When you’re marketing and selling a product or service, there’s little that can beat referrals from customers—except maybe a testimonial that you can use repeatedly. When you go shopping, maybe you look for customer reviews or customer case studies yourself. All these examples have one thing in common: they help prospective customers feel more comfortable with you and your products and services because another customer already voiced their satisfaction.
Public relations practitioners often point out that the strength of PR is that you aren’t expounding your virtues all by yourself. Someone else can speak up. The positive messages are more credible because they’re issued by a (supposedly) objective third-party, like a member of the media. (Journalists are supposed to be objective, presenting facts so their readers can make up their own minds. Absent a distinct bias, credibility rises.)
But often journalists lack expertise and/or direct experience with a product or service. Who does have the expertise and experience? An existing customer. So, how do you capture all the goodness of that customer in a way that leads to more happy customers?
Here are six tips to get you started:
- Start the relationship off on the right foot by setting the stage. Treat the customer right. Offer excellent service. Happy customers sometimes spontaneously erupt in positive reviews, referrals and testimonials. But don’t count on it. A negative experience is much more likely to lead to a negative review. Some people just like to complain, sure, but don’t forget that consumers are conditioned to complain to get satisfaction—whether that’s a refund, a free product or the online adulation of the titillated masses.
- Let the customer know upfront that “much of my business is built on references and referrals” and you want them to have a good experience so they will refer you. Plant the idea early on.
- Listen for compliments and praise. This is your golden moment to ask for a testimonial or positive review. “I’m so glad you enjoyed working with me. Can we share what you just said with others?”
- Make it easy for them. Offer to write the testimonial or compliment down and send it to them for approval. Your acting as a scribe will speed up the process and not create more work for the client. LinkedIn’s “ask for a referral” feature is another way to make it easy.
- Think about all the ways or places you could use a testimonial. Website content. Social media content. Collateral. Brochures. Signs and placards. Quotes in press releases. Included in newsletters and email blasts.
Refining your referrals and customer comments
When asking for testimonials, keep it short. If you want something longer, consider the case study format. Both case studies and testimonials try to include information about the challenges faced and the pain assuaged. What was the challenge? How did the product solve the problem? Which aspects or features of the product did they use? How did it impact the customer’s overall business? What other options did they try or consider? Are there any other factors a new customer might not think about when making a decision or choosing a product like this? This last question is often forgotten about, but it can be very powerful.
And don’t forget that providing a case study can also benefit the client or customer, too. Remind them that visibility works both ways. If you have a wide email circulation or a lot of traffic on your website, a testimonial can help direct people to the customer. While the very best testimonials and case studies feature recognizable brands who look like the customers, a testimonial from a startup or small company can also help you if the quote is elegant, informational and instructional or addresses the customer’s pain.
How to avoid accusations of fake reviews
Customer reviews have taken a bad rap over the last few years, especially in light of all the news about fake reviews. According to an Amazon blog post, in 2020, the company stopped more than 200 million suspected fake reviews before they were ever seen by a customer. Customers are becoming jaded and wary. Here are some red flags to avoid:
- All the reviews are positive or negative. A real set of reviews will have a wide assortment of assessments.
- Fake reviews are often generic and general with few details.
- Mentioning a competitive product often brands the statement as fake. Leave mentions of the competition out of your case studies and testimonials.