If you’ve done your share of case study interviews, you’ve encountered one of the trickiest subjects:
The person who answers each question with as few words as possible.
He parcels out words carefully and stingily as if each one costs a dollar to use.
It’s not that your subject is being deliberately evasive or isn’t happy with the product or service; it’s usually just the personality. Most likely, he’s just not comfortable being interviewed.
How do you deal with an "undertalker?"
1. First, consider whether this person is actually your best interview subject. If he’s the only person who can really speak to the topic, then proceed. Sometimes, it makes sense to interview someone else or more than one subject to get strong details and engaging quotes.
Some companies even choose case studies based on how vocal the customer is about the product or service.
2. If you are interviewing the undertalker, reassure him that you’ll make this as easy as possible, and that nothing will be published without his prior review.
3. Finally, gradually ease the information out.
You may need to ask each question several different ways to get the answer. It helps to be as specific as possible – especially with getting measurable results.
Think of yourself as a detective searching for the answers you need.
Sample interview excerpt:
Interviewer: At what points are you realizing time-savings with the solution?
Customer: It saves us quite a bit of time throughout the day.
Interviewer: What are some of the daily tasks that the solution streamlines for you?
Customer: It really helps by automating administrative tasks.
Interviewer: Which administrative tasks does it automate?
Customer: The process of converting quotes to orders.
Interviewer: How did you handle this process before, and how do you do it now with the solution?
Customer: Before, we typed the information twice.
Interviewer: How long did it take before to convert a quote to an order?
Customer: It took about 15 minutes per order before.
Interviewer: How long does it take now?
Customer: It’s instant. We click a button and it converts the quote to an order.
Interviewer: About how many orders do you process per week or month?
Customer: About 30 a month.
Interviewer: So, you save nearly a full workday just on that one administrative task now? That’s great.
Each question gets increasingly more detailed until the customer finally offers some specific information.
Sometimes you just have to keep asking to get what you need. However, pay attention to the customer’s responses and ease up if it seems as though he is frustrated with the line of questioning or doesn’t know the answers.
You may not have powerful or colorful quotes, but you’ve got solid information with which to build an effective case study.
How do you handle undertalkers?
If you cook, you know that the ingredients matter. Use the highest-quality ingredients and the end product tastes better than it would with lesser-quality materials.
The same goes for a customer case study. The better the information you gather in the interview, the stronger the story.
That's why my interviews are typically very thorough. Yet still, at the end, I always ask one question to make sure that I haven't missed anything.
"Is there anything else that you would like to add that we haven't talked about?"
It's the catch-all question to make sure that no stone has gone unturned.
About 50 percent of the time, the person will mention something else, or cap our conversation with an excellent summary quote. No matter how thorough the interview, there's always a chance the customer might add a final thought, which will make your story even stronger.
Are you asking the questions that will yield a 5-star case study or success story? Learn more about interviewing and writing cases that get results in the upcoming teleclass, "Writing a Compelling Case Study - Start to Finish."