Do Your Client Testimonials Sound Fake?

“Your product is great. I’m telling all my friends to buy it.”—J.S.

Are you convinced? Now that you’ve read J.S.’s testimonial on XYZ.com, are you going to run out and buy that great product?

I didn’t think so.

Client testimonials are a popular way to promote your product or service and can lend credibility and authority to you and business. But all too often, websites are cluttered with a mishmash of testimonials that sound as contrived as blog spam.

Even when true, a testimonial that is too general, simplistic and unsigned will not only be perceived as fake, but can also undermine your authority. If you raise your visitor’s suspicion that you’re just making them up, testimonials can undercut trust that is key to the effectiveness of your site.

To Sound Authentic, Testimonials Need to Be Authentic
Authentic testimonials share the qualities of believable quotes in a newspaper article or magazine feature: They reflect a unique voice, are specific to the subject, pack an emotional punch and accurately capture the words and feelings of a real person.

The best testimonials are ones you collect from third-party reviews, such as social media sites where clients can rate your services. For example, if you have a Google Places page, your customers can write reviews. You can also collect comments from your Facebook fan page. If you’re doing a great job of customer service, chances are you’ll have some excellent testimonials.

You may also use customer evaluation forms or ask directly for written feedback. If you do so, be sure to ask permission to publish comments. As you sift through the feedback, resist the temptation to edit people’s words and clean up their language too much, so that it sounds too perfect and less true. Transparency is key to building trust online.

Use Source Names and Titles Whenever Possible
When you can credit a quote to a real person with a title and business or home town location, the testimonial is simply more believable. It’s the same as when you read a newspaper article; if the person is named, you’ll trust the quote more than when it’s attributed to “a reliable source.”

For some professions, however, confidentiality requirements rule out naming names. For attorneys, medical professionals and mental health providers, the best alternative is to include initials and the person’s general location, if you have permission. Another option is to create case studies about client experiences that don’t name names but are specific enough to illustrate the kinds of problems you’ve helped clients to solve.

Select the Most Original, Specific Quotes That Show How You Solved Your Client’s Problem
With testimonials, less is more. Don’t bombard your site visitor with too many testimonials that repeat the same points or don’t add value. Be selective. The more specific the comment, the more personal and unique the testimonial, the better. Unless there’s a very good reason, limit the quotes to a few key sentences. Rambling testimonials will just make your reader’s eyes glaze over.

Above all, select quotes that demonstrate how you helped your client solve a real problem. The more specific she can be about the problem and how she benefited from your product or service, the better. And if you have a great quote from a skeptic, all the better still—nothing persuades more effectively than a former doubter who’s become a true believer in the quality of what you offer.

Anticipate and Address Roadblocks to Purchasing Your Product or Service
As you choose which testimonials to include, think about the obstacles that potential clients might have with making a purchase. Is your product or service perceived as pricey? Then be sure you include testimonials from clients who feel it’s well worth the investment. Does it involve a number of steps to use correctly? Include quotes about how your directions are clear and easy to follow. As always, promoting your business requires that you fully understand and address your ideal client’s needs and concerns.

Place Testimonials Near Decision Points
Analyze which points in the decision-making process might cause your potential clients the most concern and address them with strong testimonials. For example, if you offer a money-back guarantee, you can reinforce your promise with testimonials on your sales page from satisfied customers who had their issues addressed by your customer support team. For more on testimonial placement, see MarketingExperiments.com’s article on Using Testimonials Effectively.

Another way to include implicit proof of your product’s quality is to use customer satisfaction reviews on your site. This is a well-established practice for sites such as Zappos.com, LLBean.com and Amazon.com.

Use Unscripted, Sincere Video Testimonials
While most of my comments here address written testimonials, their video cousins are a popular and powerful way to add authority to your site. Video provides a much more personal way for your potential customers to connect with others who have bought your product or service. So here are a few guidelines:

  • Never script a testimonial video. Viewers will see right through it.
  • Use good enough productions values so that the video appears authoritative, but don’t make it so polished that it comes across as slick (which equals fake).
  • Choose satisfied clients with whom your ideal client can identify.
  • Ask them to tell a story about how you helped them to solve a significant problem.
  • Keep it short; a minute or less if you have several videos.

Whatever form of testimonial you choose, the most important thing to remember is this: Keep it honest, concise and specific to how you helped your customer improve some aspect of her life in a meaningful way. All the rest is commentary.

Evelyn Herwitz is a marketing consultant who loves to help service professionals tell great stories about their good work, to establish them as approachable experts and to grow their businesses. She offers a free half-hour consult to new clients.

 

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