Customer Testimonials: How to Get Them and What to Get in Them
Editor's note: Previous articles (see Related at left) have emphasized how important customer feedback is to business. Among its positives are the aid it provides to search engine optimization (SEO) and rankings on search engine results pages (SERP). Here, Bill Fridl provides marketers with suggestions about how to urge customers to provide the right testimonials.
My dentist emailed me last week. Actually, he wasn't really a dentist when I knew him. He was a dental student at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Dentistry, where I go for dental work (because I'm cheap!).
So, as I was saying, my dentist emailed me last week. He asked me to post a reference on Yelp. He had graduated and was starting up his practice and thought a few testimonials would help. It was easy for me to agree because I was quite pleased with his work.
Here are my thoughts on testimonials:
1. Ask for them. Otherwise you won't get them. One of my current "businesses" is marketing a vacation rental using VRBO.com, one of the websites dedicated to this industry. This has been a fun project and is proving to be a profitable use of my time.
Let's look at this business. From the renter's standpoint, a vacation rental is the perfect example of a risky purchase. They are required to pay a deposit before actually seeing the place. When they arrive, even if the property was totally misrepresented, there may be no other options for accommodations.
The VRBO website attempts to remove some of this risk by inviting renters to post reviews for properties they rent. When shoppers search for properties there is a bold number near the top of each listing that reflects the number of reviews submitted for that property. Visitors can click on the number and read all the reviews.
Though I sense that owners can stack the reviews (having friends submit, etc.) it's still a powerful differentiator. The shopper sees pictures that look reasonable, the price is in line with similar properties, and—wow—this particular property has reviews that are numerous, recent and positive.
My rental just came into existence three months ago. As I write this, I've had 12 completed rentals and 10 reviews. This may not sound impressive, but there are properties that have been rentals for years that do not have 10 reviews. I did not get these reviews because my property is better than every other property out there; I got them because I asked for them. I also got them because, when the guests checked in, I told them I would be asking for a review. And when they checked out, I asked if the stay had been fine and followed up by mentioning that I would be grateful for a review. And if I don't have a review a week after they check out, I follow up again.
2. Mention, BEFORE providing the service, that you will be asking for testimonials. I touched on this above, but let me add a thought: If you tell customers early that you're going to ask for reviews, they will be attuned to your performance. If you suck, that's not good. But if you deliver what you promised, your customer will be pleased.
This also allows you to frame the offer. If you're offering a somewhat expensive burrito, but with really good ingredients, ask for a testimonial and frame the offer: "Our burritos cost more, but our ingredients are the finest available. And we use more meat than our competitors. If you agree, we would be grateful for a post on Yelp." (Or your site, or another site that accepts comments about businesses.) This way, your customers, as the sit down to eat that burrito, are thinking about your promise—that the burrito is special. If it is, they will feel good, and they will be likely to create that testimonial. (And by framing the offer around the quality, those testimonials will likely be on the quality, and not on the dangerous neighborhood or lack of parking.)
3. If folks volunteer to have you write their testimonials and use their names, don't.
a. It's not right; and
b. these important advocates for your growing business might question your willingness to write something under their name, even after offering you that option; and
c. real testimonials sound … real. Your testimonial will sound too polished, too rational.
Let me share the power of a testimonial that I never could have written myself. My example's from the vacation-rental business. Right before she checked out, one of my renters sent me a nice email. After not getting a testimonial, I suggested that she submit to VRBO the email that she had sent to me. She did. It's a strange testimonial in that the email includes, among other things, a reference to the smoke detector going off. But I never could have written a testimonial so genuine:
Review Rating: 5/5
Review Title: "PERFECTION"
"From an email I sent to the owner:
Your place was great. Such a great space and the decor was fabulous. We love your taste in movies and music. We did set off the fire alarm at one point, hope it didn't bother or alarm you. Just burnt stuff while cooking. We were dying, hoping you wouldn't be bothered. Then giggling because we set it off. You know you can go forever not setting it off in your own house, then go to someone else's house and set it off the first night.
Loved the view, how easy it was to go places, and how you had everything one could need for a stay. Our favorite part was probably reading the Mensa Quiz book while watching the fog roll over the hill into the bay. We enjoyed it so very much. Thanks.
New, clean, wonderfully equipped and the owners will not bother you even if you do set off the alarm."
4. Specifics are the key to effective testimonials. Specifics create credibility. "Love the food" doesn't say all that much. But "The seafood burrito was AMAZING. The shrimp were massive!" rings true. And this testimonial will actually bring in customers—at least those who like shrimp. Specific testimonials also allow you to list a bunch of them without being boring; "Love the food," can only be listed so many times. And in marketing materials or on Web pages, at the product level, generic testimonials can seem forced. So collect testimonials and encourage contributors to be specific.
5. Specific identities give the testimonial punch. Get permission to reference, as specifically as appropriate, the contributor. Not "Bob, Fairfax, CA" but "Bob Burger, Fairfax, CA."
If your business involves a face-to-face transaction (burrito shop, vacation rental, etc.) consider having a form available. The top might have blank lines labeled Feedback/Suggestions and, below that, a place labeled Name/Address and Signature. A little check box below that can ask for permission to use the comments and the writer's name.
If reviewers love your product/service, but fear being contacted by others, ask them what you can use to add specificity. For example, Bob may not want his last name used, but may be totally comfortable with his age or occupation, coupled with his town. Common sense should prevail. If it's a burrito shop testimonial, inclusion of his occupation seems—at least to me—to be weird. But if it's a meditation DVD, occupation or age might help other prospects relate to the review.