How to Get (and Leverage) Glowing Testimonials

from FreelanceSwitch - The Freelance Blog

Word of mouth works! A potential client hears rave reviews about your products and services from someone they trust. The advertising is believable and motivating. And it doesn't cost you anything - other than consistently delivering a service that keeps your clients happy and coming back for more.

It's surprisingly effective. One of my freelancing spheres is computer support to small businesses and home users. Over two years ago I reached the limits of my availability, and stopped advertising. Since then I have continued to receive hours of work most weeks purely from word of mouth. Two friends will be chatting over coffee. One will mention computer problems, the other will mention me, and another job is in the bag.

But word-of-mouth advertising reaches a very limited set of people. It only reaches as far as the friends of your clients, and only when there is a knowledge of their need for your services. That's where testimonials come in. They take word-of-mouth advertising, and make it more accessible.

Why Testimonials Work

There is no doubt that testimonials - when done properly - work:

  • JupiterResearch ranks customer reviews as the second most important website feature.
  • Andrew Angus recently tested two versions of a web page. One page had a list of testimonials below the video, the other one did not have any testimonials. The testimonials led to a 158% increase in conversion.
  • Intelliseek's "2005 Consumer-Generated Media (CGM) and Engagement Study" survey found that consumers trust other consumers (including those they don't know personally) 50% more than any other form of advertising media.
  • Forrester's 2008 study reports that over 70% of shoppers actively seek reviews and testimonials when planning a purchase.

Testimonials work because they nurture trust. Potential clients know that you're only going to say positive things about your products and services. They want to be convinced by hearing from someone who has actually tried them. Potential clients have no reason to trust you. But they do trust their peers. This is "social proof" at work.

They also work because they overcome fear. Your potential clients have had negative experiences in the past and are fearful of getting stung again. Effective testimonials address these fears, and reassure potential clients that you are different.

What Makes a Good Testimonial

A good testimonial is believable.

Word of mouth works because it is coming from a disinterested party. But people hear testimonials directly from you, and then make a snap judgment about whether they are real or fake. A testimonial that sounds fake will erode trust, not build it.

Testimonials should be real. If you can, include the full name, location and a photo of the person giving the testimonial. Include their business or organization if it is relevant. Never make up a testimonial. It is better not to have one at all than to use false testimonials.

A good testimonial is specific.

Word of mouth works because the potential client can keep asking questions until they are satisfied. A good testimonial must contain answers to the questions readers are asking. They must contain specific details.

Testimonials like "I am very satisfied with the service I received," "I will definitely use them again next time," and "Great job!" sound reassuring, but offer no value in answering people's questions. Make sure specific details are included, like "The new website increased sales by 120% in the first month," "I was treated courteously, and everything was explained to me in advance," or "I needed the new brochures urgently, and they didn't let me down."

Some questions potential clients ask include: "Can you do what I need?" "Are you reliable?" "How are you different to the competition?" Use testimonials that answer these questions. And keep in mind that testimonials with specific details are definitely more credible.

A good testimonial removes obstacles.

A good testimonial should address the doubts, concerns and hesitations that prospective clients may be experiencing. Your current clients may have experienced these same obstacles, but overcame them. Their testimonial can put the concerns of others at rest. Testimonials by clients who may have been skeptical to begin with can be very effective in this regard.

How to Get Testimonials

Catch them as they fly past.

Testimonials come naturally, in compliments, fleeting comments, quick conversations, and thank you letters. Keep your ears and eyes open, and keep careful track of them. Write down the stray comments as soon as possible after hearing them. Snip "quotable quotes" from emails your clients send you, and file them along with the person's name and date you received it.

Build some containers.

Add a guestbook to your website. Create survey forms or feedback forms, either on your website, or paper versions that you can hand to your clients at the end of a job. Keep the communication lines open on your end, and give people ample opportunity to comment on your products and services.

Ask for them.

If a customer ever tells you how much they value your service or asks what they can do for you, ask them for a testimonial. Many people respond better if you ask for feedback rather than a testimonial. Asking for feedback sounds like you want honest comments rather than sugary praise.

You can also request feedback via email, either on a one-by-one basis, or as bulk mail to all of your clients. Include a specific list of issues for your clients to comment on, including price, turnaround, quality, and overall satisfaction.

Ask open questions.

When a client is giving you feedback and seems to have more to say, draw it out of them by asking open questions. Ask them to expand further on what they have said. Ask them to give an example of what they are talking about. Or ask them to comment on other issues that they did not mention. Leave room for them to tell you ways the process or experience could have been improved. Besides gathering useful testimonials, you are also fostering a better relationship with your client.

Be strategic.

A useful testimonial needs to be believable, specific, and address obstacles. You won't find testimonials like that by accident. The structure of how and when you ask for testimonials is critical.

In comments on several blog posts about testimonials, Sean D'Souza suggests you start with one specific question: "Was price a big objection when you considered using our service?" He goes on to explain why:

"Now I've not just got the client to think about a testimonial, but specifically about price. So the customer may say: 'No, it wasn't a big objection.' Well that sets up the next question. So what was the big objection; what would have caused the hesitation to using our service? Now the customer will tell you what the hesitation was. But if the objection was indeed 'price', then the customer would go down the road of price."

By questioning your client in this way, you start to identify objections potential clients may have, and also gather testimonials of how real clients overcame those obstacles. Aim to find at least one believable, effective testimonial to counter each objection you discover.

Where To Use Testimonials

Everywhere! Rather than using just your own words to describe what you do and why it is important, use your clients' words as much as possible.

Here are some suggested places to use testimonials:

  • on your website
  • on your resume
  • in your portfolio
  • on your quotes, order confirmations and invoices
  • in your print ads, sales letters, direct mail
  • when you encounter a barrier while talking to a client about a job
  • on Twitter - in bite-sized pieces
  • on your blog - tell a success story about a client
  • in comments to other people's blogs - briefly and only when relevant
  • in Facebook and Myspace.

Don't clump all of your testimonials together on a single testimonials page. Spread them out. Include brief testimonials for each product or service you describe. Convince potential clients of the value of each service you offer by testimonials of how others have benefited.

Shape your testimonial feedback into brief but powerful statements. Limit their length to one or two brief sentences. But don't over-edit them - they will sound more credible if left in their original language. Even grammar and language quirks can demonstrate to the reader that they are genuine.

Testimonials are a powerful tool for marketing yourself. How have you used them?