What’s the first thing that goes through your mind when you read a customer testimonial that gushes with praise?
Unless you were born yesterday, that sugary-sweet testimonial is an immediate turn-off. At the very least, you’ll skim past it, looking for a less biased opinion. And your prospects will do the same if your website only features those kinds of testimonials.
My name is Sean D’Souza, author of The Brain Audit and founder of Psychotactics and 5000bc. I help small business owners find answers to complex marketing problems, and today I'm sharing my technique for gathering and displaying customer testimonials that overcome objections and win conversions.
A testimonial is a written or spoken statement that presents a customer’s first-hand account of a positive experience with a product, service, or company. Testimonials are evidence that a company is dependable and that its products or services are worth the price.
5 ways customer testimonials can help your business
Gathering quality testimonials can help your business in a number of ways when you ask the right questions (and I’ll cover those questions below).
Here are five ways that good testimonials can help grow your business:
They provide peace of mind: good testimonials are proof that others have tried your products and approve of them. Everyone is in in a similar position before they make a purchase in terms of their fear and skepticism, and if others can say “I’ve tried this and it works,” then your prospects will feel reassured that they’re making the right choice.
They help you find your unique selling points (USPs): when you ask your satisfied customers what they like about your products/services, you’ll discover what makes you unique from their perspective. You probably have some assumptions about what makes your products special, but there’s a good chance your customers see things differently. After gathering enough testimonials, you’ll notice patterns in their responses, and you’ll know to focus on these USPs in your messaging.
They answer objections: every purchase involves some risk. Even buying a $2 app comes with the risk of feeling like a fool by making a bad purchase, and that risk grows as the price goes up. The risk compounds even further if someone else might question the purchase (such as a partner or boss). When done right, testimonials answer objections and provide risk reversal so your customers can relax, knowing they’re not about to make fools of themselves.
They convey an experience: a good testimonial really dives into the customer experience, so it doesn’t have to be just a short paragraph (despite what you might have heard). Good testimonials tell a story that walks a reader through the initial objections, fears, and emotional ups and downs of your existing customers, and show how they found a solution in your product.
They help you attract better customers: what kind of customers do you want to attract? At 5000bc, one of our USPs is our amazing community. People love the group, and one way we get dedicated, hardworking, supportive members is by posting testimonials from people who value those things. Whatever demographic you want to target can be reached through your testimonials. If you want women to buy your products, for example, you can post more testimonials from women. If you want to target chiropractors from Ireland, you can post testimonials from Irish chiropractors.
How to get customer testimonials
Has a customer ever agreed to write a testimonial but disappeared? It happens all the time, and it’s really not their fault. It’s up to you to make it easier for them to respond.
Luckily, you can improve your odds of getting testimonials with the following tips… and that’s good news, because any time you launch a new product, you’ll need all the testimonials you can get. Even a huge company like Apple needs new testimonials with every product launch.
Tip 1: gather feedback first
The problem: if a customer has issues with your product, it’ll be hard for them to think about your good qualities first, even if your products have really helped them.
The solution: ask for feedback before asking for a testimonial. This gives your customers a chance to get any complaints off their chest while giving you the opportunity to make things right. When you come back later and ask for a testimonial, you’re more likely to get a good one.
Tip 2: give structure by asking the right questions
The problem: without some sort of structure, most of your customers will have no idea what to write. Even if they’re crazy about your products, there’s a good chance they’ll draw a blank when they sit down to start writing.
The solution: email them my six questions (see below), which will help them reflect on their experience and dive into their story.
Tip 3: give people enough time to experience your product
The problem: companies are often eager to get testimonials, but if you ask customers for testimonials (or even feedback) before they’ve had a chance to get to know you, they won’t know what to say.
The solution: figure out how long it takes for customers to get to know your products or services, and wait to ask for feedback and/or testimonials. How long you wait will vary depending on the industry. If you’re selling a product online, like a set of headphones, you can probably ask them for feedback a week after delivery. If you’re a membership site, you’ll probably want to wait at least a month.
Tip 4: give customers plenty of advance notice
The problem: customers are busy, and you’re asking them to do you a favor. When you ask for immediate turnaround, you’re putting a lot of pressure on them, and a rushed testimonial is rarely a good one.
The solution: give them plenty of time to write a nice, meaty testimonial that will really inspire and be helpful.
Tip 5: automate the request + send it via email
The problem: sometimes companies ask for testimonials via social media, but it’s easy to lose track of those requests.
The solution: send your request by email. Everyone uses email.
Tip 6: don’t offer prizes in exchange for testimonials
The problem: some companies offer a chance to win prizes in exchange for a testimonial, but this is a bad idea for a couple of reasons. First, you won’t be able to improve your products based on that feedback because you’re not getting genuine replies. Also, if your reviews are going on someone else’s platform (like Airbnb or iTunes), you could end up violating their terms of service.
The solution: never do giveaways.
6 questions to ask to get powerful testimonials
A good testimonial is a compelling story, and stories don’t just fall together—they need to be constructed. Of course, ‘constructing’ doesn’t mean fabricating, and it doesn’t mean telling your customers what to say. It all comes down to you asking the right questions.
The six questions you need to ask to get a powerful testimonial are:
What was the obstacle that would have prevented you from buying this product/service?
What did you find as a result of buying this product/service?
What specific feature did you like most of this product/service?
What would three other benefits of this product/service be?
Would you recommend this product/service? If so, why?
Is there anything you’d like to add?
And here’s the explanation for each of the questions above...
1. What was the obstacle in your mind that would have prevented you from buying this product/service?
We ask this question because the customer always has a perception or an obstacle: no matter how ready the customer is to buy your product/service, there’s always a hitch. It could be money, or time, or availability, or relevance—or a whole bunch of issues. And when you ask this question, it brings them out.
It also does something more: it gives you an insight into issues you may not have considered because the client is now reaching into their memory to see what could have been the deal-breaker. There’s always an obstacle; always something you may not have considered. So when the customer brings it up, it presents an angle that’s unique, personal, or dramatic.
2. What did you find as a result of buying this product/service?
This question is important because it defuses that obstacle. When a client answers this question, they are clear about why the purchase was worth it, despite the obvious obstacles.
3. What specific feature did you like most of this product/service?
Now you’re digging deeper. If you ask the customer to focus on the entire product/service, the answer gets waffly. Therefore, it’s important to focus on one feature/benefit that the customer liked most about the product/service. This brings out that one feature in explicit richness and detail.
4. What would three other benefits of this product/service be?
Having already got one big feature, you can now go a little wide, and see what else the customer found useful. You can substitute the word ‘three’ with ‘two’ or simply remove the number. The number allows the customer to focus on ‘two’ or ‘three’ things, and then give you those ‘two’ or ‘three’ things that were useful.
5. Would you recommend this product/service? If so, why?
You may not think this is an important question, but psychologically, it very much is. When a customer recommends something, there’s more than your product/service at stake: the customer’s integrity is at stake too.
So, unless the customer feels strongly about the product/service, they won’t be so keen to recommend it. And when they do recommend it, they’re saying to prospective buyers: “Hey, I recommend it, and here are the reasons!"
6. Is there anything you’d like to add?
By this point, the customer has said all he/she has to say. But there’s never any harm in asking this question. The questions before this question kinda ‘warm up’ the customer, and sometimes this is the point where you just get the most amazing parting statements.
4 components for a great testimonial (with examples)
The usual advice you read online is to keep testimonials short, make them simple, be specific, use genuine language, add credibility, or a variation on the above. But in my experience, testimonials—the kind that convert—have these four key components:
1. Start with the ‘before’ and lead to the ‘after’
Every good story presents 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.
What does that look like? Here’s a testimonial example from Basecamp, the popular project management tool. It comes from their testimonial page, which we featured below on our list of exceptional pages.
Notice the ‘before’ and ‘after?’
Before Basecamp: communication was scattered and inefficient
After Basecamp: collaboration became seamless
If you take a look at the other testimonials on the page, most follow this basic format. They present a single, relatable problem and show how Basecamp managed to solve it.
You may also notice they don’t have many of the other components I mention below (e.g., a headline, a clearly-stated objection), but they do have the most important thing: a ‘before’ and an ‘after’, and that’s what makes this testimonial page work.
2. Answer the objection head-on
Don’t dance around a potential 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 objection.
What does that look like? eHarmony is a dating site that targets conservative couples looking for marriage, and their testimonial page is filled with love stories. Here’s the beginning of one of them.
Notice the objection? Of course you did: it’s right there in the headline! Rachel “nearly gave up” on online dating because she was “exhausted,” but she went ahead and paid for a four-month subscription. They don’t beat around the bush… online dating sometimes sucks! But if you give it ‘one last shot’ like Rachel did, you just may find your prince (or princess).
A good headline should stand out, both in terms of its content (it has to be compelling) and the style (make the font-size 18-point, not 12-point).
What does that look like? Over at 5000bc, we use the big-font-headline format for our testimonials, for example the one below that sits on our homepage:
Notice the headline? It’s bold (literally and figuratively). It grabs your attention, it puts the objection front and center, and it draws you into Henri’s story.
4. Make it read like a story
A testimonial can be short and quick (like the one below) or long and in-depth (like the 1,500-word write-ups we feature on 5000bc). Some people believe that testimonials have to be short and succinct, but in-depth analysis gives customers a chance to dive into the experience, so long testimonials can be effective even when prospects don’t read every line.
Regardless of the length, a testimonial should tell a story.
What does that look like? Purple is an e-commerce company that sells mattresses, and their selling point is that their product relieves pressure on different parts of the body to reduce pain. They back up that claim with a sea of testimonials, which you can sort by keyword like “pain.” Here’s an example of a simple one on their testimonial page.
Notice the story? The customer was skeptical at first (objection), and suffered from lower back pain (before) because she is on her feet all day. Purple took away her pain (after) and changed her life.
4 qualities of a great testimonial page
What makes for a great testimonial page? Here are some elements that can inspire an abundance of confidence in your prospective customers.
1. Display an abundance of testimonials
You know the old cliché that ‘less is more?’ Well, that’s NOT the case at all with testimonials. More is better, and a sea of testimonials can set your prospects’ minds at ease.
2. Provide the ‘before’ and the ‘after’
The ‘before’ and ‘after’ is the most important element of any testimonial because people buy products to solve specific problems, and they want to find out how somebody else’s life changed (for the better) after purchasing yours.
3. Make it pleasing to the eye
Make sure your testimonial page uses attractive and engaging design (in other words: don’t make it look like a sales page, or people will tune out).
4. Consider turning your testimonials into a downloadable PDF
People don’t read sales pages—they skim them. But they may read PDFs, so if you want people to dive into your testimonials, let them download it in a suitable format.
7 great testimonial page examples
Looking for examples of well-done testimonial pages? We’ve got you covered. The following X pages incorporate some of the elements listed above, and they all feature the ‘before’ and ‘after’ approach to demonstrate their problem-solving powers.
So, there you have it: a handy set of tips for gathering and displaying customer testimonials that don’t feel staged or lack credibility. I hope this helps—and please share your testimonial examples if you encounter any particularly interesting ones.
Join 10,000+ marketers and designers who receive our blog posts in their inbox