Do you find it increasingly difficult to trust the brand messages you see in this noisy world?
For the past three years, I've been the content manager at a SaaS company, EmbedSocial, that explores the power of user-generated content. From our experience, we've seen an increasing awareness from modern customers, who want social proof from other customers about companies' trustworthiness. And this desire for trust has only been amplified during the pandemic.
I want to share our approach to gaining this trust: it's about capturing, creating, and distributing customer success stories.
Whereas case studies reveal the facts, customer success stories share the overall experience and have an emotional undertone. They highlight the customer's pain point and how a particular product or brand offered a solution. And they give consumers that trust they're looking for. More than a social share or referrals, customer success stories are powerful tools. Here's how to make the most of them.
Creating an engaging customer story
I'm going to walk you through our internal process of collecting, managing, creating, publishing, and amplifying customer success stories. You'll definitely want a dedicated content team member to manage it all, so you can be sure you're getting the most out of these stories.
Here's the basic process we follow:
Find suitable customers. We have weekly communication with the customer success team on possible exciting new use cases, and we also look for customers wherever they're interacting with us.
Get customer's approval. We have an email or chat interaction with the customer to get them on board.
Conduct the interview. We create the interview questions and collect the information from the customer either through a form or a live interview.
Write and publish the story. We have a dedicated customer success story page, and we publish the stories to it.
Promote the story. We prepare ads, social media content, emails, and other assets for various promotional channels.
Make a consistent loop of this process every month, and it'll run like clockwork. Now let's go through these steps in more detail.
1. Pick the right customer for the story
The first challenge here is finding the right customer for the story. You want to find someone who the majority of your audience will identify with—or at least the segment you're targeting. There's no secret formula for this part, but here are some tips:
Look for a customer with a unique pain point that your company was able to solve. Be sure to toe the line between unique and complicated, though—you want to be sure the issue resonates with other users.
Go for the responsive customer. The more involved they are with you to begin with, the more likely they'll be to give you the details that will make the story shine.
Look for customers that have been with you for a long time or returning customers who can speak to more than just one transaction.
You can find customers anywhere that you interact with them. We've found some customer success story contributors through our online chat tool, Intercom. However you deliver customer service—whether that's through Messenger or a dedicated customer support tool—you'll be able to find happy customers.
Depending on what type of business you have, you might also find customers through in-store interactions with staff, social listening, monitoring online forums, or anything in between. Wherever your customers are, that's where you should be looking.
2. Get customer approval
In our experience, we've found that an existing personal interaction—that is, the customer reached out to you—is the best way to get the right customers for your stories.
Our customer success team interacts with customers every day on Intercom. If, during these chats, someone lets us know that they're delighted with our platform, or shares a positive experience, that's the green light we're looking for. The customer success representative asks if they want to participate in creating a success story about their experience with our products. And most of the time, they accept.
After we get a customer confirmation via chat (this is important—you don't want to email people without their permission), a member of the CS team notifies the content team. And it's action time!
One of the content creators will then reach out to the customer directly. Here's an example of a customer reach-out email we've sent. Notice that it links them directly to an intake form, to minimize the back-and-forth communication required.
3. Conduct the customer success story interview
As each customer is unique, you'll need to approach things differently depending on the types of products or services they use, and who they are (i.e., what their role/industry is). We like to create a unique set of interview questions for each customer, but there are a few things you'll definitely want to cover regardless.
Customer background and business goals
The challenges the customer is facing
How your product/service helped them reach their goals or tackle their pain points
Specific benefits and outcomes from using your product/service
Notice that the first two items on that list are about the customer, and the other two are about your product or service. Be sure that you have a split here. You don't want them to only talk about how your business helped them—that takes away from the story aspect of it. Learn about their business first, and only then move on to how your product or service came into play.
You want to get as much detail as possible, but you also don't want to overwhelm them. After all, they're doing you a favor by giving you content for a customer success story, so you want to respect their time. That's why asking the right questions is so important.
You can conduct this interview in two ways:
1. Use an online form app
The beauty of using an online form builder for customer success stories is that all the information you collect is documented and stored in one place. Here's an online form template that you can reuse for your customer success story questionnaire.
Here are the questions we used in a recent survey about the customer experience with one of our review management products. Feel free to do a copy-paste and adapt them for your form, but again, the more personalized the questions, the better.
What is your business name?
What kind of business do you run?
What are your business goals, and what targets are you trying to achieve?
What is the biggest challenge your business is facing?
How important are online reviews for your business?
In your experience, what is the biggest benefit of showcasing customers' reviews on your website?
Do customer reviews influence your conversion rates? If so, what is the outcome?
Where do customers mostly leave reviews for your business?
How do you handle negative reviews?
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to managing your online reviews?
Why have you decided to try EmbedReviews, and how is your experience so far?
How have you benefited from using our product?
How easy is it to use EmbedReviews for displaying social proof?
What have you learned from working with us?
Do you need specific additional functionality from EmbedReviews?
2. Conduct interviews with customers
There's always Zoom or a good old-fashioned phone call. This is where the content creator puts their journalistic skills in action (luckily, we have a former journalist on our team). To get priceless insights and hear authentic, emotional stories, the interview should feel more like a conversation.
Doing an interview instead of a form will almost certainly get you deeper insights—it allows you to ask follow-up questions, dig into areas that might be glossed over on a form, and hear the real emotion behind their story. But, of course, it also takes more of your time and requires either excellent note-taking or a transcription tool.
If you go this route, you'll ask some of the same questions you'd put on a form, but you'll also want to be ready to think on your feet, depending on how the conversation is going.
We like to offer the customer the choice—whichever they feel most comfortable with is what we do. And if someone chooses the form, you can always ask to follow up with a call.
4. Write and publish the story
Once you have your responses, it's writing time. Here's a structure you can follow:
An outstanding headline that clearly describes the benefit of your product/service
A standout quote from the customer (and quotes throughout, of course!)
An intro about the customer/client's business
A section about the challenges they're facing
A section about their experience with your product/service
An image or video that shows how they use your product/service
A strong call-to-action (it can be in the form of customer quote)
Here's what our stories look like, and you can view the full version here.
Before you publish the story, send it to the customer for approval. Ask for their feedback and work with them to address all the changes they request before it goes live. The happier they are with the story, the more likely they are to share it with their network as well.
And… the story is published! But the excitement doesn't stop there.
5. Share and promote your customer success stories
We're big fans of reusing content that gives value to users. The most obvious route is your social media channels. Post it wherever you share content, tag the customer so they share it, and engage with any comments you get. This will help promote the story while also publicly showing off your collaborative nature with customers. You can do the same thing in an email—include it in an email marketing campaign where it's relevant.
We even use our customer success stories to create convincing ad copy. Here's an example of applying a customer testimonial in a Facebook ad.
You don't have to stop at digital, either. We actually print testimonial posters, which are visible to anyone who visits our office and also serves as inspiration for our employees.
You already have all the content you need at your fingertips, so reusing it in as many channels as possible is a win-win situation.
Applying authentic user-generated content and creating customer success stories is a cost-effective and influential way to build trust at every point of the post-pandemic customer's journey.