Customer testimonials are one of the most powerful tools that email marketers have in their conversion arsenal. Why? Because they work. And they work because they function as social proof – an extremely powerful motivator of consumer action.

According to Syed Balkhi, the co-founder of OptinMonster, social proof is “a psychological phenomenon where people conform to the actions of others under the assumption that those actions are reflective of the correct behavior.”

“There’s no denying the power of social proof,” Balkhi writes. “Consumers want proof from their peers – not the brands selling the products.” He cites several studies to back up that statement, including one by Nielsen indicating that 92% of people will trust a recommendation from a peer, and 70% of people will trust a recommendation from someone they don’t even know.

That’s why customer testimonials are “one of the most powerful trust signals you can use on your website and in your marketing campaigns,” writes WordStream’s Dan Shewan. “Persuasive testimonials from satisfied customers can sway even the most hesitant prospect.”

So, now that we’ve established why customer testimonials can be so effective, let’s take a look at some specific things they can help you accomplish, the ingredients that comprise powerful, conversion-driving testimonials and how to obtain useful feedback from your most satisfied customers that you can craft into powerful testimonials.

What can testimonials do for you?

On a macro level, it’s easy to describe why you want to use compelling testimonials: to help you market your product or service. But if you slice things a little finer, as copywriter Joel Klettke has done on the iAcquire blog, you’ll find that testimonials can help your marketing in several specific ways.

Klettke has identified seven things that testimonials can help you accomplish, which are:

  • Identify your market/Help customers self-identify
    Testimonials can “show your customers that people just like them are finding answers to the problems they share.”
  • Highlight a key benefit
    “Testimonials can be used to support and elaborate on the real value of the benefits you’re trying to sell a customer on.”
  • Overcome objections
    “Testimonials…can reassure a lead that they’ll get the outcome they’re looking for and persuade them that their objection is unfounded.”
  • Create social pressure/introduce anxiety
    “Social pressure (‘All the cool kids are doing it!’) creates a desire to emulate the actions and outcomes of those we respect and would like to relate to.”
  • Tell your brand story
    “Customer stories substantiate your claims; they give your story life.”
  • Add a human element
    “Seeing photos and hearing stories from satisfied customers adds an emotional, human appeal.”
  • Compare and contrast with competitors
    “Testimonials are a chance for people who have ‘tried it all’ to discredit your competition while pumping your tires.”
  • Up your credibility
    “Testimonials are success stories that others will aspire to, confirmations that both what you’re doing and how you do it are worth investing in.”

Simply put, testimonials help drive desired customer behavior – and results – because they say the things you cannot necessarily say for yourself. As Chris Garrett puts it at Copyblogger: “It’s hard to sing your own praises, and it rarely works when you do. In a testimonial, you have a third party saying what you might not be able to.”

Beyond fluff – the elements of a powerful testimonial

And powerful testimonials not only help tell your brand’s story, but they also serve to tell the story of the customer who’s sharing them, writes Alex Turnbull, the CEO and founder of Groove, a helpdesk software company. “This helps readers put themselves in the storyteller’s shoes.”

“At Groove, we’ve found that good testimonials increase conversions by up to 15% on our homepage, guest post landing pages and email marketing,“ Turnbull writes.

Turnbull asks the question “What’s a good testimonial?” and answers with: “Hint: it’s not a fluffy, gushing ‘Groove is amazing and changed my life’ statement. It’s much more nuanced than that…we’ve found is that the best-testing testimonials are specific about who the testimonial writer is, and what problem Groove solved for them. Good testimonials communicate very specifically the type of person the testimonial writer is and the type of problem they’ve been able to overcome.”

His thinking echoes that of Joel Klettke, who says the common elements of all compelling testimonials include:

  • Specificity
    The testimonial talks about specific problems, solutions, features, benefits and outcomes.
  • Authenticity
    The testimonial uses natural language and the customer’s voice, not yours.
  • “Before/during/after” format
    The testimonial explains what the customer experienced before, during and after they bought your product.

Klettke emphasizes that it is important that the reader be able to validate that the author of the testimonial 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.”

Ask questions that solicit compelling testimonials

“Testimonials are so powerful because they’re delivered from a third-party perspective rather than the point of view of the seller,” writes Sean D’Souza at Copyblogger. “When a customer produces a testimonial that is rich in detail and emotion, the testimonial becomes complex but also believable. And that’s the main job of the testimonial.”

And while testimonials are likely to come your way unsolicited via email, comments on your website, via social media or through your conversations with customers, they are unlikely to be “rich in detail and emotion” unless you give the customer some guidance to help craft them, which D’Souza suggests doing by using the following questions when you ask for their feedback:

  • What was the obstacle that would have prevented you from buying this product?
    “There’s always an obstacle, and it’s often something you may not have thought of. So when the customer brings up this obstacle, it presents an angle that’s unique, personal, and dramatic.”
  • What did you find as a result of buying this product?
    “The answer to this question will illustrate how the customer defused the obstacle identified in the first question.”
  • What specific feature did you like most about this product?
    “If you ask the customer to focus on the entire product, his response may be vague. That’s why you want to focus on a single feature or benefit that the customer liked most. This method brings out that one feature in explicit richness and detail.”
  • What are three other benefits of this product?
    “Since you already got information about one important feature, you can now go a little wider and see what else the customer found useful.”
  • Would you recommend this product? If so, why?
    “Unless the customer feels strongly about the product, she won’t be keen to recommend it. And when she does recommend it, she communicates to prospective buyers: ‘Hey, I recommend it, and here are the reasons why!’”
  • Is there anything you’d like to add?
    “At this point, the customer has often said everything she has to say. But there’s never any harm in asking this question. The questions before this one tend to “warm up” the customer, and sometimes you get the most amazing parting statements that you never could have imagined.”

Once you have the feedback in the customer’s own words, it’s time for you to craft it into a compelling testimonial. When you are doing that, it’s important that you do not “spin” the response in any way.

“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,” Klettke writes.

The final step is obtaining permission to use the testimonial the way you have edited it. “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,” he advises.

The bottom line

Customer testimonials are proven winners. To make sure you successfully harness their enormous potential in your email marketing campaigns, be sure you ask your customers the right questions, thoughtfully craft their feedback into compelling examples of your product or service’s benefits, and make it clear that the testimonials you feature reflect real people telling real stories.