Creating a Customer Case Study: Clues and Cues

If you don’t like a good story, raise your hand. Well, I love me some good narrative too. Most people, who aren’t totally new to the Internet, must have at least heard of, and probably even read, a case study or two. Essentially, it’s a description of how your product or service has helped the client to improve his business. In this post I’ll tell you why and how to write a case study of your own. Let’s dive right into it.

A customer success story, which is another name for a case study, is a lot like a testimonial. Except it’s better. Why? Because it’s a lot more elaborate, and thus believable. Telling a real-life story with quotes, photos and actual data is a powerful promotional tool for your company. At the same time, you’re giving your client some extra shine so it’s a win-win situation for both parties involved.

Now, going back to the marketing aspect, who does your potential client trust more – a sales rep or the person which is more ‘on his side’ and isn’t trying to sell him anything directly? A person a lot like him, who’s used and loved the product? Well, the answer’s pretty obvious. Recommendations work better than direct advertising.

The most basic point of a case study is to turn undecided leads into paying customers. What you’re trying to do, is stimulate the buying decision process of your prospects by helping them envision themselves using the product. With that being said, let’s move on to a step by step guide to writing a powerful case study.

Getting started

Ok, so how do you go about creating a case study? Start off by setting a goal and deciding on what is it that you want to achieve. Do you want to highlight a particular feature of a product? A certain type of client? Whatever you do, aim to showcase how has your product or service solved the customer’s problem – tell a success story.

Go ahead and browse your client database. See who’s, in your opinion, been using your product with a considerable degree of success. The stories will differ and so will the case studies you can develop on their basis.

From the early stages of getting ready to approach a client keep in mind that the case study you’re going to write has to include the following elements: a business challenge (faced by the client), a solution (your product or service) and positive results (benefits drawn by the client from using your product or service).

Readers of the case study must be able to relate to the subject as much as possible, get a positive impression and want to repeat the success story they’ve just witnessed.

Approaching the client

After you’ve done your preliminary research, it’s time to contact the potential subject of the case study. It’s a matter of common sense that you approach your client first and ask if he’s ok with what you’re trying to achieve and wants to be a part of it. A good way to go about it is to send a short, personalized email with not too many details, and not putting too much pressure on giving an immediate answer.

After all, the client will be going out of his way to help you with a case study but most of them should be appreciative and cooperative if you introduce the matters to them the right way. Give them a little time, they’re probably busy and taking part in your initiative may not be at the top of their agenda.

Ideally, you would approach a client who’s been utilizing your product to the fullest and will be happy to take a moment to tell the world about it. An interesting angle would be to talk to someone, who may be a little unexpected for the leads reading the case study. For instance, Chatwee has faith-based organizations using our live chat, and this may come as a surprise and raise interest among people looking for a similar solution for their websites.

In any case, talk to people from the sales department, who stay in constant touch with the clients and may know better who’s seeing some amazing results, to learn about potentially ideal candidates for a case study.

Extracting the information

Before I’ll proceed, I’d like to just point out that this stage of creating a case study is an an excellent opportunity to strengthen your ties with the client and receive some extra feedback. Also, make sure to be not too demanding towards your business partner as to not discourage him in the process.

Right, so once the client has expressed his willingness to participate, ask him what’s the most convenient way for him to answer the questions. A direct meeting would be perfect, however, it’s probably the most demanding, while the telephone the least effective of ways for both of the parties.

Email should do the job, because it leaves a lot of freedom it terms of deliberating answers, and allows your client to attach photos, video and links to other media you might want to use.

Regardless of the medium you have agreed upon, send your questions in advance. Now, here’s the tricky part. You have to make sure to ask the right questions, and let me explain what I mean by that.

You’re trying to tell a nice story about your customer who’s achieved success using your product. A case study is as much about him as it is about you. It’s an opportunity to put yourself in the right kind of light. You’re holding the reins here.

And so, be specific, highlight those aspects of your relation you consider to be important, guide the client throughout the process. Provide some background too – who’s the client, how long is he in business, what are his goals, what does he want to achieve/improve, why has he decided to use your product, what were his expectations?

Ask all these questions to create a positive impression of your company. There’s nothing malicious or ill-fated here. It’s just that a case study has a purpose and you don’t have to hide it. You simply need to extract the information the right way.

Writing the case study

If the previous stages went according to plan, this should be a walk in the park. There’s no fixed template for writing a case study. As always, how you present the information depends on who your audience is.

The majority of content will probably be in written form so make sure you avoid walls of text and go for more reader-friendly bullet points, for example. Highlighting the most important keywords or numbers would be a good idea too, as many people often merely scan the text.

If you have managed to obtain photos, video and/or quotes, which you should strive for, use them. Such enhancements will lend your case study more credibility and make it more attractive. Ask for any kind of media in advance, as preparing them might take some time.

Whatever form will the case study eventually take, consider following these tips to give it logical structure and make it easier to acquire:

  • Start off by introducing the company and bringing the challenges they’ve faced to the reader’s attention. The issues will most likely be similar to those of many other businesses, which will allow the audience to relate to the story from the get-go.
  • Introduce the solution your company offered to counter those challenges. This part is crucial, as this is where the prospects learn the most about your business and how can it help them. Again, focus on detail, like which department used the product or for what purpose exactly.
  • Show concrete results. Use graphs, quotes and numbers to showcase growth and improvement. Make the outcome of using your product easy to see and understand, as not everyone will be reading the entire case study, but rather skim through to its final part.

To sum it all up, tell the story of how an existing problem has been solved by your product, which has also brought a long-lasting improvement, instead of merely an immediate fix. Before you publish anything, send the case study to the client and let him green-light it.

Promoting the story

Now that you have everything ready, share your customer’s success story with the world. At the end of the day, it’s your success too!

Your website is a no-brainer when it comes to publishing the case study. Drop the link on your social media profiles too and tag your client. Ask him to do the same for you to generate a little mutual promotion.

Some other places you could put the story in are your newsletter or industry-specific publications. The latter might be difficult to get into but maybe you have some partner websites you could talk to. Remember, there can be no obvious advertising of your company! The story has to be appealing to its readers to be published outside of your own media.

One good thing about a case study is that you can repurpose the material you have gathered and create infographics, video presentations, press packs and other outbound marketing stuff for the future use. As you can see, a case study is well-worth the time invested, since it can have multiple applications.

Summary

I hope that with this post I’ve managed to convince you that creating a case study is a marketing strategy that any business which has had at least some success with delivering excellent service and building relations with their clients should look into.

The task of a case study is to generate leads and build your brand awareness, however, its form is rather subtle in comparison to other promotional tactics and it still lets you control how the information is presented (asking the right questions).

Use it to strengthen your partnerships with existing clients, gain new ones and build an image of a trustworthy and reliable business partner, who’s interested not only in making sales but also delivering tangible results to its customers.