for the customer, not just for your company. Which, by the way, is exactly what a well-written customer success story should be about: how the customer is doing great things for their customers with your product. In short, it should be the customer’s story – always.

If they still won’t do it, then ask if you can write a case study without using the company’s name or other obvious identifiers. By now, they may be feeling guilty enough about saying no that they’ll agree to an interview under this caveat.

No, it’s not as desirable as using the actual customer’s name, but a deftly written case study can overcome this limitation.

And you can add some credibility back in by noting at the top of the case study that it’s about a real customer experience, with the customer’s name omitted for proprietary reasons. And do show it to the customer one more time—if it’s well-written, they may like it so much they’ll agree to put their name on it after all!

CHALLENGE #3: Your company or product is new and you don’t have customers yet to agree to a case study.

This seems like the most impossible scenario of all, but it’s actually the easiest to get around!

Solution: Do what a mid-sized client of mine from my past life as a freelancer did with a new line of handheld scanners: create a series of “industry use studies”. In this type of case study, you have zero restrictions on how your product or service performs, as you get to make up whatever setting you want it to perform in – for example, how your software saves time, money and patient lives in a community hospital. Or a large health system. Or a skilled nursing facility. It’s your story, and you get to create every detail of the plot, including your ideal setting.

Important caveat: Just be sure the plot is indistinguishable from your target prospect’s real world. And I trust you’ll avoid the credibility-ruining temptation to claim outrageous results, like a zillion dollars in new revenue generated within the first week of implementation!

Worried that a use study won’t be as effective as a case study based on an existing customer? Consider this–if your prospects already know your solution doesn’t have customers yet, and they’re still communicating with you, a use study that depicts the solution in a setting much like the one they work in everyday can only proves that you “get” what they do and need.

Of course, if you have case studies about other products in your portfolio to share, all the better. To get more of those, refer back to Challenges #1 and #2.

Lastly, be sure to check out my colleague Matt Schlossberg’s post on how to prime your customers to participate in your public relations efforts. He’s got some great strategies, as well, to make the most of your most important asset–your customer.