02 Mar A case in point
Customer references and testimonials are arguably the most powerful form of publicity for any business. They are the ultimate differentiator. Your competitors may be able to match you in other areas, but your customer stories are unique to you and they provide the proof of the real benefits your products and services can bring. We all like a recommendation and there is nothing more convincing than getting somebody else to say something positive about what you do; it’s the essence of good PR. King among testimonials is the customer case study; the full story of your relationship with your client and the benefits they have gained as a result. Easily said, not so easy to do. Here are some useful hints and tips to putting effective customer stories together and getting the best value from them.
1. Treat the reader with respect
You should approach the case study as if you were writing for an independent publication – online or print. This means you should employ a skilled writer to interview your client and to write the story in the client’s own words. It should never be an overt promotional piece; if anybody in your organisation thinks it’s a good idea to mention your product in every sentence, or to pepper the story with platitudinous quotes, you’re wasting your time. The strength of a customer story is in its credibility as a genuine testimonial, so don’t treat the reader as a fool, they will soon spot puff. What’s more if you do intend to get the story independently published – which you should – you’ll be dead in the water if you have turned it into a sales pitch.
2. Don’t believe sales people
It’s difficult to get access to the client without the co-operation of the person in charge of the customer relationship but it is common for sales people and account managers to put up barriers. They quite rightly want to protect their relationship with the customer; they don’t want anybody else to compromise it and they may also be nervous about asking their client a favour and then being in their debt. A typical fob off is that now isn’t quite the right time; the client isn’t quite ready. This is almost always an excuse but their concerns are legitimate. It’s important the person you choose to write your case study is up to the job. As well as being suitably skilled as an interviewer and writer, they’ll need to get to know the subject before they speak to your client. Good people skills are essential and some commercial nous is useful too, which means journalists aren’t always necessarily the best choice.
3. It’s all in the brief
Before your writer interviews your client you will need to make sure they are thoroughly briefed; ideally to the extent they could almost write the story before they speak to your customer. Tell them what you are trying to get out of the story and where you hope to get it published. Give them as much detail about your customer as you can, warts ‘n’ all: how long you’ve been working together; what you’ve done for the client and importantly, which benefits the client has received as a result. It’s important to be specific about the benefits and provide facts and figures the client will be able to verify and approve for publication in the public domain. Phrases such as ‘a very significant increase, or ‘substantial growth’ with no point of reference, are meaningless and make for a weak story.
4. The customer’s customer is always right
Make sure your client knows exactly what to expect. It’s important the customer is comfortable so they will speak freely. Introduce the writer properly, and explain that you will be handing things over to them to manage the process. It is useful if the customer feels they are talking to somebody who is independent of your own organisation, since again, they are likely to be more open. This can also be an effective means of gaining genuine customer feedback. Tell the client what you are going to do with the story once it’s written and crucially that they will get to see the draft before it is published – even before you see it. Make it clear that once they have given sign off, the story will be in the public domain; if you are going to issue a press release and/or promote the story on social media, explain this to the client. You should also make it clear they are welcome to use the story for their own purposes – if the story is written from their perspective, as it should be, they are likely to be grateful for it. If the company has a communications department it is worth advising the client to check with them before the interview, so you or they don’t fall foul of any corporate policy after the case study is written or worse still, it is in the public domain.
5. A menu of options
Once you’ve written the case study you need to get it in front of the right audience. But don’t assume everybody is just dying to read it; until people are engaged with you and interested in what you have to offer, they are unlikely to have inclination to read the full story. The trick is to use the testimonial to influence prospects earlier than you perhaps otherwise would. Carve your story up into digestible chunks to suit the medium, bearing in mind that the objective is to attract the attention of the as yet uncommitted buyer. As well issuing a press release to the media (online and print), use the name of the client and the nature and scale of the benefits to increase your digital profile and engagement through social media. Use extracts for your website and blogs; post questions on LinkedIn groups and Twitter chats and use customer quotes in your printed material; and use stats for infographics. As well as extending the testimonial value of the story all these all serve as advertisements for the case study itself. It is critical you make the full story available and easily accessible to anybody and everybody that wants to read it. If you sell the sizzle but don’t serve the steak, you won’t satisfy the reader’s appetite.