I keep a file of interview questions for case studies that I have collected from various client projects over the years. Some question lists are short. Others run to multiple pages, with questions covering every detail of a customer's situation or product implementation.
Of course, you want to match the number of questions to the allocated interview time. But more important is looking at the wording of those questions: Are they eliciting information or leading a response?
Here's an example of a leading question:
"Would you say you've saved at least 25% on parts inventory costs since implementing our product?"
A better way to ask that question:
"How much have you saved on parts inventory costs since implementing our product?"
Or, better still:
"What kinds of cost savings have you achieved since implementing our product?" (Then ask for the specific numbers or percentages for each type of savings.)The Limitations of Leading Questions
Asking a question that invokes a specific response, even if that response is favorable, can create these issues for your project:
- The customer may forget to mention or diminish information about benefits, applications, etc. that would be a higher priority in their mind and have greater value to your story if they instead came out as the first things on the prospect's mind when responding to an open question.
- May skew the story inappropriately, with a trickle-down effect on reported results, benefits, and the customer quotes you select for publication.
- May make the customer uncomfortable with the interview and reluctant to follow through with the case study review and approval process.
- May cause the customer to withhold negative feedback or issues that would be important information for your sales, support, and product development teams.
How to Ask Open-Ended Questions
An open-ended question invites your customer to give a full answer, such as in these examples:
"How did you prepare for the migration?"
"What types of feedback have you received?"
"Why did you choose this vendor?"
"What were the lessons learned from this project? "
In general, a question that starts with What, Why, or How will elicit a descriptive response from your interview subject. You can always probe for more details in follow-up questions during or after the interview.
Let the Customer Tell You
When working on a success story, testimonial, or other customer reference project, it is natural to want the most positive information to emerge an interview. However, by creating an opening for whatever the customer tells you, you will likely gain information that has the greatest value to your company and project.