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6 steps to creating testimonials that drive sales (and don't suck)
When you get on a website and read a wall of customer testimonials that gush with nothing but praise, it’s not surprising if your first reactions are skepticism or suspicion.
Last updated6 Sep 2021
It also wouldn’t be surprising if you went and looked for a more ‘real’ opinion elsewhere—let's be honest: most testimonials suck, and we’ve all learned to sniff out the insincerity from a mile away.
In this piece, we look at how to create good testimonials: the kind that is real, honest, useful, and helps build trust by addressing a customer’s objections and fears head-on. We look at examples from brands who do it well, share the story of how we collected our own testimonials in 2019, and give you a 6-step framework from Sean D’Souza (author of The Brain Audit and founder of Psychotactics and 5000bc) that you can follow to create testimonials for your own company.
Table of contents
What is a customer testimonial?
A testimonial is a written or spoken account of a customer’s firsthand positive experience with a product, service, or company.
Testimonials can be used as a form of social proof and as evidence that a company is dependable and its products or services valuable. A testimonial page, in its most basic form, is a repository of user testimonials.
How customer testimonials can help your business
If you have a business you want to grow, gathering and displaying quality testimonials makes it easier for you to:
Give prospective customers peace of mind
. Good testimonials are proof that people have tried your products and approve of them. In turn, seeing other customers state “I’ve tried this and it works” can help your prospects feel reassured that they’re making the right choice, too.
Answer your prospects’ objections
. Every purchase involves some risk: really valuable testimonials (more on this below) walk the prospective buyer through the initial objections, fears, and emotional ups and downs your existing customers also experienced, and show how they found a solution in your product.
Find and leverage your unique selling points (USPs)
. You probably have some assumptions about what makes your products special, but your customers might see things differently. When you ask them what they like about your products or services, you’ll discover what makes you unique from
perspective, and you’ll know to focus on these USPs in your messaging.
Attract targeted customers. When you know what customer and user personas you want to attract, showing testimonials of people who fit the same demographics and psychographics profile might make your prospective users think "Yes, I'm definitely in the right place."
12 examples of testimonials and testimonial pages that work
So what do effective testimonials and testimonial pages look like? The 12 companies spotlighted below use targeted testimonials that address concerns, tell effective stories, and feature a before-and-after approach to demonstrate their problem-solving powers. When planning your testimonials page, follow their creative lead.
Basecamp’s page offers a sea of testimonials that display specific ways users’ lives have improved since they switched to the project management software.
Monday designed a bright, boldly colored stories page that is searchable by keyword or category. There is a large variety of compelling stories, with useful headlines and a variety of use cases.
eHarmony’s testimonial page directly addresses potential user objections (too old, already have children, giving up on dating) and shows success stories from users who overcame those objections and found love using the service.
The testimonials page for the online community run by Sean D’Souza’s (you'll read more about him in a few paragraphs) naturally follows his own advice: pull quotes, clear before-and-after stories, and prominently featured customer objections.
Wix features colorful pictures and case studies that tell a clear story of how each company used the Wix website-building tool to achieve their business goals.
Slack uses high-profile clients for testimonials and case studies to tell compelling stories about the before-and-after experience of using the company’s product.
Airbnb’s community page is aimed at prospective hosts. On it, the company tells short and compelling stories about how becoming an Airbnb host solved users’ problems, both financial and personal.
Segment’s customer page features case studies and testimonials that detail the challenges users faced and the ways they used the product to overcome them. There is a strong emphasis on the before-and- after element of each story, with statistics and pull quotes that emphasize Segment’s utility.
Algolia’s downloadable case studies put the stats up front, with pull quotes and numbers that instantly help readers understand how customers improved their sites with Algolia’s search functionality.
Intercom also uses stats and storytelling to show comprehensive before-and-after pictures of how the company’s live chat solutions have solved customers’ problems.
Wistia confronts common objections (like comparisons to YouTube) head-on in their testimonials. Because their product revolves around videos, the company of course incorporates well-made video interviews as well.
VoiceSage’s downloadable case studies front-load the challenges the customer was experiencing and the benefits they experienced from using this communications platform.
How we harnessed customer objections to create great testimonials for Hotjar
At the beginning of 2019, the Hotjar marketing team set up a series of customer interviews to find out more about how people use Hotjar, what problems it solves for them, and how their companies have changed since using it. The more we kept hearing great stories from the people we were talking to, the more we knew we had to start featuring some of them on our customer testimonials page. We decided to follow the advice given in this guide itself: instead of simply showcasing quotes from people who raved about Hotjar, we made the decision to also share their initial concerns, objections, and fears—to show what the real experience with our service looks like.
We followed 4 steps:
Reaching out to customers
Running customer interviews
Following up with a testimonial request
Writing up and publishing the testimonials
1: reaching out to customers
To collect testimonial information, we used Intercom to reach out to a subsection of our customers: power users who had been particularly active in Hotjar in the previous month. We offered them a $100 Hotjar gift card as an incentive for taking 30 minutes to speak with us about their experiences using the service.
2: running customer interviews
Armed with a list of all the people who replied, our content lead Louis scheduled and conducted about 15 one-to-one interviews over Zoom, during which he probed customers about the pain points they were experiencing before choosing Hotjar, their initial concerns about the service, and their reactions after using it. These conversations were recorded and transcribed (with our customers’ consent).
3: following up for a written testimonial
After each call, we emailed the customer and asked if they would be willing to give us even more information so their story could become a Hotjar case study and their thoughts could be used as testimonials.
Participating customers filled out a survey (click to see it) that helped us collect the sentences we eventually used for testimonials.
Editor's tip: we built the survey using Hotjar's Survey tool, which allowed us to add as many questions as we needed then generate a URL that we could share with our customers.
4: combining customer data into case studies and testimonials
Finally, we combined the the call transcripts and the survey answers to create several customer stories—which are a hybrid between a testimonials and a standard case study. We put each customer’s initial objection(s) up front, then talked through how they were resolved:
We also discussed the customer’s unique challenges and how Hotjar helped them solve their problems.
These stories went on to be published on our customer story page, where they can be used for sales enablement or use-case studies. We also pulled particularly persuasive quotes to display on other pages as stand-alone testimonials.
6 steps to collect and display better testimonials
We mentioned Sean D’Souza, author of The Brain Audit, in the introduction: for this piece, we ran an interview with him to understand his strategy for creating testimonials that work. Sean believes that the best way to create persuasive testimonials is to tap into the concerns of your potential customers, and then tell success stories that directly address those concerns and illustrate your product’s or service’s utility.
Step 1: understand your customers’ objections
Before you start collecting customer stories, remember the intended result: targeted testimonials that directly address the doubts potential customers have about your product. One of the most effective methods of identifying common customer sticking points like price, learning curve, or product functionality, is through the use of surveys.
There are a couple of methods for getting this information:
A. use on-site surveys to gather feedback
On-site surveys are simple, short surveys that slide in from the edge of the page after a specified trigger—for example, the user is on the page for 20 seconds or clicks on a specific button. On-site surveys are an excellent way to get targeted feedback from existing and potential customers about their decision-making process.
Using Hotjar's Feedback Surveys, you can create a multiple-choice survey like the one above to learn common reasons visitors did not make a purchase, and ask targeted follow-up questions depending on which answer a visitor selects.
In the example below, you see question logic in action: if the visitor answers yes, they are given the opportunity to give free-form feedback on the issues stopping them from moving forward. If they choose no, they are taken to a thank you note. With this method, you may discover customer objections you never even realized were an issue.
See more examples of Hotjar polls here.
B. survey customers via email
If you’re looking for more in-depth answers than a poll can provide, the other option is an email survey—like the one we ourselves conducted when working on our own testimonials:
Survey your existing customers to retroactively ask about the concerns they experienced before trying your product and the reasons why they tried it anyway.
Email surveys give you the opportunity to complete several steps of this process at once: targeting specific users, collecting feedback on customer objections, and asking other survey questions. This is also a great potential first step for identifying future case-study participants.
Step 2: ask the right questions (in the right order)
A good customer testimonial tells a story. Construct a narrative by asking questions that outline the customer journey, their objections, their pain points, and the positive results they experienced.
Sean D’Souza’s six questions that help you collect powerful testimonials
1. What was the obstacle that would have prevented you from buying this product/service?
2. What did you find as a result of buying this product/service?
3. What specific feature did you like most?
4. What are some other benefits of this product/service?
5. Would you recommend this product/service? If so, why?
6. Is there anything you’d like to add?
🔥 Pro tip #1: time your ask. If you ask customers for feedback before they’ve had a chance to get to know you or use your product, the information will be too general. Give customers enough time to know your brand and your product or service before asking them to provide a testimonial.
How long you wait will vary, depending on the industry. If you’re selling a product online, such as a set of headphones, you can probably ask customers for feedback a week after delivery. If you’re a membership site, you’ll probably want to wait at least a month.
🔥 Pro tip #2: ask for feedback first. If a customer has a bad experience with your product, even if it eventually helped them, they may find it difficult to focus on the positive outcome. Ask for feedback before asking for a testimonial. Give customers a chance to complain, and give the company a chance to make things right. When you come back later and ask for a testimonial, you’re more likely to get a good one.
Step 3: write your testimonials like a story
A good testimonial should read like a story with a 'before' (the problem) and an 'after' (the solution). In fact, if a testimonial does nothing beyond presenting the before and after of the customer journey, it’s done its job.
Use your customers’ words to tell a story that walks a reader through the initial objections, fears, and emotional ups and downs your customers experienced, and show how they found a solution in your product.
Some people believe that testimonials have to be short. However, in-depth analysis gives customers a chance to dive into the experience. Long testimonials can be effective even when prospects don’t read every word.
Step 4: answer potential objections head-on
Don’t avoid mentioning an objection. Every buying decision comes with some risk (even if it’s just the risk of feeling like a fool), and an effective testimonial will directly address a single, specific customer fear. The key is to acknowledge it and then explain how the customer overcame it.
The eHarmony testimonial below does just that:
Rachael “nearly gave up” on online dating because she was “exhausted,” but she went ahead and paid for a four-month subscription. She doesn’t beat around the bush: online dating sometimes sucks! But if you give it “one last shot,” as Rachel did, you just may find love.
Step 5: design your page for optimal engagement
If your testimonials page looks like a standard sales page, people will tune out. A few design guidelines to follow:
Style headlines to look like headlines.
A good headline should stand out, both in terms of its content (it has to be compelling) and its style (use a larger font than the body of the testimonial).
Use pull quotes to emphasize important points.
People may not read your pages word-by-word, they probably skim them—and pull quotes stand out. Carefully choose quotes that combat potential objections and highlight the results of your product.
Incorporate pictures and videos.
Use color headshots and team photos to show page visitors who your customers really are, and consider incorporating video interviews alongside the text of your testimonials. Make your customers as real and relatable as possible.
Make use of white space. Even if you have a lot of testimonials to display, don’t crowd them together. White space is an important element of good design and makes your page easier and more pleasant to browse. The more engaging and interesting your page, the longer people are likely to keep reading it.
Step 6: boost your social proof with an abundance of testimonials.
When it comes to testimonials, according to Sean, more is better. Which are you more likely to trust: a company that has one lonely testimonial, or a company with enthusiastic user experiences spilling down the page?
Social proof is a powerful part of the decision-making process, and an abundance of testimonials builds trust and credibility. No matter how persuasive your marketing copy, consumers are always going to trust other people more than they trust you.
Incorporate as many effective and persuasive testimonials as you can. If your page starts to look unwieldy, consider adding a search function so that potential customers can filter by use case or demographic to find the reviews that are most relevant to them.
Customers love honesty
The biggest mistake other companies make with their testimonials collection is that they sacrifice authenticity for positivity. Their reviews may look rosy, but they also come across as untrustworthy. Customers will respect and trust you much more if you confront their concerns head-on.
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