Letting Your Customers Speak for You

Gregory Ciotti | April 14, 2015

Customer success stories can serve as helpful guidance for holdouts. Oftentimes their indecision is due to reasons other than “product quality.”

Seeing that a customer found the perfect fix with your product is incredible validation. Prospects want to hear that switching was worth it and that the effort up-front is paying dividends.

They need motivation for themselves and (often) justification to convince their boss. You can address all of these common sources of inertia by showcasing your most successful customers.

At Help Scout we are currently exploring how to better tell our customers’ stories in a meaningful way. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Create a before and after narrative

At its core a customer spotlight is meant to showcase genuine outcomes; how a customer’s situation changed for the better. Summed up in a single phrase: “This is your world before our product, and this is your world after.”

When a clear before and after picture is painted, nothing is left to the imagination—this is really what another customer was struggling with, and this is really how our product solved their problems.

Make sure that the following elements appear when telling the customer’s story:

The pain.
When writing about how InVision uses Help Scout, we first shared Scott Markovitz’s frustrations with managing support in a traditional inbox. Only then can you empathize with Scott’s former pain points. That’s important, because a good before and after is only as strong as the contrast.

The fix.
Depending on your product and the customer you’re talking to, you may end up running the gamut (“It transformed our sales process”) or covering a single, near-deadly problem that your product fixed (“We finally had a way to reduce failed payments”). Work with what you get from the interview and amplify the biggest wins.

The outcome.
What’s life like now? Scott was kind enough to share with me that InVision has been able to maintain aggressive growth towards one million users thanks to Help Scout and Docs freeing up time and resources. How are customers using key features to maintain the sanity they found with your product?

Success stories will look different given the variable nature of interviews, but be certain these core issues are addressed. If they aren’t, you have to question if you’re providing people with a strong enough reason to consider switching.

Setting up for a successful interview

A great spotlight depends on a great interview. With your objective defined, it’s time to get on the phone and let the customer speak.

You have to bring your A-game the first time around, so here are a few fundamentals to keep in mind.

Approaching your customers

Asking better questions

Stick with a strong theme

When you have a Customer Objections doc, this part can be a bit easier. Interviews will all have their strengths and weaknesses; you’ll have to decide if there is a unique theme your customers care about that is worth highlighting.

InVision’s spotlight was all about scale objections. InVision has over 700,000 users, giving people an answer to, “Can Help Scout handle a large user base?”

We just finished an interview that was perfect for ease-of-use objections. “Help Scout is intuitive and makes ‘training’ is a non-issue,” the customer told me. Many people ask about introducing Help Scout to their team, so the theme of onboarding in a headache-free fashion is a strong one for us.

Build themes around objections or use cases. If you have a small group of important customers, you can even build them around showcasing a unique workflow or pain point. Consider our customer Omada Health, who had a few special needs, including HIPAA compliance, which hadn’t been met elsewhere.

Success stories can be neatly tied together with this extra effort. They become more useful to customers (and more useful to you) when individual concerns are addressed, because they dismantle a specific fear that’s causing inertia.

Don't forget the personality

You can be very direct with your spotlights. People are reading them to evaluate your product. They want to see what it can do; they want to see how other customers are succeeding.

That said, you should make them fun and useful, too. Written well, many readers will consider these pieces just as valuable as your more traditional writing.

Every support manager I’ve spoken to is strongly—yet politely—opinionated on how support should be run. They want to do their jobs with superlative excellence, and they will tell you exactly what that looks like.

You’ll find the same is true for the people you talk to. This creates an opportunity: a way to present the customer’s story that shows and doesn’t just tell. When an interviewee offers up stellar advice on how they do what they do, incorporate that.

Done correctly, your potential customers are now reading about a product that does the job well from a person who takes the job seriously. Being excessively strict with “tell me what you like about our product and nothing else” ends up killing this excitement.

The key, of course, is to weave it all together.

If a support manager is heavily opinionated on how to grow a large support team, I want them to gush. Then I’ll ask, “How do you see yourself scaling to 50 people with Help Scout?” Their experience and candor will teach you a lot, and you’ll be able to connect their advice to what real customers will be doing with your product.

Dress their thoughts well

Reading back a transcript is often as cringe-inducing as listening to your own voice.

You’ll notice every single “uh” and “um” and every time you interrupted the speaker accidentally or went off on a tangent. You’ll find your interviewees are slightly guilty of this, too.

As a result, most conversations are good ideas dressed up in pajamas.

Your job with writing is to get them ready for a black-tie event. Something Italian, and nothing off the rack.

Your customers want to share their honest opinions and look damn good doing it. They leave some of that responsibility in your hands.

Clearly this doesn’t mean changing the message. Going from, “The Reports feature is okay, we use it sometimes” to “We couldn’t live without Reports!” is flat out dishonest.

However, consider how most on-the-spot conversations go:

“Well, uh, let me see… so using reports has really been a game changer for us. It’s like… before them, I was operating in a haze… with blinders you could say. Now with metrics, err, reporting, I can see, I can get a hold on what my team is genuinely doing without breathing down their necks.”

That’s very kind of them to say, but you can tailor that to make them look even better. Cleanup on Aisle 5:

“Reports have been a game changer for us; we were flying blind without them. Now I can finally get a sense of what my team is up to without breathing down their necks.”

Polish these weaker segments into strong showcases with responsible editing.

Keep the speaker’s voice, and never alter the core message or exaggerate the level of enthusiasm. Only improve the wording, and then get full approval from the interviewee.

Small tweaks can better capture the message that was originally intended. “Nice! Thanks for nailing down what I was stumbling to get across,” is actual feedback I've gotten from my revisions.

Helping people look good; who wouldn’t enjoy doing that?


About the author: Gregory Ciotti is on the Growth team at Help Scout, the invisible help desk that helps you build a company your customers love with more human, more helpful customer support tools.