The Art of Gathering Great Testimonials

In our work with organizations, we often do a messaging audit up front to get a sense for how our clients are communicating online. One area of review is: what kind of testimonials is this organization gathering and sharing?

A testimonial is a positive experience that’s conveyed through the voice of your customer (or client).

Your customer’s voice is important to both understand and showcase. Why? Because there’s only so much your organization can convey about what you offer before coming across as self-aggrandizing. And hearing the language and experience directly from real customers gives potential ones a more believable sense for what they might actually get by engaging with your product or service.

During our review, the main question we ask ourselves is, “What useful information is the testimonial giving and what’s being left out?”

We had the pleasure of working with the Haven, a transformational learning center in British Columbia, Canada. When we reviewed their testimonials we found that they mainly focused on one phase of the overall customer journey—the middle (shown as “during” below).

The customer journey is:

  1. BEFORE: I am having a challenge or an aspiration in my life called ____;
  2. DURING: I experience ____ as I engage with your product/service to address my needs;
  3. AFTER: The positive effect on my life is ____.

In other words, most of their testimonials only captured information from the during phase when their workshop participants were interacting directly with their organization.

Now, it’s natural to just think of requesting testimonials this way: “Tell me what you liked about my product/service!”

Of course, we love to hear all the nice things our customers think about us or how they feel in the presence of our greatness, but in doing so we often miss out on something that’s much more relatable to potential customers—the before and after phases.

When your organization is intended to change people’s lives, then your testimonials need to showcase that change. Otherwise, your offers can come off as fluff and not very useful.

Before our work with the Haven, they were videotaping people who had just gone through their programs. Now, I experienced their core program myself, and I can say that what is being conveyed in this video below is real—it’s a love fest and that’s really how people felt.

But, as you’ll see, because they were asking people to give a testimonial immediately after the program, there was nothing the participants could say about how their lives were affected—they hadn’t even gone home yet!

So we don’t know the answer to a question like, “Does it really work?”

Have a look and listen to the way these testimonials in the video (43 seconds long) focus only on the during phase of the customer journey…

Love fest, right?

If this were your friend or your mom, maybe you’d be intrigued. And that’s how the Haven was getting a lot of referrals, so they thought, “Why not make those sentiments public?” Unfortunately, when you hear only those sentiments from strangers, they’re much less effective.

And, a lot is being left out. We don’t know who these people are or what change occurred for them.

By comparison, look at the way the Haven is now creating testimonials—after the program has ended for a participant and they’ve gone back to regular life. We hear in depth from one person named Leslie and we learn who she was before and who she’s become after—very appropriate for a transformational learning center. You’ll also hear very little about the during phase, in this case, the program she attended.

Notice the difference between this video (3 minutes) and the one above as you watch and listen…

If you were considering attending a Haven program, you’d be thinking something like, “Why should I attend?” This second testimonial answers that question in a much more relatable and useful way—through the lens of someone’s experience, rather than an explanation.

Incidentally, the Haven is calling these new videos Stories of Transformation—in other words, if we are to understand the customer journey, we need to understand it like a story, with a before, middle, and after. That’s how we can understand the arc of change the person experienced.

A great testimonial honors this story arc, with a little bit of each phase.

Now there are many ways to convey the elements of your brand. What we’ve just highlighted as often missing here would fall into the category of WHO (the audience before they work with you) and WHAT (what your customers walk away with afterward). For more about these and the other two main brand elements we use in our methodology, see our free ebook, The 4 Key Elements to a Soulful Brand.

Perhaps at this point you’re wondering, how do you get customers (or clients) to speak like this for better testimonials?

Well, I’ll tell you what we do.

Now we could just ask our clients for a testimonial and hope for the best. Instead, we get into a conversation (by email, phone, or in-person) with them and ask them some version of these three questions:

  1. What were you experiencing before you became our client that warranted seeking out our service?
  2. After engaging with our service, what were you able to do that was not as possible before?
  3. During: What was it like for you to engage with our service? What did you experience with us?

We often do this by phone, so we take notes to capture what they said. We then ask any follow-ups to be sure we’re hearing something personal for them that not everyone could say. And then, when we feel we’ve got some good ingredients for a customer journey kind of testimonial, we offer to craft one for them using their language (as we just heard it) and get their edits or approval.

We typically draft these testimonials in a concise way, following the order of how they experienced it:

  1. BEFORE: 1–2 sentences
  2. DURING: 1 sentence
  3. AFTER: 1–2 sentences

Here’s an example of a testimonial for our work that came out of this process. You may notice the before is about expression and the after is about speaking—which are related to each other. When you craft testimonials, keep in mind the importance of having an after that builds upon what was going on in the before phase:

“Knowing that our creative work is an expression of our own life’s journey, I wanted to launch my new venture with authenticity and relevance. With Soulful Brand’s guidance, I was able to unpack my message with deep clarity, experiencing the aliveness that comes from being aligned to one’s purpose. I can now speak about an approach to education that both acknowledges the dignity of childhood and makes sense in the marketplace.” ~ Debra Lambrecht / Founder, Caulbridge Education

For more testimonials from our clients that followed this process, you can see them here.

By doing this method, we always get testimonials that are both authentic and relatable. But beyond that, we also noticed benefits like:

  • We’re validating the value of our work
  • We discover potential changes to improve our work
  • We get to stay connected to how our clients are doing
  • We give our clients a chance to reconnect to the value they received
  • We are more able to craft accurate depictions of our work with potential clients

So consider what kind of testimonials you’re currently getting, and ask yourself if you could get something even better from your customers/clients that’s authentically true and highlights the transformation that your product/service makes possible.

* This article was originally published by Soulful Brand.

About Matthew Sloane

Matthew Sloane is a student and teacher of authentic communication in the marketplace. He is a co-founder, brand consultant, and leadership coach for Soulful Brand, preparing entrepreneurs and business leaders to stand out with a unique message in their market, while staying true to themselves. View all posts by Matthew Sloane Web site →
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