Why I always insist on a customer questionnaire
It’s a no-brainer to say that no writer can write clearly with impact and persuasiveness if they don’t know what they’re talking about.
In other words, my writing can only be as good as the information and understanding I have on the subject at hand.
I call to find out everything I need to know to run a writing project on discovery process.
The discovery process
In my experience, the best way to go through the discovery process is to have the customer complete a detailed questionnaire.
Each questionnaire I submit is specifically written and tailored to the individual client and the particular writing project.
The amount of detail in the questionnaire will depend on my existing relationship with the client and any work I have done for him in the past.
With a new client, the questionnaire will be more detailed than it would be for a client that I have previously worked for, as they would already know quite a bit about the client company.
My quiz will have multiple sections as needed.
These will be designed to collect information on:
- Hearing of the written work
- Objective or purpose of the assignment
- Product (s) or service (s)
- Client company
The first thing I have to determine is the audience, that is, who will read the copy that I will write. The amount of detail I need about the audience will vary depending on what I am writing.
For example, if I am writing an annual report, the audience will be the shareholders of a company and other interested parties, such as financiers, bankers, etc. It will also be necessary to ensure compliance with legal requirements. But he would not need more details about the hearing.
However, if the copy is sales literature of some kind, the amount of detail I will need will be much greater.
If the customer is selling a product or service … You would need to know the market, the buyers’ motives and their main concerns regarding price, delivery, performance, reliability, maintenance, etc.
The questionnaire will be expanded accordingly.
One of the main purposes of the questionnaire would be to determine the exact purpose of the copy … to convey information about a product or service, or to generate or answer inquiries, make sales, generate brand recognition, etc.
Each corporate writing for public consumption will contain a call to action (CTA) which, if not clearly explicit, will be implicit.
You would need to know the CTA, that is, what the customer wants the reader to do after reading the copy.
As examples, the CTA could be a call to … buy now … send for technical specifications … request a proposal or quote … or subscribe to a mailing list. There are many more possible calls to action.
Knowing the purpose of the copy allows me to focus on what the copy is supposed to accomplish as I write it. Of course, the copy can have more than one purpose.
Product or service
Once the questions about who I am writing to and why have been resolved, the questionnaire will focus on finding out as much as possible about the product or service in question.
These questions would cover the features and benefits (in detail) … the competition and how the product or service compares to the competition … the technologies involved … the problems the product or service can solve … its positioning on the market … etc etc
This third section would mean asking the client for all the firm’s literature on the product or service. These would include brochures, catalogs, advertising copies (online and offline), technical documents … anything that helps me get a clear idea of the product or service.
To write the best copy I can, I need reliable background information on the company. In other words, I need to have a general understanding of why it exists and what makes it work.
When dealing with a client that I have previously worked for, you probably have most of this information on hand.
When establishing a relationship with a new customer, you would need to ask detailed questions about the company, its values, markets, ambitions, etc. You would probably need to read your mission statement and your most recent annual report carefully.
I find that once I have the information I need, the writing process is easy. It is the research or discovery process that is the most onerous part of the job.
As a writer, I depend on the client for the information I need to write the copy … but it is my responsibility to guide the client to finish with that information.
This means that the client has two main functions:
- provide all the information I request, making sure it is as accurate as possible, and
- read and comment on the draft copy in a timely manner and be very specific about any changes needed
As a writer, my responsibilities include:
- Making sure to clearly articulate all the questions that I need answers to.
- making sure I get all the answers
- writing the best possible copy
- review copy as requested
- maintain the confidentiality of the client’s project
- Offer unbiased advice as needed.
Like I said before, writing is the easy part.