Long time ago, I was a linguistics student at the University of Ghent, Belgium. At that time, I was particularly interested in Flemish dialects. In Flanders – and I suspect in many other European regions too – dialects are quickly disappearing. For my master thesis, I would therefore visit people who I believed still spoke the traditional dialect the way it probably sounded 50 years ago. I would present my interviewees with a list of sentences and record their speech on my voice recorder.
Although my subjects were always very cooperative and friendly (I even had to stay for dinner a few times), there was one thing I found particularly hard about this job. Although I made it very clear to my interviewees that I needed to hear their dialect as they would speak it at home or to their spouse for example, they very often did the opposite thing. They tried to pronounce their sentences in a clean way, trying to correct their dialect towards the standard Dutch language. Why did they do that? Hard to tell, but my guess is that they probably thought that this was what I wanted to hear. They deliberately polished their dialect, because they probably thought that that was what this youngster from the big University in Ghent would want to hear.
Fast forward 15 years …
I had a great time at Ghent University and I frequently think back to those late nineties and early noughties. But today, I particularly think back to those dialect interviews, because now I’m faced with exactly the same problem as a copywriter and marketing expert. The problem is called ‘the interviewer’s paradox’ or ‘the observer’s paradox’.
The interviewer’s paradox points to the interviewee’s undue willingness to provide information that the interviewer wants to hear. That was my problem 15 years ago, now I’m facing it again when I need to write customer stories for clients.
Customer stories are a great way to present positive feedback from your customer about your company or product. In fact, a customer success story or testimonial lets your customer do the talking for you and this is what makes your product more credible.
Testimonials and the observer’s paradox
Sure, customer testimonials have an agenda. When interviewing your customer, you want to hear nice things about your product or service. In fact, you should be glad your customer is willing to cooperate with you on a story. On the other hand, you are also looking for genuine information, a credible story to share with your audience. A customer story needs to be believable, otherwise your readers will ignore it. And if your customer is too polite with your or too focused on saying nice things to satisfy you, this will probably not result in a very interesting story.
So how can you overcome this interviewer’s paradox?
Countering the observer’s paradox
First of all, it’s good to be aware of the paradox for starters. In other words: be aware of flattery. Don’t let your customer please you too much. Ask for the genuine facts and figures. If your customer says your product changed his life and it is the best stuff he has ever seen, he’s probably not very objective, and probably he’s just saying that to be likeable.
It might be strange to say, but a pleasant relationship with your customer can stand in the way of a good story. If you and your customer are working closely together, then probably you should not conduct the interview yourself. Why? Because your customer may feel a little intimidated if you are the person he has dealt with during the sales process. That’s why you need a neutral third party – an external professional or someone from your marketing team – to conduct the interview. This will enable your interviewee to speak more freely and even to answer the more edgy questions.
Have you experienced the observer’s paradox already? What are your experiences? Let us know. And if you need advice on how to write customer stories, then drop us a line.
Oh, one more thing…
We have an eBook called “Writing Magnetic Success Stories” that tells you everything you need to know about the art of customer story writing. If you’re planning to write success stories, testimonials or case studies yourself, you should definitely check it out.
And most if all: it’s a totally FREE download.Download the FREE eBook “Writing Magnetic Success Stories”