Testify, Part II: How to Get Credible Customer Testimonials

Raise your street cred with killer customer testimonials. Here’s how to improve the number, quality and effectiveness of your business testimonials.


If you struggle to get testimonials or the ones you’re getting are wimpy, this is for you.

In my last post, I revealed the “how” and “where” behind using testimonials on your website to boost conversions and give your business some serious street cred. But what if the problem you’re facing is even getting testimonials in the first place?

I’m going to lay out a system you can use to drastically improve the number, quality and effectiveness of the testimonials you get for your business so that you can put them to work.


First, a recap: What makes a great testimonial?

Let’s quickly review the elements of a compelling testimonial:

  • Specific: The testimonial talks about specific problems, solutions, features, benefits and outcomes.
  • Authentic: Testimonials should be in natural language and the customer’s voice, not yours.
  • “BDA” Format: Rather than just a simple platitude or a bunch of flowery praise, an effective testimonial should explain what the customer experienced before, during and after they bought your product. This story gives context to the testimonial and makes it more relatable.
  • Social Proof: The reader should be able to validate that the person who left the review is a real person. Photos, names, locations, business names, social handles and website links are all elements that can help establish the credibility of the testimonial.

In other words, you need more than: John A. from Wisconsin says: “Great Product! I Love it! You guys are the best!” That is promotionally useless to you.

Problem: Clients are usually bad at leaving testimonials.

When you ask someone for a testimonial, they get nervous. What should they say? How should they say it? They start recalling testimonials they’ve seen on infomercials, heap you with praise and tend to say very little of substance. The result can feel more than a little bit odd and unnatural.

That’s not what you need. You want something that highlights benefits and experiences!

Solution: Ask for feedback, not a testimonial.


Feedback can be structured. People are used to responding to surveys. The pressure is off, and they can be honest about their experiences and communicate like human beings instead of late-night commercials. Clients aren’t nervous about sharing feedback—it’s a normal business activity—but testimonials? Too much spotlight, thank you very much.

If you want to get the kind of testimonials that meet the criteria we outlined above, you need a deliberate, methodical process for asking, collecting and publishing them.

The Foolproof Testimonial System:

start by structuring the feedback

Instead of asking an open-ended like “Will you give us some feedback?”, provide leading questions that will help you get the sound bites you need. You can easily create a short survey to pass on to clients post-sale or at the opportune moment.There are a few powerful question to help you get those specifics and that “before, during and after” story you need. You can change them as appropriate for your business model and the timing of your ask:

1. What were your biggest hesitations before buying?

What we’re looking for here are preconceived notions or obstacles that the customer was wrestling with. We want to fill in the “before.” What were they looking for? It can also be helpful to ask questions like “What problems were you looking to solve when you bought X?” as this can reveal real-world challenges that other customers will relate to.

2. Was there a benefit or feature that ultimately made you choose to buy?

You want to uncover that golden nugget—the feature, benefit or sales proposition that made them choose you over the competition. This is where you can get sound bites about being more robust than the competition, having better service, or the elements of your offering that tipped the scales in your favor.

3. What has your favorite feature of the product/service been so far?

Specifics! This question reveals what the client loves about your product. You can also ask probing questions as to why they loved that feature if you want to go a bit deeper with the narrative (just be careful not to overwhelm respondents).

4. What have the results of your purchase been? (Or: What have you been able to achieve?)

This one is critical for painting that “after” picture but you need to be careful with the wording. People may feel that “results” need to be monumental achievements, but even improved satisfaction over a competing product or a simple solution to their core problem is enough to mention.

5. Would you recommend this product/service to others? If so, who?

This is where you secure their endorsement and may also be able to nab a statement that addresses a specific market—critical in helping customers self-identify and understand that what you offer is for them.

6. Do you have anything to add?

As much as we want to structure the feedback, it’s always wise to leave fields open to allow for the unexpected. Someone may have an awesome tidbit or story to share, so give them the chance to color outside the lines.

7. Can I have permission to use your feedback in our marketing materials?

I’ll admit, this sounds a bit imposing—so you might opt to just ask them politely in an email whether you can use their responses as a testimonial.

Once you have their responses and permission, craft a testimonial.

With the client’s permission, take their quotes and put them together to get your testimonial.

Important: Do NOT “spin” the response.

As much as you can, leave things in their natural language; slang, turns of phrase and all. You are simply combining all of their feedback into a flowing commentary that makes sense from start to finish and reads like a cohesive statement instead of the answers to separate questions.

When you’re finished, show the customer for final approval of use. Be sure to also ask for a photo, social media handle and website link.

Ask at the appropriate time

Half the battle with testimonials is asking in the right moment. Ideally, you want to hit customers when they’re most overjoyed about what you’ve offered them, which is usually when the experience is fresh. That said, some products like SaaS solutions don’t prove their worth until a few months down the line after implementation, and if you want those compelling outcomes and statistics, you are best to wait a bit.

  • If you offer a service like copywriting or graphic design where the product is finalized upon delivery, send your request for feedback along with your invoice.
  • If your service takes time to fully evaluate, consider following up a few weeks to a month later—not so long that they’ve forgotten, but not so soon that feedback is superficial.

There are Also ways to listen in and identify the perfect moment to ask.

  • Create a Google Alert for your brand name to find out when people are publishing reviews on their own and then follow up and ask to use their feedback (or expand on it).
  • Listen in on Twitter with tools like Topsy, looking for positive brand mentions. These people are confessing their love for you publicly, so they’re ripe for the picking. It also pays to be vigilant on Facebook, Google+ and other social platforms your business uses.


  • You can create the opportunity by starting a user-generated content initiative that is incentivized.
  • Watch for those who leave positive comments on your blog; these are your believers and fans. Contact them and ask for more feedback.
  • Look for Yelp’s filtered reviews. This is unpublished content that you can follow up on to get more feedback that you can publish on your own site (hat tip to David Mihm).

ask in the appropriate place

  • Onsite: A simple “Tell us how we’re doing!” is a passive invitation some will choose to follow up on.
  • In-Product: If you offer software or any product a client logs into, it’s easy to send a message or two asking for a review at just the right moment. You can also embed requests in resources like eBooks or whitepapers that you know your customers are using.
  • In emails: A friendly follow-up email can be just the ticket. Be polite and concise, stress the importance to your business, make customers feel like they’re doing you a big favor and above all, explain how fast and easy it will be to give feedback (Just a few questions!).
  • On social platforms: LinkedIn’s recommendation engine is easy to use but a bit impersonal. Still, you can collect impromptu, unstructured reviews here and either follow up for more details or craft them yourself and ask for permission to use them.


  • Over the phone/in person: It’s a little old school but one of the most genuine ways to get testimonials is to ask for feedback in person and record the call/take notes that you can turn into a written piece later.
  • Incentivize: Okay, so this isn’t really a “where,” but it’s important to note that you can offer an incentive tie-in for providing feedback to you. Just be careful not to pay anybody off, as legally this needs to be disclosed.

It pays to have a system

By now, I hope you’ve sworn off the habit of waiting for testimonials to come in naturally or simply asking for them and hoping for the best. With a little structure and a lot of perseverance, you can get some awesome testimonials to bolster your copy and improve your conversions.

Are your customer testimonials helping to propel your business? Testify with your comments below.

responses to “Testify, Part II: How to Get Credible Customer Testimonials”

  1. […] pieces of the puzzle, but they continue to be a top local SEO ranking factor each year. If you can get customer reviews that abide by the review guidelines, it will do wonders for your brand, business, and local […]

  2. I know I’m like 2 years late! Great article on getting testimonials. I have a number of clients that have run into this exact problem. One solution I gave them was to get their customers ready for the testimonial up front. Let them know that this is important to their business.