The new Highrise site features video interviews with customers (the first time we did this was for Basecamp). Here’s a look at the process that went into creating these videos:

Finding subjects
First, we posted an alert inside the Highrise application asking customers to email us if they lived in Chicago and were interested in participating. We got a few dozen responses and started the vetting process (appropriately, we use Highrise to track all the conversations we have with candidates).

During this process, we’re trying to gauge a few things: Who they are, what their business does, where they’re located, what their offices are like, who we’ll be able to talk to, when they’re available, etc. Of course, we’re also looking for people who really love Highrise and are talkative about it. Also, we try to get a well rounded pool of subjects, not just tech/design firms (which often express the most interest).

Setting up the shoot
Once we pick our subjects, we schedule out the shoots, two shoots per day over three days. When shooting day comes, we travel out to their location. Steve Delahoyde from Coudal Partners helms the A/V equipment and does all the editing for the videos. He brings an assistant too so we have two cameramen. (Multiple angles helps give the final cut some more life.) After we shoot the interview footage, we capture some B-roll footage too: people working at their desks, entering the office, talking over some stuff with coworkers, etc. It helps liven up the final product so it’s not just talking heads the whole time.

We usually work pretty quickly. Find a good backdrop for the shot and start filming. We vary between interviewing one person at a time or having two people talk together. Depends on the situation. Sometimes you can get a good conversational rhythm going when people are actually interacting with each other. Also, it’s interesting how often coworkers finish each other’s thoughts and sentences. But sometimes, it’s best to shoot just one person at a time, especially if there’s more of a boss/assistant vibe going on in that workplace.

We begin by having the subjects talk about themselves, their company, what they do there, etc. It’s a good starting point because people are used to pitching their own companies, so it gets the ball rolling and gets them used to the process. We try to keep them off of any talking points schpiel so it doesn’t sound too rehearsed.

Talking about Highrise
Then we move to Highrise. We usually shoot for about an hour or two and then edit the videos down to just a few minutes. So we’re really looking for those nuggets of gold. And you can usually hear them too as the interview goes along. Someone mentions that Highrise is like “a rolodex on steroids” or “solves my business ADD.” And you know there’s something there.

When that happens, a technique I’ve found really helpful is to have the subject take a stab at repeating the idea again. Some people nail ideas the first time it comes out of their mouths. But for most people, the second or third time is when they say it best; With each repetition the idea gets more concise and has a sharper zing. That said, there can be diminishing returns after a while. Make someone repeat the same idea too many times and it’ll start to lose its oomph.

The questions are key too. We go into the interviews with a few key points we want to hit. In this round, we really wanted to emphasize the idea that Highrise is about preparedness. It gives you a record of the past that helps you prepare for the future. It allows you to continue conversations instead of restarting them from scratch. So those were topics we specifically asked subjects to address. Also, we try to emphasize specific features that subjects like. If someone’s loving Deals or uses tags all the time, we want to hear about it.

One of the most interesting aspects of talking to customers is how they’ll sometimes guide you to your strongest selling points. For example, several times we heard versions of this same story: Someone’s on hold that called for me. I quickly pull up their Highrise page, look at our previous conversations, and then take the call. Before, I would have had to ask what the call was in reference to. With Highrise, I come off as super prepared and ready to go. Every client feels like they’re a top priority. It’s a huge win for us. When you hear that multiple times from different subjects, you know there’s real value there.

As for interviewing tips, I think the first key is making sure the subject feels comfortable. Emphasize this is low pressure, they can repeat stuff if they want, and that we’ll edit out anything that comes out wrong. And the other key is to really be interested in what the person is saying. Lock in and really pay attention. It’s tempting to take notes but you get better responses if you maintain eye contact. Also, you want to offer encouragement by nodding but without making a noise (it’s very tempting to give an “uh huh” but you wreck the audio if you do that). Sidenote: It’s interesting how fatiguing it is to really listen to someone talk. After 30-45 minutes of an interview, it’s tough to stay locked in for much longer.

Once we’re done filming, the editing process begins. Steve really does a great job of honing all the footage into something tight. He usually does a rough cut that’s about 5 or 6 minutes so we can see where it’s headed. Then we’ll chime in and offer feedback on what we do or don’t like or want to emphasize. After a few rounds of this we wind up with a solid final cut and drop in title slides, music, and screenshots which we ask clients to submit. (If they’re wary about showing data that might be confidential, we create dummy screens in Highrise that we can use instead of the real thing.)

Overall, the whole thing was a real hustle. We initially posted the call for subjects in the beginning of November, filmed the subjects within a couple of weeks, edited the videos during December (slowed down a bit by the holidays), and then launched the new Highrise site in January with a couple of the videos. We’ve since added another one and there are a few more on the way.

Related: I [heart] Basecamp customer videos [SvN]

Update: Forgot to mention the music tracks we use in the videos. Mark Greenberg created them (he’s a former member of The Coctails). We went through some back and forth on the music too, going through different tracks to find the right vibe. We wanted something that sounded cool but wasn’t too jarring. Some of the initial efforts had too much percussion. We think what you hear now adds some nice flavor without distracting.