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In journalism, a person’s direct quote is sacred. What’s said is said, and any journalist with integrity doesn’t change a word.

While customer case studies have many similarities to journalism, they’re not. It’s marketing.

And customers have the chance to review and approve their stories and direct quotes. That single fact alone is why it’s OK to change quotes, but not TOO much.

There’s what the customer said…

And there’s what the vendor company wants to say…

If they don’t exactly match, then there’s a bit of doctoring and negotiation that goes on.

So, How Much Can We Change?

In short, a little.

At this point, I’ve written more than 600 case studies, and interviewed even more customers. Through trial and error, I’ve found what seems to be the generally accepted amount of editing that customers will accept. However, some customers are pickier than others.

First off, most customers appreciate a little help. Usually they’re dumping a lot of information on you and don’t expect their direct quotes to be perfect.

In fact, many customers say, “You’ll make me sound smart, right?”

Of course you’ll ensure they sound good, but they get a little put off if you veer too far off course from what they said. They are pleased to indicate that the featured solution works well for them, and they’re happy, but don’t change their words to make it sound like it’s the best thing that ever happened to them.

What You Can Change

You can change a few words here and there to clarify or shorten quotes. Remove the “ums” and “ahs.” You might add a detail or two to be more specific, or a product or company name if the customer just said “they” or “it.”

I also merge non-consecutive sentences, something said earlier in the interview and something said later. Usually customers don’t even notice or care that these statements weren’t said right together.

What You Can’t Change

But what does stay sacred in customer quotes is the meaning. Don’t change what the customer meant. That means don’t rewrite the whole thing.

Of course there are exceptions, but most customers I’ve encountered – even those that offer glowing praise – push back on too much quote doctoring.

Ultimately, customer success stories aren’t fiction. They’re true accounts of a customer’s experience, and as producers of case studies, we need to maintain integrity by presenting true stories. Just keep that in mind when tempted to change any customer’s quote too much.

What’s your experience with editing customer quotes?

One Response to Can You Doctor Customers’ Quotes?

  1. Dave Buerger says:

    These are reasonable guidelines.