Testimonials have a bit of a dubious history. It’s only in comparatively recent times, when advertising in most industrialized countries has been regulated, that readers know testimonials have to be genuine – or else. There may still be the odd person or two who sneers at testimonials and endorsements, but in the main people now accept them for real, and believe in their honesty. This makes them powerful.
However getting a good testimonial isn’t easy, and for a variety of reasons must not be “written” by someone other than the person giving it. Without putting words in someone’s mouth, then, how do you go about getting good testimonials for your business, website, CV/résumé, etc?
Use a positive, journalistic interview technique
If you simply ask someone to give you a testimonial without giving them any guidelines, you’re leaving it up to luck as to the quality and nature of their response. It’s far more effective to interview the person, whether face-to-face or my email, because by using specifically designed questions you can draw out the points you need to feature.
Who does the interview?
If you’re working on a face-to-face basis, you are the wrong person to conduct the interview. That’s because your client or customer may feel a little intimidated if you are the person s/he has actually acquired the product or service from. You need to use a neutral third party who will not intimidate the interviewee in the same way, and can probably get away with asking more pointed questions than you can.
With email, though, because it’s a step removed from direct personal contact, you can write your questions yourself. I find the way that gets the best responses in email interviews is to list the questions with spaces between them and ask the interviewee to hit “reply” and then write their answers under each question.
The basic needs
What you need to focus on whichever approach you use, is how you/your company:
- Solved their problems
- Saved them money
- Made their business more efficient
- Improved employee morale
- Enabled greater productivity
- Improved service to their customers
- Increased their sales
- Helped them get ahead of their competitors
- Got them the winning tender
- Made their patients better
- Improved their sex appeal
- and so-on.
The basic questions to ask
We can begin by taking a leaf out of a journalist’s book, and never ask a question that can be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” The easiest way to do that is to start all questions with, once again, the journalist’s old favourites of “who, what, why, how, when and where.”
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Questions that lead to good testimonial responses:
- What is it that you think makes XXX different from their competitors?
- Earlier on, you mentioned that XXX is better than their competitors. Why would you say that is?
- Just how much better than the competition do you feel XXX really is?
- Why do you feel that XXX is more efficient than other, similar (whatever)?
- How would you rate your experience of working with/using XXX?
- Compared with their competitors, how would you rate your experience of working with/using XXX?
- On a 1 to 10 scale, how would you rate your experience of working with/using XXX, and why?
- What difference has using XXX made to your business’s/department’s performance?
- What is it about XXX’s performance/service that makes the different?
- What was it that made you choose XXX in the first place?
- What was it that made you choose XXX instead of their competitors?
- What was it that made you change from your previous (whatever) to XXX?
- What additional benefits have you found through using XXX?
- Of all the benefits of XXX we’ve talked about, which is the most important to you, and why?
- What are the three main benefits of working with XXX?
- In summary, then, what would you say is the key benefit of working with XXX?
- In summary, then, what difference has working with/using XXX made to your bottom line?
- How important is it to you that you should work with/use XXX in the future?
- What sort of future do you think XXX can look forward to?
- If I were someone considering using XXX, what advice would you give me?
How many questions?
Fewer rather than more, if possible, although it’s sometimes worth putting an important question in again during the interview or in the email, obviously phrased differently, so you get two opportunities to get a good answer. In an email interview I seldom use more than 6 or 7 questions … people have a low boredom threshold with email and in any case are usually pushed for time.
What happens next
Once your interview is done, it’s time to edit the quotes you want to use. If you have done a face-to-face interview and audio recorded it, get it transcribed; it’s much easier to edit on paper/screen than whizzing back and forth on a sound track. If your ultimate need is for audio quotes, you’ll find them very easily on the sound track from the edited written notes.
Always use real quotes without making up bits to compensate for shortcomings, and don’t polish them up. The occasional grammatical mistake or bit of harmless slang makes it much more realistic. Then always, always run the finished testimonial past whoever has said it, for their approval. Often people will tell you not to bother but I feel that it’s a courtesy you should not ignore.
The other point you need to clarify with the testimonial giver is how they want to be acknowledged. Some will want to retain their anonymity but if you are to be believed, you must ask them to agree to substantiate their quote privately if someone were to challenge it. Very few people will refuse to do that. Others will want some sort of credit; for example, their website’s URL. If so, that’s great!