When was the last time a customer case study leapt out from the crowd and really hooked you? Surprised you? Kept you wanting more? Probably never – or at least not more often than you can count on one hand.

But real-world stories from customers are important. Almost three-quarters of buyers say they use case studies in their vendor research, says a 2016 study from Demand Gen Report. In their 2019 update, case studies ranked as the most valuable influencer content format. Prospects want social proof that your product or service is the right product or service in the form of genuine customer stories.

Those types of customer stories do more than close sales, too. They’re also great for customer success teams who onboard new customers, product teams who want to develop better products, leaders who need to show value to investors, marketers who create amazing content – and much, much more.

On the other hand, between pinpointing customers to profile, setting up and sitting down for interviews, writing, reviewing, approving, and publishing, a lot of work goes into getting a customer story – for both you and your subject. Then there’s the time it takes to read when buyers are inundated with content from you and your competitors. That’s time no one wants to waste.

That’s why we need to take the boring out, and ask: what really makes a customer story shine? How can we tell truly great stories that our prospects want to read?

Think story, not study

There’s a very good reason why we don’t often curl up under a blanket on a rainy day with a mug of hot cocoa and our favourite scientific study. Sure, we might learn something ground-breaking and new, but they take work, time, and focus to read from cover to cover.

Even the word “study” appeals to logic. Yet chances are, no matter how much you might want to believe that buyers base their decisions on logic alone, there’s a good deal of emotion happening under the surface. Frustration at a process that takes too long. Worry over a budget. Tension with upper management. Pressure from a timeline.

That’s why we talk about customer stories over case studies. Stories ask others to put themselves in the shoes of happy customers who went through similar challenges and imagine having the same kinds of success, rather than dissect the facts from a distance. Stories ask them to feel and, more importantly, remember. 

Though cold, hard data is certainly important and persuasive, it isn’t enough on its own. You’ll also need:

A cause

What kinds of stories do you want to tell? Start by thinking about your goals, and what your prospects are struggling with most in their businesses. For example, customer stories are a great way to:

  • Establish your expertise in a specific industry or sector 
  • Show versatility across a range of verticals 
  • Prove your product or service lowers costs, improves profits, or boosts productivity
  • Demonstrate your value over the long haul
  • Walk through the simplicity of set-up and onboarding

A company

Not just any customer will do. Not only should you pick customers who are ridiculously happy with you, but you can also dig into your own data to find those who:

  • Are part of your target market
  • Have been with you for a while
  • Are frequent, regular users
  • Are repeat customers
  • Talk about you positively and publicly
  • Have made referrals
  • Have influence in their field
  • Left a competitor for you

Bonus points if the customer has been through a notable experience with you, like a major pivot or even a crisis like we’re facing today. 

A character

Humans connect with humans. A good story might show how a business grew from point A to point B, but a great story will show how a person’s life was made better – and all the challenges and successes they faced along the way. 

That might mean speaking to a founder, a CEO, a department head, or an end-user who can speak on behalf of the business. Either way, putting a compelling face to the name – and talking about their thoughts and feelings through your time together – will help the story stick.

A conflict

“Things were going well, and then they continued to go well, and then they ended well,” said no good story ever. After all, your customers didn’t reach out to you because things were great on their end. They had a problem. A challenge. Something that kept them awake at night. 

Tap into that. Ask how it felt. Ask about their thoughts. Dig into the emotional core to help make the story more relatable, more human, more genuine… and more interesting.

A change

For a conflict to have a good ending, something needs to happen in the middle. Something needs to change. And that change? That’s when your customer meets you and works through their challenges. 

So take your readers through that process. Tell the story about what was happening on the other end alongside everything that was happening on yours, and how you came together as one incredible problem-solving force.

A conclusion

Remember those cold, hard facts? It’s time to put them to work – but give them backup. As you talk about the business results you’ve helped your customer achieve (and being specific with numbers is important), a great story also talks about what those results mean to the business and the hero of your story. 

What can they do now that they weren’t able to do before? How has it changed their everyday life? And what’s possible next, now that the problem’s out of the way?

Great stories are meant to be shared

Whether you’re making a long-form article about a customer’s experience with you, a video interview, a podcast, or a short infographic that sums everything up in one short punch, all of the above applies. Make it tangible, make it human, make it narrative, and make it stick. 

Then, make it accessible. After all, what’s the use of a good story if people can’t find it when they need it? That’s why we keep our stories in our Playbooks – they’re easy to find in-the-moment for everyone on our team, organized around our sales process, and we can track which ones are most helpful, in real-time.  

So what great stories will you share?

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