The customer success story is the gold standard of content. When done right, customer success stories engage prospects and build trust. They also are a terrific way to generate earned media, because journalists are far more interested in your customers’ point of view than in yours. But these stories don’t come fully formed out of your customers’ mouths — you need to go get them. I’ve interviewed hundreds of customers on behalf of my clients over the years, and am happy to share some interview tips on how to get the information you need to create a powerful customer success story.
Be gracious: Most customers are genuinely happy to talk with you, but remember — they are doing you a favor. Don’t make them regret it.
Be prepared: You usually get only one shot at an interview, so don’t blow it. Do your homework. In addition to learning about the company, their markets, and your interviewee, talk to the sales rep at your company about the relationship. What issues drove them to choose your product or service? What sealed the deal? What is important about this customer’s use of the product or service that your prospects need to hear? Use this information to craft your questions.
Be relaxed: Good interviews happen when the customer feels comfortable. People clam up if you’re pushy or going too fast to let them talk. Take some deep breaths, and remember this is a conversation, not an opportunity to pound someone with a barrage of questions.
Draw them out: Look at your questions before the call, and rewrite any that can be answered simply “yes” or “no”. You want to ask open-ended questions that are designed to let the interviewee talk. Here’s an example:
Ok question: Did you buy our product because the pricing was the best in the market?
Better question: How did pricing factor into your buying decision?
Here are some generic questions that give you a good start for most customer interviews:
Tell me about your company.
What prompted you to look for a new product/service?
Why did you choose our product/service?
How have things changed for your company since you started using our product/service?
What are some of your favorite features, and why?
What is it like working with our company?
What advice would you give other companies like yours who are looking for a solution?
Push a bit. When you get a generic response such as, “your product is really easy to use”, prompt them to go deeper. Ask, “how so?” or “what has that meant for your company?” If they say that your product has saved them time, ask how much — even an estimate is great. Have they increased workplace efficiency? Enhanced revenue opportunities? If so, how and how much? Dig a bit to find out what the benefit has meant to the company. Hint: these might be something your sales rep clued you into before the call.
Listen: Just because you have a list of questions doesn’t mean you have to ask them all. Sometimes a customer will have already given you an answer, and you can sound like sort of a jerk if you ask them again. Pay attention. And sometimes a customer will say something that prompts a whole new line of questions. Seize that moment. You can get some fantastic information for your story when you really listen. It helps if you’re genuinely interested in the customer’s answers. If you’re not, then let someone else do the interview. Really.
Don’t be afraid of silence. When I’m nervous, I want to fill every space with words. And that makes for a terrible interview. The idea is to get the customer to talk, not me. I have to work really, really hard to shut up when there’s a moment of silence. A lot of times, the person on the other end of the call is just trying to gather their thoughts — give them the moment.
Turn the table: My favorite “last question” gives the interviewee the chance to drive the conversation. It’s so simple, but it makes people really open up. Here it is:
Is there anything that I forgot to ask?
People rarely say anything new, but they often restate information more succinctly or clearly. This might be because they’ve warmed up enough, or because they realize that the torture is almost over so they can let it all hang out. Whatever it is, it is a great way to end a call.
Remember, getting the information is the most important part of the customer success story. Work on your skills, and before you know it, you’ll be producing fantastic content.