Marketing Professional Services
How To Get More Customer Reviews And Testimonials – The Ultimate Guide
If you've worked in a service business for any length of time you'll know the power that customer testimonials can have in shaping buyer decisions. Especially when the service is expensive, intangible and new to the buyer.
As eConsultancy showed recently, 61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision and that results in an average sales uplift of 18% if you use reviews on your site.
And as I showed in my recent article on how to get star ratings to appear in the Google search results, having those reviews visible in the search listings can give you a significant boost in clicks to your site too.
So if that's the case, how come most of us don't use customer reviews and testimonials all that often on our sites?
The truth is that despite knowing how valuable reviews and testimonials can be, most of us don't have anywhere near as many really strong ones as we'd like.
In this article, I'm going to show you how to get more customer reviews and testimonials by following a few simple steps. So let's get going…
Step 1: “Recover and Reuse” your Existing Testimonials
The first step to getting the most from your testimonials and reviews is to make better use of the ones you've already got.
How many great recommendations have you got buried in the depths of Linkedin where no-one but your most dedicated follower will see them? Or on your Google MyBusiness page where they only get seen by people searching for you? Or worse, languishing in an email file somewhere never having seen the light of day?
For a testimonial or review to have impact, it needs to be part of the decision-making process of your potential clients. In other words, they need to see it at around the time they're thinking of hiring you.
Where are they likely to be looking at this time? Probably not on Linkedin or your MyBusiness page on Google. And they certainly don't have x-ray vision into your email inbox. Your testimonials need to be highly visible on your website. Either (or preferably both) on a dedicated testimonials page or visible on the page describing the service they're thinking of buying.
So your first step is to dig up your best testimonials from Linkedin, MyBusiness, your email inbox, letters your clients sent you (remember them?) and any other source and get them onto your site where they'll be seen as part of the decision-making process.
Where someone has officially sent you a testimonial (such as on Linkedin or where they've emailed you and said ou can use it) you can just get it straight up on your site (some people even use screenshots of their Linkedin recommendations to show their authenticity).
If someone has said something nice about you and your work on an email that you'd like to use, but they haven't agreed to it being used as a testimonial yet, you need to take an extra step – more on that later.
Step 2: Set Expectations
One simple way to make sure you get more testimonials when you ask is to make sure your clients are expecting you to ask.
That way they won't feel surprised and “put on the spot”. And they'll have done some thinking about it subconsciously so it will be easier for them.
You can set expectations in three ways:
- By having testimonials and reviews highly visible on your website, it'll be apparent that you regularly ask for them and they're part of your way of doing business.
- You can discuss testimonials at the “contracting” stage of your work together. This needn't be a formal contract, but more the part of your process where you agree what you'll be doing for them.
As you take them through the steps of your work together it's an obvious time to say something like “…and after the project is over and you're getting great results, if it's OK with you I'd like to ask you for a testimonial I can use on my website” and wait for them to agree.
Since you've said “you're getting great results” and “if it's OK with you” you're very unlikely to get disagreement here. And this small commitment now makes it more likely that they'll say yes when you remind them later.
- Shortly before asking, give them advanced warning so they can think about what to say in the testimonial. This is particularly important if you're going to ask face-to-face: you don't want them to get flustered and give you a weak testimonial.
You can use something casual like “Hey John, remember when we were planning the project and I said that when you were getting great results I'd like to ask you for a testimonial? Would it be Ok if we sat down and did that when I'm in next week? I'll drop you an email later with some ideas on the sorts of things to include.” This can help them prepare and give you a great testimonial covering all the right bases (especially if you follow the guidelines on questions to ask in Step 4).
If you do pro-bono work or free “showcases” as speaker, you can make getting a testimonial part of your “payment” for doing so. Not only does this get you a testimonial, it sets the expectation that your time is valuable and requires payment of some kind, even if not financially this time.
Consultant (and ex-lawyer) Sarah Fox makes sure she has a contract for every piece of work (even an unpaid showcase) and includes the provision of testimonials in the terms. You're clearly not going to go to court if they don't give you the testimonials you asked for, but the inclusion of testimonials in the contract is an easy prompt to get the discussion going and a reminder after the event.
Step 3: Get the Timing Right
Rather like asking for referrals, timing is crucial when it comes to testimonials.
Ask for a testimonial when the client has just experienced great results from your work together and they'll be delighted to give one. Ask when things are still in progress or just after the sale and it'll feel like you're more interested in advancing your own business than helping them.
If you do 1-1 work with clients or you otherwise have visibility into how they're progressing, you can time your request to perfection.
You don't have to wait until the end of your work with them and the final results are being seen. As long as tangible progress is being made and you can feel that your client is delighted with how things are going, then it's a good time to ask (well, maybe after waiting a day so it doesn't seem quite so ambulance-chasey).
If you don't have direct visibility into your client's progress (for example if you do talks or training courses when the results come later after you've gone then you can get immediate feedback on their experience with you (ie whether your talk was inspirational, your training insightful etc.) and then take an intelligent guess as to when they're most likely to see some progress or results and check back then.
If you deliver online training where you don't see exactly how your clients are using your work then again, you need to take an intelligent guess as to when they're most likely to start seeing results. if you use a modern Learning Management System you can track consumption of your materials and trigger alerts when your customers have finished significant sections of your material.
But even without that, you should be able to estimate when they're likely to see progress based on your experience with others implementing your material.
The trick then is not to ask for a testimonial directly, since it might not be the right time. But instead to ask how they're progressing, or what their experience has been like so far.
If you get a positive message back, you can start probing further and eventually ask for a testimonial or review. If they're struggling you can reach out to help and get them back on track.
Step 4: “Ease In” to Asking for a Testimonial
If you know for sure that your client is getting great results and they're ready to give a testimonial or 5-star review then you can skip this step.
But in many situations, you won't be sure exactly what's going on in your client's world. You can guess that since it's a few weeks since they were on your sales training course they should be seeing some results. Or since your online training on building a website takes 2 weeks to complete that by the end of those 2 weeks they should have made good progress.
But you don't know for sure.
So it's best to “ease in” to asking for a testimonial or review so that you're not messing up the timing.
And perhaps more importantly, by easing in to asking, you take the pressure off the person you're asking to come up with a word-perfect testimonial.
As Customer Success expert Lincoln Murphy points out, one of the main reasons people don't give testimonials is anxiety and overwhelm.
“Umm… how do you write a testimonial? Do it in third-person or first-person? Or second-person?
Am I allowed to write a testimonial? Do I need approval from legal?
What should I say? Should I be a raving fan or throw in some real talk so it doesn’t seem fake?”
Too many things to think about, so they do nothing.
If you're not sure someone is ready to give you a brilliant testimonial straight away, the best way to ease into it is to ask some more general questions first and then narrow down to gently get the feedback from them you need. Then summarise it and ask them if you can use it as a testimonial.
No pressure. They don't even realise they're being asked until you summarise what they've said and ask if you can use it.
“Hey John, it's been a few weeks since the sales training course…how are your team getting on implementing what they learned?”
“Really well, in fact we've seen some big changes already”.
“That's great to hear…can you share some specifics of what's been different for them? What results have they got so far?”
“Well, Derek's already beaten his Q3 quota after just a couple of weeks and he's never come close to that before. And Jim's just landed a brand new client he's been trying to get for years”.
“Brilliant – I'm really pleased for them :) You know, before the training started some of the team expressed concerns about whether the tech side would be practical for them. How did that turn out?”
“Well, we had a couple of early hiccups, but everyone helped each other out and with the tips you gave in the last session we were fine. In fact I haven't heard of any issues at all since the first week.”
“John, that's so great to hear. Something I'm doing right now is compiling some testimonials for the course from people who've had success with it. Do you mind if I use some of the things you've just said? I was thinking of something like ‘In just a few weeks since taking Alec's sales training masterclass we've seen improvements already. One of our team has beaten his Q3 quota already and another has landed a big client he was struggling to even speak to before. Even the skeptics in the team who thought this would be difficult to implement have got it in place already and are seeing results'.
Would it be OK to use that, or would you suggest some changes?”
So what's happened is that you've had a gentle conversation with your client to ask about how things have progressed, you've drilled into his answers to get to some specifics, then you've paraphrased his answers to turn it into a testimonial you can use.
In other words you've made things super simple for him and you've got a great testimonial phrased in the way you want to have impact.
Of course, the example I've given is an abbreviated version. And things might not go so swimmingly. Maybe they haven't seen the results they were hoping for. In which case it’s an opportunity for you to help further and sort things out for them – leading to an even better testimonial downstream.
There's also the possibility they might not like your wording. In which case you can simply ask them what they'd prefer to say instead – and you've still made progress.
So any way it works out, you're doing well. You either have a great testimonial, or the chance to further help a client get results.
Now, of course, you'll need to change the wording to fit your situation. Lincoln Murphy's original examples are from the world of Software as a Service – so he asks about what the customer's experience with the product has been rather than asking about results. The point is to use wording that allows your clients to say things that could easily be turned into a testimonial.
Step 5: Ask the Right Questions
You'll notice that in the above example Alec the sales trainer eased out the specific results the client had got, rather than just general statements about how they liked working with him.
Testimonials that include specific results of the type your potential clients are looking for are perhaps the most powerful of all. So when you get the chance to ask a client directly for a testimonial, or if they volunteer to do one, ask them what specific results or benefits they saw from working with you.
Another powerful use of testimonials often highlighted by copywriter Colin Theriot is overcoming objections.
Once your potential clients have bought into the benefits they'll get from working with you, they'll usually have a series of concerns or questions holding them back. Can you get results working with people like them? What if they don't have much time to do this? What if they're no good with technology?
You could try answering those concerns directly, but a far better and more believable way of doing it is to let customer testimonials do the job.
And the way to get testimonials that overcome objections is to ask them about the concerns they had before buying and how they turned out. Colin likes to ask a version of “what made you hesitate to hire me, and how did your opinion change once you started working with me”.
Finally, I like to try to embed a call to action in a testimonial. Something to spur the reader to take action. So I like to ask testimonial givers what advice they would give to someone thinking of hiring me. Often the answer will be some form of “If you're thinking of hiring Ian, just do it – you won't regret it” which works well!
So if you do have the chance to ask someone questions to cover in their testimonial, I usually advise asking some form of the following:
1) What were the main benefits you got from working with me? What results did you see?
2) Was there anything that initially made you hesitate or you were concerned about before working with me? How did working with me change your mind after you bought?
3) What would you say to anyone considering hiring me? What would your advice to them be?
You can also adjust your questions to draw out any interesting stories or examples you know the client has. Or if you have a gap in the benefits or objections other testimonials cover, word your request to get an answer specifically about that so you can “plug the gap”.
The point is to ask questions that get you the kind of testimonials you want, rather than the wishy-washy “Ian's a great guy” testimonials you usually get if you don't give people guidelines.
Step 6: Use Tools and Technology to Automate and Enhance the Process
So now you know the best time and the best ways to get more reviews and testimonials. It should be plain sailing, right?
Sadly, real life tends to get in the way. We get busy so we forget we were supposed to call that client to ask for a testimonial. We're worn out from running a workshop so we haven't got the energy to discuss next steps and how to get testimonials.
Tools and technology can help us stay on track.
By tools I mean simple things like checklists. Every time you start working with a new client, make sure you have a checklist of the steps you need to do to make the onboarding process a brilliant experience for both you and the client. And make sure that agreeing that you'll ask for testimonials at the end of the project is on that list of steps.
If you're a speaker or trainer and you hand out feedback sheets at your events, make sure you have a process in place that you always follow for processing those sheets the next day. And make sure your process includes contacting people who gave you great feedback you could ask to turn into a testimonial.
Simple checklists and processes have an exponential impact on your ability to make this stuff happen.
Technology can help you too.
The first step is to make sure that your testimonials don't get lost in your email inbox. One simple way of doing this is to ask for them to be made on Linkedin. That way they show on your profile (though these days buried deep down), you can always find them, and you can then copy them to your website.
But make sure you make it easy for people. Don't just say “leave me a testimonial on Linkedin”. That gives them the job of finding where the link to leave a testimonial is (it's not by your existing testimonials, it's up at the top of your profile behind the “…” link). If, like most people, they struggle to find the link, they'll give up.
So give them the testimonial link directly. You can construct it by taking your Linkedin profile link and adding the text “recommendation/write” on the end as per the picture below:
If your customers click that link it will take them directly to the page on Linkedin where they can leave you a recommendation.
One little “trick” for Linkedin recommendations by the way. If you recommend someone else, it will prompt them to recommend you back. So if there's someone who you would genuinely recommend and you think they would recommend you; the easiest way to start the process is to simply go on to Linkedin and recommend them. that will then show them your recommendation and prompt them to recommend you back.
Overall, while there are some advantages to collecting testimonials on Linkedin, they're not huge. The truth is that Linkedin have buried the testimonials so far down your profile (and after needing to click “more” for every 5 testimonials) that most people won't see them there.
My preference these days is to collect testimonials on your own site. This not only keeps them under your direct control, but if you collect star ratings too, it's in line with Google's new policies for displaying star ratings in the search listings (they want the ratings to come from reviews visible on your site, not external ones).
There are a number of good tools for doing this.For testimonials only (with no star ratings), Thrive Ovation is a good tool. It integrates with the other Thrive tools like their Page builder and allows you to create nice looking forms for collecting testimonials and it allows you to get answers for specific questions (like the ones we covered in Step 5). Once you've collected the testimonial it has a process for reviewing, editing and getting the testimonial-giver to approve the use of the testimonial. You can then easily insert it into a web page through a shortcode or as an element on Thrive's page builder. get your star ratings to show up in the Google search listings and so increase clicks to your site.
The best tool on the market for collecting customer testimonials with star ratings is ReviewTrust.
ReviewTrust is a full system for getting and displaying more reviews. In addition to the basics of letting you create forms to capture reviews (text, video or audio), it gives you 10 options for displaying those reviews on your site.
More importantly, it can manage the whole process if you're using an e-commerce system/shopping cart. You can set it up to automatically send a series of emails asking for reviews a certain number of days after someone has bought a product on your cart. That way there's no need to remember to ask manually, it’s all automated.
You can read my full ReviewTrust Review here.
It doesn't automatically turn the star ratings it collects into the structured data Google needs to display stars on your Google listings. For that you'll need to use the free WP SEO Structured Data Schema plugin.
You can find out more about ReviewTrust here.A basic option you can use for collecting customer testimonials is the free WP Customer Reviews plugin. It gives you a page where you can collect and display testimonials with star ratings. And it has the advantage of creating (almost) the correct structured data for Google to use for star ratings (it's missing an image item but Google seems not to mind right now). However, it has no automation and the format of the display is pretty uninspiring :)
There are, of course, many other options such as Trustpilot, but at a whopping $299 per month for the basic plan, I prefer to stick to the options I've already listed.
In my own business, I'm currently implementing ReviewTrust with manual links to the review page for my 1-1 services and ideally a degree of automation for my online products.
My advice to you, however, is to start simple. Start with checklists to make sure you're not missing any opportunities for testimonials. Start with the simple processes and questions I've outlined in the article that will get you more testimonials and better ones.
When you've got that figured out, move on to the automation side.
Remember, even though this might all seem like a lot of work, testimonials and reviews are among the most important drivers of sales for any business so make sure you're getting the most from them.
PS the links to Thrive Ovation and ReviewTrust are affiliate links so I'll get a small commission if you buy either of the products. Both are systems I use myself and recommend.