Customer testimonials boost the selling power of nearly any direct marketing effort.
However, only about 1 out of 10 clients I’ve worked with makes an effort to consistently collect testimonials and keep them on file.
Why? Probably because it’s a hassle. Also, most businesses don’t have a reliable system for collecting testimonials. They just cross their fingers and wait for the random “thank you” message to drift in.
Well, that’s just not good enough. So I’m going to give you a simple way to gather solid testimonials from your customers.
But first …
A word about good customer testimonials
Testimonials work best when they are believable, specific, and enthusiastic. How do you achieve this ideal? You use real testimonials from real people.
Now I know that some marketers believe that you should write your own testimonials. But that’s a slippery slope.
The whole idea of testimonials is that they are objective endorsements of your product or service. So if you write them yourself, you don’t have anything like objectivity. What you have is a lie. And if you’re willing to lie about testimonials today, what will you be willing to lie about tomorrow?
What about writing testimonials and getting real people to sign off on them? I don’t have an ethical problem with that. Often, people don’t express themselves well in writing. And penning your own certainly lets you say what you want to say.
But I firmly believe that using the real words of real customers is the best long-term approach. Your customers will say things you could never dream up on your own. Their comments are often quirky and have a ring of truth that few copywriters can match.
Real testimonials are a source of creative inspiration and a valuable peek into the opinions and motivations of the most important people in the world: your satisfied customers.
The “spurf” testimonial gathering system
Okay, so let’s walk through my system and see how to get some honest, powerful testimonials. Just remember four letters: S.P.R.F. (pronounced “spurf”). It’s short for Schedule, Phone, Release, and File.
1. SCHEDULE. Make a commitment to bring in testimonials once a month, once a quarter, twice a year, or whatever. The time frame doesn’t matter; just make it part of your routine.
You may even want to set quotas — 10 new testimonials a month or 30 testimonials for each promotion you do. Again, the specifics are less important than your commitment to the routine. Just make sure your schedule is realistic and productive.
2. PHONE. Call a portion of your customer list according to your schedule. Start by saying something flattering, such as, “The president of our company has personally asked for your opinion. Would you mind telling me what you think about your widget?”
Ask a few easy questions that elicit responses that are either positive or neutral in tone: When did you receive your widget? Did your widget arrive in good condition? Have you used it (tried it, tasted it, read it, worn it) yet?
Then ease into the real questions: What is your opinion of your widget? Why did you buy your widget? What is the one feature you like most? Why would you say your widget is better than similar widgets? If you were to write an advertisement about your widget, what would your headline be? How has your widget saved you time (or money, or trouble, or embarrassment, or whatever)?
Another way to handle this is to ask customers to complete leading statements along the same lines: I bought my widget because _____. The one feature I like most about my widget is _____. My widget is better than similar widgets because _____. If I were to write an advertisement about my widget, my headline would be _____. My widget benefits me by _____.
Whatever you ask, keep it short. Don’t ask yes or no questions. Ask for open-ended comments. Write down (or electronically record) every word, even the bad comments. This is a treasure trove of customer input.
And in all cases, whenever you get a comment that isn’t quite specific enough, ask your customer to elaborate. Get the dates, numbers, names, and other facts that make testimonials sparkle.
3. RELEASE. When you get a good comment, type it up and overnight a copy to your customer by FedEx or the express delivery medium of your choice. Include a letter from the head of the company that says something like, “Mary told me about your comments. And I was so impressed, I just had to write and say, ‘thank you.’ In fact, your kind words were so valuable, I’d like to quote you in our advertising. Do you mind?”
Ask the customer to sign your release (giving you ownership of the testimonial forever and the authority to use it for anything) and return it in the postage-free envelope you have enclosed.
And as a kicker, mention that you’re sending a gift as a small token of your appreciation. This assures you will get more releases returned. Plus, it’s good customer relations.
4. FILE. If you don’t do it yourself, pick one person to organize and store your testimonials in a central location. If you have to share testimonials among divisions or departments, send copies, not originals.
As for physical storage, a file folder in a filing cabinet works as good as anything. Depending on the size of your company, you may want to set up a separate file for each product or service line.
You may want to enter your best testimonials into a Word or text file. This will let you do keyword searches if you’re looking for something special. And you can quickly cut and paste testimonials when it comes time to write copy.
Two variations for gathering customer testimonials
“Spurfing” may not appeal to you if you don’t have customer phone numbers, don’t want to make phone calls, or if you need lots of testimonials quickly.
So here are a couple of alternatives:
Variation #1: Questionnaires. Mail is a less direct method than phoning, but it lets you approach a large number of customers simultaneously. Follow the same questioning strategy as above: flattering opening, easy questions, real questions, promised gift. Include release language. If a comment isn’t clear, follow up and iron out the details.
Variation #2: Bribes. This is similar to #1, but with more emphasis on positive comments and the gift. Just send a questionnaire with release information included and be clear about wanting positive remarks. Offer a particularly valuable gift, but only for comments you actually want to use. To spice it up, you can run a contest for the best testimonial, headline, or success story.
Of course, no matter how aggressively you collect testimonials, you should also provide a way for people to share their thoughts with you at other times as well. And you should be prepared to record and file any unsolicited testimonials whenever they come in.
Make sure all positive correspondence is routed to your desk. Encourage phone operators and sales people to relay customer remarks.
If you have a catalog, provide a toll-free comment line. On your website, provide an interactive form or email link for feedback. In your billing, fulfillment, and other contacts, enclose a postage-paid comment card.
Once you have a system in place, you’ll find that getting testimonials is easier than you thought. You may even come to enjoy it. But the real payoff comes when it’s time to create your marketing materials.