A case study can be a valuable tool to show customers what your business can offer. But case studies are rarely used, and when they are, they tend to not be used to their full potential. In this article we will discuss what they are, how they can be fully utilized and what to do to create a great case study.
What are case studies?
To understand the benefits of a case study, it's important to first understand what a case study is. I have worked for a variety of companies, but one that used case studies particularly well was a skilled nursing facility. It's a natural and common fit for the healthcare industry because improving conditions and tracking every detail is critical in patient care. Each new patient has their own case file.
In these files there are overviews of patient history and then detailed information entered for the entire stay of the patient at the facility. It is then followed up with after a period of time to see how their experience was at the facility.
In healthcare, these case studies are picked at random every quarter and evaluated by a committee. The purpose of this is to improve upon the system of care. In addition, having these studies means that years down the road you can reference a case either to help that patient again or as a means of information to help someone with a similar case.
How can case studies help my business?
Now you may think, “This is all well and good for medical care, but how does this apply to my car care or plumbing business?” It's really simple: every bit counts. In a world of competition you need to do whatever you can to set yourself apart. If you are taking the time to ask and track real tangible information, you are showing your customers an added layer of customer service that they have probably never before experienced. And as an added bonus, you are gaining and recording valuable knowledge about your customers.
You can now use this collection of information in four valuable ways: (1) improve processes in your business, (2) personalized customer follow-ups, (3) promotional printed materials and (4) online promotion.
For the first, improving the processes in your company, it is up to you to determine where your processes may have failed and/or have room for improvement. The other three can be equally as valuable if done right.
Imagine how much more powerful a holiday card could be if you can include something very detailed from the job done that year before wishing them well in the coming year. “Happy Holidays from Us. We knew the location would be an obstacle for a new pool, but we worked together and got it done right. We hope you get to enjoy it for years to come!” … “Termites are never fun but when we learned they had moved to your dining room, we made sure you could enjoy the holidays with peace of mind.” This can really make a lasting impression and increases likelihood that they would use you again and refer you to others.
When you create printed promotional material, it's nice to have brochures, business cards and such. For some companies, like those in property management, they go a little further and create a binder or packet for their potential customers. Imagine yourself as the customer that is screening several contractors to redo their kitchen. The company that gives you nothing to hold on to after they leave is going to lose the bid more times than not. The company that gives you a bunch of fluff with nothing of real value is going to turn you off as they appear too corporate and impersonal. But the company that can give a home owner a packet of valuable information is keeping their foot in the door. By having 3 to 5 case studies, you can show your potential clients how you pay attention to the details. You are giving them actual cases of how you handled obstacles, worked with clients and saw the process through to the end. And if you are able to provide actual client names and contact info, you are then giving them references to follow-up with.
The fourth way to take full advantage of case studies is to post them online. Right now you may show pictures in a gallery of before and after of a job. You may have quotes or 'testimonials' from customers. You may even have a general blog that talks about, or links to, general topics in your industry. These are all great and should all be continued, but imagine the power that comes from a case study. It's all three of these elements, but with even more relevance. First, you are keeping your site fresh with new content. Second, you are giving potential customers great examples of how you do things. And lastly, and most importantly, you are adding critical content to your site that search engines will love. With every case study you are adding more keywords related to your business. You are adding more keywords associated with the towns and cities where you do business. You are linking to online reviews and thus increasing your links to other sites (which can be returned in kind from others to you). All of this increases your site's rank to search engines and increases the likelihood of potential customers finding you.
What can I do to create an interesting case study?
There are three basic elements you need, plus some bonus items that can really set you apart. At the very least you need History, Process and Results. In addition you should look to get ongoing photos of work before, during and after. At some point during the job, ask your client how they are doing. Are they stressed over the work? Are they happy with the progress so far? Do they have concerns? (This is good practice in any business but even better when you document it in your case study.) And finally, when the job has been completed, conduct a follow-up interview. Ask them how they are enjoying the service you provided and such. A preset list of 2 to 3 questions is ideal. How did we do? Would you recommend us? What could we have done better? If you feel they would respond well to it, ask if they would be willing to be a referral client. This may mean a future client calling them down the road and may include using their names in materials. You can adjust this to their personal needs and concerns.