When we started working on the Freshdesk blog about two years ago, we had one goal: to make it a place where people can find unique and interesting content on customer service and engagement. We sell a product that helps people make their customers happy, and naturally, we want to attract readers in this space who’d benefit from reading relevant content.
That looked like a nice goal to have. But in reality, it was quite a challenge: our content ideas weren’t enough to feed a pipeline. The Freshdesk blog needed new content every week to keep readers engaged: and we had to find a way to offer something interesting day after day, week after week.
That’s when we figured we’ll reach out to top customer support managers in the industry to pick their brains on how they work. This way, our readers (and our own team) would learn about how they support and engage with their customers, get an idea of what challenges they face on a typical day and how they solve them, and how they’ve built processes and teams to help do what they do, better everyday.
And while at it, we thought we’ll pack these conversations into interviews and publish them on our blog. What started out as one interview turned into a year-long series called the ‘Secret Sauce to Customer Support’. As part of the series, we’ve interviewed people who own customer support and engagement in more than 54 companies across the world: from Basecamp to Trello, InVision to KISSmetrics, Shopify to Mozilla, you name it, we’ve spoken to them already. Our blog is chock full of insights from these folks that’s going to keep educating customers and new readers forever.
We did interviews because they were interesting: they brought new readers, they kept the existing ones hooked, and everyone seemed to generally enjoy them. But the Secret Sauce series turned out to be bigger than we ever imagined it to be.
Ever since we kickstarted the series in September 2014, these interviews have received thousands of pageviews and brought us tons of new subscribers. What’s more — each of these interviews have come with a dozen insights that have travelled far and wide — as blockquotes, tweets, SlideShare decks, booklets and on our own minds. Some customer support managers we interviewed turned out to be speakers at our official events and helped us establish relationships with their companies like never before.
Sounds like quite a tough thing to pull off? Nope, here’s the thing: anyone in the media and content industry should tell you that this isn’t an entirely new idea.
Interviews are classic content generation tools.
And any business with a corporate blog can do the same things we did, and add a lot of insightful, unique and valuable content to their blogs, without having to go through the pain of idea generation week after week. We thought we’ll summarize everything we did so other folks can take the same ideas, and get some unique content going on in their blogs for a year or longer — as long as you’d like to run the series.
Pick Your Secret Sauce Interviewee Persona
For us, it was quite obvious from day one: we make software that helps people support and talk to their customers better, so we had to interview heads of teams that talked to customers day in and out. It’s their insights that will matter to our audience.
If you’re making software that helps people schedule emails, you should get sales folks to talk about their lives on your blog. Your app helps creatives set up quick websites online? Go interview designers and artists who will tell you about their world. Selling software that helps organizations manage their payrolls? Talk to HR folks who care about employee compensation structures for a living.
You get the idea.
When you interview someone who fits with the persona you pick, their insights will strike a chord with your readers.
That’s when your readers will go “wow, she’s going through exactly what I’m going through” — and come back to read your next interview.
Figuring Out Whom You Want to Reach Out to
Once you’ve fixed your interviewee persona, the next decision comes to picking people to reach out to, in different companies. If you want to interview sales managers, for instance, you have to go behind companies who do a terrific job at selling what they build. Some of these companies are top of your mind already because you’ve felt it when interacting with their sales team. But the rest — you’ll have to do a bit of work to discover them.
Surely, you must have seen posts online about how people were bowled over by specific sales experiences. You could reach out to the ones mentioned in such posts. When you’ve exhausted these options, there are plenty of other places where you can find a ton of companies you could reach out to: CrunchBase, AngelList, Gartner reports, even your existing customer base, and what not. Once you have this list, you can use LinkedIn or a similar tool to discover the right sales person to talk to.
Look at the titles of people we’ve done interviews with in this list — it’s not surprising that our series has customer support managers, directors of engagement and VPs of customer service. Also, in our experience, we had a lot of success with getting people from tech and software companies featured.
Decide What You Want to Ask
Before we get to the part about reaching out, prepare a set of questions you want to ask the person on the other end.
Not all your questions need to have the intention of extracting their last bit of knowledge: you can have fun ones that help your readers discover their personality even better.
Take a look at what we asked our own secret sauce interviewees, for instance. When we asked Lo from Boomerang about how they hire people, this is what she told us: “productivity geeks make great support reps”. That’s a great insight indeed — but we also discovered several fun facts about people which I’m sure our readers loved 🙂
We had a question where we’d ask people about their typical day. We knew answers weren’t going to be very unique in each interview, but we still went ahead and did this because we knew that when a support manager in the other end of the world reads it, she’s screaming “this is exactly what my day looks like”.
For every five questions that brought out their tips and experience, we had one that was fun and one that was “drab”. The drab ones (like the one where we quizzed them about their typical day) helped make the connect with the right readers. Here’s our template of interview questions, if you’re looking for some inspiration on what to ask.
Reaching Out and Persuading People to Do the Interview
If you haven’t often reached out to people on the other side of the world before, this might seem a little difficult. Again, this isn’t rocket science either. You just need to keep a couple of things in mind.
We knew that support managers are firefighting issues with their customers, so we kept our emails very short. Always assume that the person on the other end is having either a busy or very tough day — no matter who you’re reaching out to — be it a sales person, a product manager or a security lead.
If you’re going to shoot them an email with all the questions laid out right inside the email, you’ve lost the interview even before you’ve hit send. Initially our emails looked like this:
Get what I mean? Just 4 sentences with a short ask. Three months after we kickstarted the series, when we had a good number of brands, we changed the sentences around to add some social proof (“Hey, folks from these cool places have shared their insights with us, may be you should too?”).
Producing the Interview
Once someone is ready for the game — that’s when the rest of the hard work begins. You send them the template of questions you’ve got, and ask them if they prefer to do the interview over email or over a call. We discovered pretty late that getting people to do a call was easier than getting them to actually write down responses to the interview questions.
But we had done quite a number of Secret Sauce interviews before we obtained this painfully obvious insight. And all of those answers were written down by interviewees in a shared Google doc. The best part about sharing a Google Doc instead of sending a .docx file as an attachment was that: we could open the Google doc anytime and do a quick status check to see if someone had actually filled in the answers. Whenever we noticed the interviewee had only answered questions partially or hasn’t even opened the doc, we made sure we sent them a follow up email nudging them to share their know-how with the the rest of the world 🙂
Always send the interviewee the questions only after they’ve said ‘yes’ — and give them the choice of written or oral responses. And if it’s the latter, make sure you get the transcript reviewed before you publish it!
Once you’ve gotten the answers written down, you need to take them to WordPress — which is when we blockquote snippets from the interview that are fun, super insightful and valuable for others. We also add pictures that we may have obtained from the interviewee of the team and their office. If we hadn’t got any, we go around the internet scouring everything from the company’s Facebook pages to official blog posts for classy pictures.
The pictures are crucial — they keep the readers going between 3 or 4 paragraphs of text, and get the casual visitor hooked to reading the entire interview!
Nearly every Secret Sauce post has a picture of the interviewee team, their office environment or their fun vacations. Each interview also ended with the link to the category page where people could find more interviews to devour at leisure.
Committing to a Weekly Schedule
Behind every great series is a great pipeline where you keep moving things from one stage to another.
Thankfully, we got a hang of this early as we started, and we tried to do activities that moved every interview from the stage of i) reaching out, ii) committed, iii) following up to iv) complete nearly every week.
Thursday on the Freshdesk blog had to be Secret Sauce day. If an interview had to go out this Thursday, it meant the transcript had to be ready on Wednesday, the interview responses obtained preferably the previous Friday. And the reach-out for that interview need to have happened several months before. There’s a lot of time between the reaching out, someone saying yes to an interview and actually writing out the responses to you. Reaching out to an average of 20 people every week kept the pipeline going — and meant that we’d have at least 2 interviews ready for production from that batch four weeks from now.
Repurposing Content, Discovering New Opportunities
Once we had published about 20 interviews, we put together a SlideShare deck that amassed a good number of views. We even wrote a compilation of the best insights from the series that sent more readers our way. Some of the interviewees have written guest posts for the Freshdesk blog. And the best of all: the connections we made via the series helped us bring some new speakers to out Customer Happiness Tour events (Zappos!). We might even consider making an Offscreen-style coffee table book that customer support managers can reference for inspiration.
The key thing is to keep the relationship going: promoting their work when it’s good, asking them for opinions when you’re working on something, and sending good opportunities their way.
So, What Next?
You get the idea.
Interviews are a great way to add unique content to your blog. Even if you have a regular pipeline of content, you can augment it with with this step-by-step strategy that brings a lifetime-worth of experiences with each interview, which your readers will definitely find useful and appealing.
Go ahead, get your own secret sauce series rolling, and tell us when you get the first interview published 🙂
This post originally appeared on Medium