A few weeks ago I answered the question How can I write better customer case studies? It discussed the structure of a good case study. Now, I’ll look at the mechanics of writing a customer case study – the questions you need to ask, the information you need to gather and so on.
Two sides of the story
When you’re writing a customer case study, you need to cover both sides of the story – the story from your side and the story from your client’s side. And to get both stories I think you need to interview both parties in some form or another.
If you’re in the marketing department writing up a project that was undertake by people in the sales / technical / service teams, you probably need to have a catch-up with the relevant people to get the information you need.
If you’re writing about a project you did yourself, this obviously doesn’t apply. That said, it can help to think about the project as a third party would so you can be sure you’re drawing out all the relevant points. When you’re reporting on something you do every day, it’s very easy to underestimate its complexity or see it as ‘just another project’.
When it comes to the client, the process can be as formal or informal as you like. You can put yourself in your client’s shoes and answer the questions yourself or you can have a conversation with them to get their input. The option you choose will depend on your situation. Putting yourself in their shoes is obviously easier and quicker; actually interviewing them will involve more work (in terms of scheduling a convenient time to chat and so on) but can get you insights you hadn’t been aware of at the time and help you build a stronger case study. Whichever option you choose, remember it’s a courtesy to run anything past them before you publish it so there’s no risk of ruffling any feathers or damaging your relationship with them.
You first need to gather the basics of the project:
- Who was your client and what do they do?
This shows the sorts of companies you deal with and helps potential customers see that you work with people like them.
- What was the budget?
It’s up to you whether you include this in the final case study or not. It gives people an idea of the scale of the projects you work on; on the other hand, either you or your client may be uncomfortable with you sharing this information.
- What was the timescale?
Again, you might want to include this; you might not depending on how relevant it was to the overall project.
The next step is to look at the background of the project:
- How did your client find you?
Doing this helps set the scene and helps the reader get into the mindset of a potential customer –for example, you have a good website that gave people confidence to contact you. If it’s a referral, it’s also a great way to prove you’re good enough at what you do to be referred by your previous customers, which is very reassuring to see.
- What did your client need?
This sets out the requirements of your client. It’s about the problems they were facing. It’s a great way to show – using real world details – the sorts of things you can handle. It’s also a way for your reader to step into the shoes of your client because they may be having similar problems.
- Why did your client appoint you?
This is how you establish your credentials. What did you offer that your competitors didn’t that meant you secured the contract?
Next, you look at the solution you provided:
- What was the solution?
Here is where you showcase your expertise by outlining the solution you came up with to your client’s problems.
- What were the unique / interesting / challenging features of the project?
This helps you highlight that you’re a cut above your competitors. Think about the areas of the project that lesser contractors may have struggled with. This might be a particularly complex technical requirement. It might be working with or around other contractors. It might be a tight timescale. It might be multiple stakeholders. Did the requirements change halfway through? It might also be things that your clients may consider to be a problem but you don’t (think back to your initial discussions with your client – were there things they mentioned as potential stumbling blocks that you were able to dismiss with a wave of the hand?)
- How were these features overcome?
Again, here’s where you showcase your expertise by explaining what you did about these ‘problems’.
Finally, look at the results:
- How successful was the project?
If you can get cold hard stats here, that’s fantastic (your sales training helped them grow by 10% in six months; they got 50% more orders in the following six months etc) but emotional responses such as ‘we are so much more confident when working with x’ or ‘it’s made our lives so much easier’ are also very valuable. Essentially, you want to demonstrate that your work left your client in a better state than when you came to them.
Interview your client
Essentially, these questions are the same as the questions you asked yourself but they get you your client’s point of view in their own words. Their answers will give you useful insights, not to mention quotes and testimonials you can use in the case study and in other marketing materials. You need to find out:
- Why they decided they needed help and what were the problems they needed solved?
- Why did they choose to work with you?
- How did they find working with you?
This is a good way to highlight the value added extras you give. It’s also great for general feedback that – while you might not use it in the case study – will be useful to help you improve.
- How has the work you did helped their business?
Decide on your approach
Once you’ve gathered all the information you need to write the case study, the next step is to decide on the approach. Do you need something short and snappy or something detailed and in-depth? Does it need to be formal or informal? The answers to these questions will often depend on the type of company you are and the context the case study will be used in. I look at the options in more depth in my How to write a good case study e-course.
When you have gathered all the information and confirmed the approach, it’s time to get going and write the case study. Good luck!
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