Let Testimonials Do the Talking for You Nobody tells your success stories better than your satisfied customers.

By Gail Goodman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Increasingly, consumers are searching for reviews before they commit their dollars to buying products, booking services or donating to a charity. They want to read a positive review or comment, expressed in your customers' own words.

Sharing customer success stories demonstrates how you deliver on your brand promise in the real world, with real people. A positive customer review resonates in a way that other marketing efforts just can't. It conveys more than honesty, a glowing review:

  • Confirms your product or service quality with credibility and trustworthiness.
  • Illustrates how your products and services solve problems and improve lives from the buyer's perspective.
  • Extends your reach to a broader audience when customers publish reviews on social media and third-party websites, such as Yelp and Epinions.com.
  • Makes for engaging content to share on your website, in your e-mail newsletter, via social media sites and in print materials.

There are many ways that businesses, nonprofits and entrepreneurs can ask for and share customer reviews, testimonials and success stories. Here are a few ideas.

Make it Easy for Customers to Give Great Reviews
You need to provide a great service experience so your customers have something to rave about. That's a given. Inspire your customers--then enable them to post and share their positive reviews.

Here are some ways to get your best customers to do the talking (and selling) for you:

  1. Find out where your customers are already posting reviews. Do an online search of your business name, plus the word "reviews" and then "complaints." You may be surprised at what people are already saying about your business. Also search on Twitter and any other place that your customers may be commenting about their experience. You need to know where your customers are most likely to publish reviews so you can enable others to post in those same places. For example, restaurants may encourage diners to dish about them on Open Table and Yelp, while contractors might steer customers to review their work on Angie's List.
  2. Ask for reviews across multiple channels. Your e-mail newsletter is an excellent place to ask for customer reviews. Make it easy for customers to click and share their kudos. Offer multiple ways for them to submit their reviews; whether by posting to your Facebook page or on Twitter, linking to a third-party review site, or simply e-mailing you with their stories. If you've developed a presence on other social media websites, invite customers to post reviews there, too. Nothing kicks off a great review like reading another great review! People love to chime in with their opinions. You just need to nudge them and get them talking.
  3. Survey customers after a sale. After a sale is the perfect time to conduct a customer satisfaction survey, while the experience is still fresh. Provide an open-ended question at the end of the survey where customers can share their comments about what most impressed them.

Note: Customers must give these reviews freely. Never offer an incentive (i.e., don't offer something in exchange for their review). Even a whiff of insincerity can make things backfire. Instead, send customers who publish positive reviews a thank-you e-mail (and a surprise coupon, if you'd like) and ask if they'd be willing to do an additional brief interview for a testimonial. You'll be surprised at how generous people are with their time and insights when they've had a positive experience with a business or organization.

Spread the Word and Get More People Talking
Here are three things you can do once you've collected some thumbs-up reviews:

  1. Post success stories wherever you promote your products and services. Reading a positive customer story minimizes a prospect's risk before making that first purchase. It bridges that leap of faith. Make sure you display--and ask for--customer reviews and testimonials across sales and marketing channels, online and in print materials. And don't feel like you have to include the whole review; sometimes a great quote, with a link to the entire review, can serve the same purpose.
  2. Customer-centric stories make compelling content. With the customer's permission, you may develop the best reviews into short testimonials or more detailed customer success stories for use on your website, in your newsletter and in print materials. You might even feature the most enthusiastic customers in YouTube videos! Customers are your best sources of engaging content ideas, as they know first-hand how your products and services benefit people.
  3. Listen to what customers are saying about you (the good and the bad). Positive reviews tell you where you're excelling, while negative reviews indicate what areas need improvement. Use this highly valuable intelligence to build your strategy, find new niches and fix what needs fixing. Differentiate yourself from competitors who don't mix customers' voices in with their own.

You can tell people your business is the best, but they'll be more likely to reach for their wallets when they hear that message from other customers. Honest.

Gail Goodman is the author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins In a Socially Connected World (Wiley, 2012) and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., a provider of email marketing, event marketing, social media marketing, local deal and online survey tools and services for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.

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