How to Write a Case Study
Sharing the success stories of your customers in the form of a case study is one of the most powerful things you can do for your business. No matter what you do or what kind of product you sell, showing that it worked for some real person out there and that person is satisfied will resonate with your audience.
Creating a customer story, or a case study, is always a fun task. You get to see a first-hand experience of using your service or product, one that you might not expect at all. It’s like rediscovering what you do from someone else's perspective.
Writing a successful customer story takes some time but it’s definitely worth the effort. After writing over 30 case studies for LiveChat, here are my thoughts on approaching potential testimonial-givers, preparing the whole thing and publishing it for the whole world to see.
How to start a case study
To start off, you need someone with a cool story. Every client’s story is different. Depending on what you want to achieve with the case study, you can pick different customers.
There are a couple of ways of netting a case study lead.
Firstly, you can go through the list of your existing customers looking for big names, or
particular cases where your product is used in a given way.
If you want to showcase a new product, one that has been released not that long ago, find an early adopter. You want someone who will not be afraid to take the new thing for a spin. You might also want to show how you helped a client solve a problem. This is a great way to show some tangible results of using your services or product.
Secondly, your clients will approach you on their own with an offer to share a testimonial from time to time. Everybody likes testimonials – they are cool. But well-written case study is even cooler! If someone wants to share a testimonial, make sure to ask if he or she is not interested in preparing a longer story.
Find a customer with a success story involving your product or service.
And finally, you will sometimes stumble upon use-cases that are simply too good to pass up. You will know them when you see them – imaginative or plain awesome uses of your product that definitely stand out from the crowd, like using a mobile application to contact clients from beside the pool during a hot summer.
As an example, check out this case study with AutoAccessoriesGarage.com. The company approached us and asked if we are interested in a testimonial. We wanted to explore the use of LiveChat in the automotive market for quite some time so we picked up the story without hesitation. Kyle from AutoAccessoriesGarage.com shared some amazing numbers with us (485% conversion boost for clients using LiveChat) and prepared a neat video too.
Case studies are usually picked up by people or businesses who want to see if a service or a product will work for them. They should be able to tell if your product is for them by the end of the customer story. Additionally, you need to make sure your case study is interesting and informative for your audience.
Striking up a conversation
When it comes to contacting your customers, there are a couple things worth remembering.
In your first email, make sure to introduce yourself and clearly state what you are after for: a testimonial.
Before you send any case study questions (more about them in a moment) ask for permission. It’s much more sensible and can do wonders for your success rates. Alex Turnbull from Groove uses a similar technique when getting in touch with influencers.
Don’t send mass emails with copy-pasted messages. Carpet-bombing your customers may take less time and can turn into a few answers, but it also shows lack on involvement on your part. If you value your customers’ opinions, you should write a personal email to each person you are asking for a testimonial.
It will be much easier to get everything you need if your communication is clear and concise.
Your contact with a customer shouldn’t just cease as soon as you get what you want for your case study. It’s a great starting point for a longer relationship. For example, you can keep getting a lot of valuable feedback after the case study is finished. If someone is willing to rave about your product online, he or she might help you make it even better.
Make the whole process as easy and convenient for the customer as possible. If this is not your first time, showing the results of previous case studies is a great way of encourage a weary customer.
You can also adapt your communication style to the person/business you are contacting. The best approach here is to mirror the style of the customer. If you get a formal response, make sure to adjust. The same goes for less formal emails – you don’t have to stick to one communication style only.
To sum up the communication process, you should remember to:
- Make proper introductions.
- Ask for permission when sending any questions over.
- Don’t mass email your customers.
- Keep the contact going, even after you finish the case study.
- Make things easy for your customer.
- Adjust your communication with each case study.
Starting your communication with a customer on the right foot will help you down the line when you will need to iron out the details.
Asking the right case study questions
After successfully pitching the customer story idea, it’s time to get busy with preparing the case study itself. Don’t expect the customer to tell you everything you want to know. You need to guide them through the process and ask the right questions.
Depending on what you want to achieve with the case study, you should come up with different sets of questions for your customers. Ask for the specific things you want to feature in the customer story. You will be able to weave a story from your customer’s answers.
You should come up with a list of questions.
You’d definitely want to get some basic information about the customer. Who he or she is or what kind of business it is? Why did the customer decide to pick up your product? You can then proceed to go into more detail and ask about the results or learn more about the particular application of your product.
This questionnaire of yours will get better over time and with each case study. You will see which questions produce the best answers and which shouldn’t make the cut the next time you send them over.
Here’s a few questions we use for LiveChat case studies (bare in mind that we have only business customers):
- What do you do and what kind of clients do you have?
- What is your company's main goal? What would you like to achieve?
- Why did you decide to implement chat on your website? What were your expectations?
- When implementing live chat, what aspects of your service you wanted to improve?
- What was the measure of success with the implementation, which part did you find the most important?
These questions help me get all of the basic information and often point the cases study into a particular way I can explore by asking more detailed questions.
You should ask for one more thing when sending the case study questions: photos and videos.
Photos and videos make the story more believable, interesting and fun.
If you are planning on adding any media to the case study (you definitely should, one picture means a thousand words and all that jazz), ask for them immediately. These things take time to prepare so the smart thing to do is to give your customers enough time.
Photos are great. Videos are even greater. You want to show the satisfied customer, preferably with your product or with the result of your service. Photos and videos will also help you the case study text into less intimidating chunks.
Drafting the case study and asking for opinion
When the customer comes back to you with the answers, it’s time to prepare the draft. Depending on your penmanship, you can either choose to write the case study yourself or hire a writer. There are writers who specialize in these sort of stories but it’s always nice to have that skill yourself or have a writer on your team.
Make sure to highlight one specific aspect in the case study: unconventional use, solved problem, great results. You should aim to show a different part of your service with each new case study.
When the case study draft is ready, make sure to check it for spelling and logical errors before you show it to the customer. It may sound silly but showing a text riddled with errors to the customer is simply not professional.
When the case study is more or less done, send the draft over to the customer and ask for opinion. Never publish anything without asking for opinion first. After all, you will be quoting someone in the text. There is some leeway to the way you can use the quotes to fit the text, but always ask for an OK from the customer.
Before publishing the story, ask the customer for opinion on the draft.
Sharing the draft on Google Docs works great. It’s convenient and easy to use – any feedback from the customer can be provided through comments and suggestions.
When waiting for the feedback, start preparing the case study for publication. Make sure you have all the materials, place them in your CMS (but no publishing yet!) and wait for the verdict.
Case study publication and what happens next
After the customer green-lights the story, you are finally allowed to publish it on your website. Congratulations are in order but you shouldn’t pop the champagne just yet. Now, it’s time for promotion.
If you don’t promote the story, you might as well add a badge next to it saying “I don’t care about this material enough to talk about it." Fire up your social media and share the love.
If your customer is OK with it, you can tag him or her in your posts. This is a no-brainer for businesses as it’s free advertising, but individual customers will not always want to be flagged in the promotional posts.
You can consider a case study finished only after it has been promoted via various channels.
Apart from social media, you can also feature the case study on your website. Add a quote from the story, along with a link, to your main page for a bit. If you are sending a newsletter, spread the love by adding a link to the story to your next release.
When promoting, show the juicy bits from the case study: results, what the customer has achieved or pick the funny comments. These will be much more appealing for your audience.
Approaching industry-specific publications is also a good idea. If they publish your post, it’s free promotion. But it can’t be a straight up advertorial. Your case study can’t be an ad-in-disguise. It has to offer value to the readers.
What to remember
Here’s a quick summary of the things you shouldn’t forget about when writing a customer story:
- Find a customer with a story. Think of what you want to achieve with the case study and find the right candidate.
- Ask for permission before sending any questions. Carpet-bombing your customers with questions is a big no-no.
- Prepare a list of questions. You have to guide the customer, ask the right questions to get the most interesting answers.
- If you want photos or videos (you do), ask for them immediately. Give your customer some time by asking in advance.
- Use the answers to prepare a draft of the case study. Tell the story of your customer, quote him or her whenever possible.
- Ask the customer to OK the draft. Don’t publish anything without getting permission from the customer first.
- Prepare the case study and publish it on your website. If you followed these instructions, you should have everything you need.
- Spread the love. Promote the case study on you website, social media channels and industry-specific publications.
After the dust settles and the story is ready, think of what you can do to make the next case study even better. Work on your questions, see what kind of communication mistakes can be avoided and think of ways to make everything easier for your customer. The next time, it will go even smoother.
Photo courtesy of What a Deal Motors via Creative Commons.