Although interview questions can be conveniently divided into “classic” format sections (problem, solution, results), the questions themselves need to be tailored to specific circumstances. If you have done your research, the story should already be forming in your mind. Interview questions give you an opportunity to verify your research and uncover interesting facts that you can quote. The questions should be short, precise, and clear, so that they can be answered either in writing or in a live interview, depending on the customer’s preference.
General Questions: Putting Everyone at Ease
You will want to begin by putting everyone at ease, and the simplest way to do this is with “housekeeping” issues, such as asking permission to use a high-resolution company logo (normally supplied by the customer). This is also an excellent time to ask simple questions about the company history or structure or about technical terms you would like clarified.
You can easily slip in a statement like “when I was looking at your company’s website,” which shows that you have done your research and are eager to write a good story. If you thought the company website was excellent, say so sincerely, but avoid fawning, and paying obviously false compliments.
Problem: Finding Out Why
Hopefully you have been fully briefed about why the customer bought your company’s product, and will feel free to ask leading questions. You should write the questions simply, for example, “Why did you decide to replace your corporate phone system?”
In person, you can ask the question less formally: “I understand that your company decided to replace your phone system last year. Can you tell me why?” If you have sent the questions ahead, the customer spokesperson will normally have reviewed the questions and will be ready with answers.
Solution: Learning the Benefits
If possible, get all the technical details about why your company’s product was chosen and how it was installed from your salespeople. Once you have the facts, you can spend your time verifying them and making sure that your salespeople and the customer agree.
Next, concentrate on discussing the benefits of the product your customer chose to buy – in his or her own words. This is also a good opportunity to ask about your customer’s familiarity with your company’s products, and if they have used customer support successfully.
Results: Facts and Figures, Please!
Your case study will be stronger if you can cite facts and figures, especially in headlines. The need for this kind of information is the best reason for sending your questions ahead if you are doing a live interview. Normally customers want the case study to be a win-win situation, and will do their best to provide hard numbers. Here are three ways you can approach this issue:
- Benchmarks – Ask about benchmark testing done before or after your company’s product was installed. Often companies have to justify a purchase, and the customer may have generated their own figures or verified the test results your company provided.
- Increased sales – If your product has improved your customer’s product, the customer may have enjoyed increased sales and may be willing to share their success figures.
- Ease of use – Although a strong improvement percentage is invaluable, results are sometimes “softer,” and difficult to quantify. Try asking about employee or customer satisfaction if no hard figures are available. Sometimes this will prompt a great anecdote you can use.