I recently asked a marketing director about customer testimonials on his company website. He openly said, "The testimonials aren't real, I made them up. Everybody else does it, so why can't we?"

My second thought, after "Two wrongs don't make a right," was "Aren't you in the business of building trust? What does that say about your company?"

A company builds trust in three ways: the way it creates and delivers products, its values, and how it communicates its values into the marketplace.

One thing that's common to all those is putting the customer No. 1; and to do that, having empathy for the customer is vital. Empathy is all about putting yourself in their shoes: What are their pain points? What are their motivators? What do they consider great customer service?

That third point, what customers consider great customer service, is the basis of any great customer testimonials.

Testimonials can be inbound (customers want to provide testimonials, participate in a case study, be a reference, etc.) or outbound (we approach our customer to give that great "thumbs up").

The following are seven ways we, as marketers, can make it easy to get great customer testimonials.

1. Build and deliver great products

Everything starts with having great products. As Seth Godin noted at a recent Art of Marketing conference, "the product must be worth making a remark about."

While you are on your journey to build and deliver great products, do you always keep the customer in mind?

2. Involve customers in your beta-test program

The beta test is a great time to engage current and prospective customers: It's great for prospects because they typically get your product at a reduced rate and get to provide input on how to make the product better. It's great for you because you get to build deeper relationships. In short, it is a great way to get prospective customers in the door.

3. Ensure customers are looped into your feedback mechanism

Offer the feedback channel on your website, surveying customers about current and future product features and functionality, instructing them how to communicate with you, and the like.

Consider creating customer focus groups or even a Customer Council so that your customers can help you choose your direction and the focus of your strategy. I attended a recent CMO panel discussion, and the consensus among the CMOs was that in the future customers will be more directly involved in strategy and product development.

Always take the lead to check in with your customers on how things are going for them. If you don't, and there are issues, customers are more than tech-savvy enough to launch negative reviews of their own.

4. Offer value-adds

Provide your customers newsletters and blogs packed with information, such as techniques and tools to help them use your products more effectively. Explain new features and benefits, and cover news that affects them, as well as ideas to help them be more productive in their jobs. The sky is the limit here.

One caveat is to keep promotions about your company at a minimum: 90% value to your customer and 10% promotion about you is a good guideline.

Not every customer is the same, so consider segmenting your customer base to deliver the information they want to see.

You may want to consider providing your customers with an extranet, where they can log in to engage with you on service activities, view account information, and download thought leadership resources and other items.

Remember: The content you provide is paramount, so keep your customers' pain points and motivators top of mind as you produce thought-provoking information they will thank you for.

5. Offer social options to your customers to engage with you

Engaging and offering value are the two requisites you should keep in mind with social media. If you focus on those two actions, your customers will be coming back for more.

Every point at which you touch your customer online should reference your social media buttons. Interact with customers on your company's Facebook page and LinkedIn groups, ask and answer engaging Q&A questions, including on your company page and your company's Quora page. You get the idea...

Don't stop at social media of likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, and Quora. Also consider niche websites like SpiceWorks (IT professionals), Production Hub (film and video production), and others. And don't forget about local search sites like those of Google and Yahoo, City Search, etc.

6. Solicit customer testimonials in a fun way

Have you considered offering a prize for the funniest 30-second customer testimonial video on your YouTube account? Or perhaps soliciting testimonials around an event or holiday, like the Fourth of July or Christmas? Think of creativity and content as your two-pronged attack here. Perhaps the prize could be that you would do a case study on your customer. (I love case studies, because they are a win for both you and your customer.)

7. 'The Ask' becomes stress-free

If you keep your customers' welfare top of mind, "the ask" will seem stress-free. It may even turn out to be fun.

Give your customers options such as a testimonial, case study, reference, or even a quote for an article, press release, or whitepaper. Let your customer be your guide to help you determine which route to take.

Then really think about the intent of the testimonial: What do you want it to say? You'd likely want to position your company and your customer as thought leaders. You want to know that your customer thinks your company or product is good, but you also want to know why and how it is good.

In short, what do you want the message say about you and your customer? Think "forward-looking."

* * *

These techniques will help you to not only get great testimonials but also keep your customers coming back for more—and help you win new customers—even as they make the process seem stress-free.

So, what are your techniques for getting great customer testimonials?

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image of Sue Duris

Sue Duris is president of M4 Communications Inc., a Palo Alto, CA-based marketing strategy and communications firmthat helps technology, entertainment and nonprofit organizations build and extend their brands. Reach her via sduris@m4comm.com.

Twitter: @M4_Comm
LinkedIn: Sue Duris