The interview: Planning the perfect case study – 2

The interview: Planning the perfect case study – 2 Image

In our last post we looked at case study strategy and how to write content that packs a punch. Now, we’re turning our attention to the all-important interview. For this post we’ll be looking at how best to set the scene for your interviewee, how to ask your questions and how to follow a story ‘arc’.

It might sound obvious but writing a case study about how someone’s been successfully using your service, products or ideas means you have to actually speak to them – and that means interviewing them. So make sure you give yourself time to plan this.

Interviewing isn’t easy. It can be awkward asking questions of someone. Interviewees can be tricky, they can go off on tangents and you can get thoroughly lost down blind alleyways!

Manage expectations

Before you leap into an interview, it’s worth thinking through how you’re going to approach the interview itself – and the interviewee. For example, make sure you pick people to interview who love (not just like) what you do. Think quality not quantity – it’s important that you identify those people who will sing your praises to the highest and say the best possible things about you.

Also, it tends to save time (and embarrassment) later down the line if you make sure your interviewee knows what they’re getting into. When you first contact your interviewee, explain how long the process might take, tell them what’s expected of them, say how their words might be used. Set out the kind of questions you might ask, tell them how long the interview will take (around 25 mins max).

Crucially, make sure that your interviewee understands that they will get final sign off of anything you write. People can get jumpy if they think they won’t get a chance to approve the finished piece before it goes online – and your interview will suffer as a result.

Remember your audience

When you’re at the stage when you need to plan your questions, always have your ultimate audience at the front of your mind and make sure both your line of questioning and your write up reflect this. Case studies are normally for non-specialist audiences so if you are technology minded or have a very advanced knowledge of your service or products remember not to get too carried away with the detail.

If you don’t know much about your interviewee’s business or the specific project they’ve been working with – find out. Spend a little time talking to your colleagues about how and why they’ve benefited from working with you, what kind of product or services they have used and whether they’ve done anything particularly interesting or innovative.

Relax, it’s a conversation!

When you’re ready to make the call, remember that you’re not there to give them a grilling so try to relax and make things as informal as possible.  Remember that the aim of the interview is to get them to open up to you and there’s a better chance of that happening if they feel at ease and comfortable.

Interviewing can feel a bit unnatural so don’t make things worse by having a list of questions you go through one after the other. Keep things as light, natural and as much like a normal conversation as you can.

Don’t talk – listen!

Crucially, make sure you really listen to your interviewee’s responses, react to them and sound interested in them – this is very important. If you like the sound of your own voice too much (or have been told you do!) it might be best to leave it to someone else. It’s not about you – it’s about them.

It might also be worth leaving it to someone else if you know the project or the person very well. If you’re too close, you assume too much knowledge or miss the kind of simple questions that can really get the best answers.

Finally, when you do speak to your interviewee – thank them for taking part and remember that your interviewee is likely to be busy. In fact, it’s unlikely that they’ve remembered why you’re calling so be prepared to explain the process to them again.

Planning your story ‘arc’

To get the best write up, you will need to think about how you’re going to structure your questions. You don’t need to ask questions in a particular order (as long as you ask them) but you’ll most likely find that your questions will follow a natural course anyway.

Having a rough idea of the areas of questioning can really help if your interviewee goes off topic. Don’t be afraid of following interesting tangents – but don’t be led down blind alleyways!

A typical questioning ‘story arc’ structure is:

  • The customer: Find out about them. Tell me about your business? What’s your role? How did you get involved in the project? Tell me about you.
  • The challenge: Introduce the problem they were trying to solve. What ‘pain’ were you trying to address? What’s your biggest challenge? What was the main driver for you?
  • The journey: Examine the steps they took to solve the problem. What did you do to address the problem? What other products or services did you investigate? Did these work out? If not, why not?
  • The solution: Set out how your service, solution or product helped them. What was it about us that you liked? How was it implemented? Why did you choose us? What did we offer that others didn’t?
  • The benefits: Explain the results. What benefits have you seen as a result of working with us? Could you quantify the benefits in any way? What have you been most pleased with or proud of?
  • The future: Examine what they’ve learnt.  If you went through the same process again, what would you do differently? What does the future hold? What tips would you pass on to others?

In our next post we’re going to turning our attention to the all important write up and we’ll be passing on our practical tips on things like writing quotes, finding your ‘voice’ and making your content highly readable – and sharable.

Chris Smith About the author: Co-founder and writer in residence at Prolifiko | Ex-philosophy lecturer | maker of unpopular short comedy films.