Using customer testimonials in your advertising, marketing materials and on your website is a common practice. If your customers are saying great things about your business, then why not publicize those positive testimonials for the world to see?

Not so fast: There are two main problems with customer testimonials--overuse and legitimacy. Testimonials are used so often that they have lost some of their value. Furthermore, prospective customers don't always trust the truthfulness of testimonials. How do you make your customer testimonials stand out from the crowd and make them more meaningful for your prospects? To create effective, meaningful customer testimonials, they must be:

1. Authentic: One of the main problems with customer testimonials is their believability. Prospective customers need to believe the testimonials you provide are real. Too many companies advertise using customer testimonials written by a copywriter with no involvement from actual customers at all. To make your customer testimonials believable, authenticate them by using pictures of the customers who provide them along with those customers' real names. In other words, prove your customer testimonials are real up front so there is no room for doubt in the minds of your prospects.

2. Quantifiable: Add meaning to your customer testimonials by putting hard numbers in them whenever possible. If customers talk about the amount of money or time they saved by doing business with you, find out exactly how much they saved, and ask them to include those figures in their testimonials. A customer testimonial that says, "I saved $100 at XYZ Store" is far more compelling than, "I saved money at XYZ Store."

3. Specific: Customer testimonials are useless unless they give prospective consumers a reason to care about them. Vague testimonials, such as "It was great to do business with ABC Store," provide nothing of value to prospective consumers. Instead, guide customers who give you testimonials by asking them to provide a specific reason why working with your business benefited them. Effective customer testimonials won't leave a prospective customer saying, "Why should I care what that person thinks?" Instead, effective customer testimonials tell prospects exactly what's in it for them when they choose your business based on another customer's prior experience. In other words, prospective consumers should be able to personalize your customer testimonials and apply them to their own lives.

4. Diverse: Not only is it useful to obtain customer testimonials from a diverse audience who your prospective customers can relate to, but it also helps in terms of keeping your testimonials meaningful. If you use the same testimonial again and again, prospective consumers will wonder if this is the only person who had something good to say about your business. The testimonial will lose meaning because the individual who provided the testimonial becomes more of a spokesperson rather than another satisfied customer in the eyes of prospects. Obtain a varied collection of customer testimonials that prospects will relate to, from a diverse group of people and also about a variety of experiences and benefits.

5. Approved: Always obtain approval and written permission to use any customer's testimonial, name or likeness in your marketing and business materials. Remember Step 1 of creating meaningful customer testimonials is to make them authentic by naming names and using pictures. You shouldn't do that unless you have permission from the source first.

In short, don't leave room for guesswork when it comes to your customer testimonials. Leverage the role of your loyal and best customers by asking them to provide testimonials. Make sure your customer testimonials are verifiable, and specifically tell prospective consumers the benefits of doing business with you. If your customer testimonials are honest and trustworthy, then people will respond to them--which translates to positive results for your bottom line.