How to Conduct Great Customer Case Study Interviews

Image of a woman with a laptop sitting in a meeting room and the words HOW TO CONDUCT GREAT CUSTOMER CASE STUDY INTERVIEWS

Behind every mediocre and boring B2B case study is a missed opportunity to dig into the customer’s experience. From case studies written exclusively from notes taken by the sales team to customer story interviews focused on what the customer loves most about the brand, there are so many pitfalls that can keep your B2B case study from connecting with your ideal future customers.

Luckily, there’s an easy solution—you just need to start with an interview that uncovers the customer’s pain points and puts their voice—not your brand’s messaging talking points—front and center. Here’s how to get started.

Make the Right Ask at the Right Time

Too often, a compelling case study never makes it into your playbook because the ask comes too soon. It’s easy to get excited about a new customer with a prestigious brand. But it’s silly to think you can put out a great case study in the first few months of a business relationship. Plus, that’s a big ask right out of the gate!

Ideally, you’ll build up to a case study or customer success story request as part of building the client relationship over time. While there isn’t any perfect timing for these things, here’s what my typical timeline looks like for customer reference asks:

  • At signing: Ask if you can add their logo to your customer slides/customer page. Better yet, build it into the contract with an incentive to do so.
  • A few months in: After receiving praise or other positive feedback, ask if they’d be willing to share it publicly as a brief testimonial.
  • A year in: Invite them to be part of the customer reference program.
  • After six months of measurable ROI: Ask if they’d be willing to share their story.

Taking a slower approach, and gauging the customer’s success and willingness to recommend you over time is critical. You wouldn’t ask someone to marry you moments after showing up on your first date, would you?

A case study doesn’t have the same gravity as getting married. However, you are asking them to marry their professional reputation—and their brand’s equity—to yours. Making that commitment requires getting to know your brand and being willing to invest in your success.

Keep the Focus on the Customer

Here’s where having a solid set of case study interview questions comes in. I start with some basic questions that I ask in every customer interview. But I also create a B2B Case Study Interview Guide for each client. The guide provides interviewers context about the product or service offering and what questions to ask for each use case.

The interview guide’s questions help uncover relatable specifics around the customer pain points and use cases. It also has examples of what the interviewer is listening for in response to the questions.

You may be asking yourself, “If you have so much experience writing case studies, why do you need this detailed guide?” My answer is simple: I want anyone in the organization to be able to conduct these interviews.

I have a journalism background and pride myself on being a solid interviewer. But, no one knows a company’s products and services (and the customer’s challenges) better than the people who work with them every day.

Sure, I often sit in on interviews to ask the occasional follow-up question. But when I have a guide like this in place, I often work from a transcript instead. As your company grows and scales, you don’t want to be forced to rely on a single interviewer. Taking the time to craft a guide with best practices and validated case study questions is the key to making the most of your customer reference program.

Case Study Interviewer Tips

While every customer situation and each case study interview are different, there are still some best practices that apply.

1) Do your homework.

Before any client interview, interview the salesperson and customer success person to:

  • Identify the current use case to tailor your interview questions accordingly
  • Uncover any elements unique to the account that you should be aware of
  • Ensure the interviewee has, or is sure they can obtain, the necessary approvals for the finished case study.

Almost every content marketer has had the unfortunate situation of investing in recording a case study interview that doesn’t get approved by the customer. One way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to ask, during the scheduling phase, to have the corporate communications team looped in.

I’ve made it a rule not to book a videographer or photographer for an in-person case study interview unless the interviewee has obtained written permission from their company. And the interviewer has agreed to follow the case study guide. These are my two hard-earned deal or no-deal items.

And finally, send the interviewee a summary of what you’ll be talking about or your top-line interview questions to give them time to prepare.

2) Record the interview.

When your goal is to craft content in the customer’s voice, nothing compares to having a recording to reference. Whether it’s an in-person interview with a professional videographer or a Zoom meeting, recording the session is essential.

Even when the end product is a written case study, I prefer to record the interview on video. It often generates some short snippets for social. But more importantly, it allows the interviewer and interviewee to connect on a more personal level.

3) Set the ground rules

Make sure you specifically ask the interviewee for permission to record the conversation. Explain you are doing so to obtain a transcript of the conversation to be used in writing the case study.

This is a good time to reconfirm that nothing will be published without their review and approval. Also let the interviewee know that they can stop and start their answer over at any point if they’d prefer to state something differently.

You can send the recording to a professional transcription company. This is very useful if you plan to translate the transcript into different languages and use it for video captions. You may find an AI tool like Otter.ai or Descript to do a good enough job to start your draft. Always check the recording for direct quotes to ensure accuracy, as not every transcribed word is correct.

Go With the Flow

The most important aspect of the interview is starting with the customer and their experience that led them (eventually) to your solution. Never ever start by asking them “Tell me about how you use our product and what you love about it.” This mistake tells the customer you’re focused on your brand, not on their experience. So don’t do it!

Instead, warm them up by asking them about their role and the challenges their company is facing. Probe as to what unworkable situation led them to seek out a solution. What was their criteria? What other solutions did they evaluate? NOW you can ask why they decided to go with you.

To get started creating your own case study interview guide, download my B2B Case Study interview questions sheet. If you need help building your customer reference program, get in touch—we’d love to help.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top