The customer testimonial playbook: How to make customers your best advocates
A guide to sourcing, crafting, and presenting testimonials.
Published March 22, 2021
Last updated September 15, 2021
It’s never been easier to live by the old Latin proverb caveat emptor—aka, “Let the buyer beware.”
In 2021, customers can check a business’s reputation just by pulling out their phones and doing a quick search. And most do!
“These days, 87 percent of buying decisions begin with research conducted online before the purchase is made,” says Rani Sivesind, a customer success operations manager at Zendesk. “And 92 percent of consumers are more likely to trust nonpaid recommendations than any other type of advertising.”
With so much faith placed in good word of mouth, the value of a glowing customer testimonial is at an all-time high. But to snag more endorsements of your brand, you’ll need to learn how to identify great opportunities and tell compelling stories.
What is a customer testimonial?
A customer testimonial is an endorsement of a product or service provided by a satisfied customer. Companies often solicit testimonials from happy or long-term clients, then present their recommendations as featured quotes, articles, videos, or podcasts.
“Boiling it down, a testimonial is basically a positive story that a customer wants to share about their experience with your company,” Sivesind says.
While anyone can contribute a customer review on a product page, testimonial pages are carefully curated to include only positive customer stories.
“Reviews are more of an interactive exchange,” Sivesind says. “You’re asking everyone for input, whether that’s praise or constructive feedback—so not always good.”
Testimonials, by contrast, draw attention to specific use cases or benefits that you wish to highlight.
Why do customer testimonials matter?
No matter how good your marketing is, most buyers don’t want to simply “take your word for it.” They want real-life examples of satisfied customers. Testimonials provide social proof, reassuring customers that a product or service will work as advertised.
Testimonials are especially important in the B2B world. B2C products are often one-time purchases, and buyers are content to read a few online reviews before making their purchases. But B2B products are often costly subscription-based solutions that require careful consideration.
“B2B customers are looking for something that is going to align with their goals, objectives, and initiatives,” Sivesind says. “They want to make sure that whatever they purchase is going to meet their expectations and also scale with them as they grow.”
One way to prove a product’s scalability is to show off its large-scale implementations. That’s one reason customer testimonial pages often highlight a company’s biggest, most recognizable clients.
By advertising your relationship with big-name brands, you establish your company’s credibility and capacity to provide enterprise-level solutions.
How to create an effective customer testimonial
There are two things to consider when generating customer testimonials—what type of story you want to tell and which client relationship would best illustrate it.
Faith Hanna, a lead customer content producer at Zendesk, says she targets multiple objectives when crafting testimonials.
“Our team aims to find, shape, and produce customer stories that accomplish three goals: they resonate with the audience we’re trying to reach, they amplify the messaging or motions that Zendesk is emphasizing, and they cover content gaps we’ve identified,” Hanna says.
Say the team recognizes that Zendesk needs more content showcasing the benefits of self-service software. Those team members will look for a customer who has had great success implementing Zendesk’s help desk software or chatbot technology.
To find those sorts of examples, Hanna and her teammates use a few methods.
Get your customer advocates involved
To identify your company’s best story opportunities, talk to the teams and employees that have the closest relationships with your customers. Not only will they know which clients have notable successes to share, but they’ll also have a good feel for when to reach out.
Hanna enlists the aid of Zendesk’s customer success and support teams.
“We source stories from internal nominations and by proactively searching for compelling angles,” Hanna says.
If an account manager thinks the time is right, he or she should ask the customer if they’d be willing to participate in a testimonial. If the client agrees, introduce them to your marketing team so they can set up a meeting.
“Timing is everything,” Sivesind says. “You don’t want to ask a customer for a testimonial if they’re going through a rough patch in their business or in their relationship with your company.”
Use the CAR method of interviewing
When interviewing a customer for a testimonial, keep in mind that you’re trying to tell a clear story that has a beginning, middle, and end. Sivesind recommends asking questions that follow the CAR model for establishing context, action, and result:
Context: Why did you choose to work with our company? What problems were you looking to solve?
Action: What action did you take to resolve the issues? How were you able to utilize our products or services?
Result: What were the key results of our partnership? What were you able to accomplish with our help?
When it comes to illustrating impact, it helps to have quantifiable results. Ask the customer if they can share any relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) that prove your product’s effectiveness.
“Metrics are really, really powerful,” Sivesind says. “So for Zendesk, showing that the customer increased customer satisfaction by a certain percentage or reduced support tickets by a certain number really drives home the product’s potential.”
Examples of how to present customer testimonials
There are several ways to present and organize your customer testimonials. Whether you’re writing a blog post or shooting a video, the goal is always to highlight your brand’s value to a customer in a way that’s engaging, digestible, and to-the-point.
If you’re new to this type of content, use these customer testimonial examples as a starting point.
Customer testimonial page
Customer testimonials can appear anywhere on your website. You might feature a particularly great customer quote on your home page or include an impressive statistic on a product description.
But it’s also a good idea to have a dedicated hub for all of your customer stories. That way, potential buyers can compare different testimonials and find the one that’s most comparable to their situation.
Zendesk’s customer testimonial page lets visitors filter stories by industry, use case, and location. There are hundreds of testimonials to peruse, with dozens of filters for sorting them.
It also allows buyers to scroll through thumbnails that link to full-length customer testimonial articles featuring name brands.
Customer testimonial articles
Instead of just featuring a few flattering quotes, consider turning particularly rich customer stories into full blog posts. Customer testimonial articles paint a clearer picture of your company’s relationship with a client, creating space for more details and takeaways.
As you begin creating content, make sure that your stories speak to a variety of different customer profiles.
At the start of every Zendesk customer testimonial article, there’s a graphic showing which products the client purchased. For example, this profile of Siemens shows that its customer service department uses Zendesk Explore, Guide, Sunshine, and Support.
The graphic also lists some key details about the client, including how long they’ve been a Zendesk customer (since 2018) and how many of their support agents use the software (more than 160). It also includes two pull quotes from Steven Franklin, global head of customer service at Siemens.
Keeping the power of metrics in mind, Zendesk customer stories also try to highlight significant KPIs up front. There are three attention-grabbing numbers at the start of this article about Junkyard Golf Club’s adoption of a live chat channel for handling support tickets.
Customer testimonial articles can often get more traction if they feature well-known or trending clients. It’s like getting a hot celebrity endorsement for your brand at just the right moment.
For many diners, the popular food-delivery service Grubhub went from a convenience to a necessity in 2020. After COVID-19 caused a massive spike in delivery orders, Zendesk reached out to Grubhub to write about how the company was handling the huge influx.
Grubhub has been a Zendesk customer since 2015, but, like many companies, it had a unique story to tell in 2020. By striking while the iron was hot, Zendesk was able to write a customer testimonial article that was highly topical and interesting to its audience of support professionals.
Customer testimonial videos
Video is a very engaging medium that literally “puts a face” to your customer base. It’s often more time-intensive to produce than a written article, but the effort is worthwhile.
Zendesk produced a whole series of testimonial videos to highlight various aspects of its relationship with Mailchimp.
The clips range from one minute to 90 seconds and feature interviews with different Mailchimp employees explaining the various ways Zendesk helps them connect with customers.
Zendesk has also produced longer one-off video testimonials that go deep on a single topic, such as customer personalization.
The video above shows how the online musical instrument marketplace Reverb uses Zendesk to create more intimate connections with its customers. The story of musicians helping fellow musicians find a new home for their beloved instruments has a real emotional resonance.
Customer testimonial podcasts
Like video, podcasting is an engaging medium. If you launch a show that provides interesting content about your industry, professionals may give it a listen.
Of course, since podcasts tend to be longer than quick video clips or short blog posts, they can’t just be all about your product. The customer testimonials have to be a subtler component of a larger story that’s captivating in its own right.
Zendesk has branched into this market with Repeat Customer, a podcast devoted to great customer experiences. Though the podcast spotlights Zendesk clients, it keeps things entertaining by focusing on topics with broad appeal—like dating and hamburgers.
And in How Shake Shack Cooked Up Its Cheeseburger Experience, Zendesk explores how a popular fast-food chain is able to provide exceptional customer service.
The podcast weaves together interviews, narration, music, and sound effects to tell customer stories in 30 minutes or less. Each episode elicits valuable insights that CX professionals may put to use at their own companies, while subtly showcasing how businesses are benefiting from Zendesk.
Get the word out
Once your customer testimonial content is live, be sure to spread the news. In addition to publicizing the content through your own marketing channels, ask the clients if they will cross-promote the content in their usual networks, as well.
If you provide an exceptional customer experience, your customers will become your biggest champions. Harness the power of word-of-mouth marketing by getting your best customer advocates to endorse your brand.