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3 Quick Questions That Get The Testimonials You Need To Have

3 Quick Questions That Get The Testimonials You Need To Have

As far as lab assistant jobs went, it wasn’t the worst out there.

For example, I could have been in the primate lab cleaning cages.  Or dealing with mysterious fluids in the taste and smell lab.

Yeah, my job was far more pleasant – to stand on the main quad and collect responses for consumer research at the school of management.

Except to an introvert like myself, flagging down busy strangers and asking them to fill out a questionnaire (with no reward to them) is pretty much the worst thing ever.

Mostly as a way to get the heck out of there as fast as possible, I obsessively tested different “approach” lines to see what would get the most people to participate.  And for me, the winning words turned out to be:

“Hey, will you answer three quick questions?  It only takes about twenty seconds.”

Maybe they just pitied the desperate look on my face, but pretty much everyone was willing to take twenty seconds to answer “three quick questions.”  (Definitely no one is interested in “filling out a brief survey,” so please don’t ever say that, ever.)

I still use the “three quick questions” magic words – only now I use them to help people get good testimonials for their websites.

Have you ever gone to other websites and thought “My work is awesome too, how in the heck are these people getting such great testimonials when mine all sound like infomercial bland speak?”

There are three types of testimonials that are particularly effective.  And there are three quick questions you can ask people to nab one of each.   Let’s go over them, shall we?

But first, here’s one successful way I’ve found to approach people:


Sure, you can grab spontaneous testimonials from emails, Facebook comments, and blog comments (The Modern Tog wrote this great article showing a good use of Facebook comments).  Just check with the author before lifting their words.

But sometimes these random collections of words don’t cover what you want them to cover, or they’re not written in the language that’s best for your website.

Sending a short survey is a reliable way to get the words you need.  You can create one now to send to all your past clients, or you can send it after you finish working with people on an ongoing basis.

However you do it, when you send it, please don’t say “can you fill out a brief survey.”  A more successful approach may be:

Hey!  I was wondering:  I know it helps potential clients feel comfortable hiring me when they see that others have had positive experiences working with me.  Would you mind answering three quick questions for me?  It’ll take about two minutes.

Don’t be afraid to ask people for this kind of help.  Most of the time they’re happy to do it, they just won’t take the time unprompted.

There’s nothing slimy or salesy about asking people what they thought.

The critical points to include in your message are 1) that they’re helping other people (because it really does make us feel safer when we see testimonials), 2) that this will be quick and painless, and 3) an estimate of how long it will take (the shorter the better).

You can include your questions in the body of the email, or use a free tool like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey to keep the responses all in one place.  You can also link them to a one-question Facebook thread so you can screenshot replies (with their permission).

Now, on to the questions that get action-inspiring testimonials:


Question #1:  “What was your biggest fear before hiring me?  Did it come true, and if not, what happened instead?”

In a sense, it doesn’t matter how good of a service you provide if the potential client is afraid.

If they’re afraid that you won’t really deliver.  If they’re afraid it’s not the best use of their money.  If they’re afraid that their family won’t cooperate.  If they’re afraid that THEY are somehow the exception, the hopeless case.

Showing them that other potential clients had the exact same fear and that it didn’t come true is a testimonial that will sell.

If you’re antsy about asking people about their “fears,” fine.  Use “concern” or “worry” instead.

But finding out what people were afraid of, and showing potential clients (in past clients’ words) that they need not worry is one of the most powerful persuasion tools you have at your disposal.

If there’s a particular concern you’re hoping to address, don’t be shy about modifying this question to ask directly:

“Before the session, were you worried about how your kids would behave or act?  How did the session really go?”

“Did you have concerns about spending money on photography?  How do you feel about the purchase now?”

The idea is to capture a before-and-after snapshot to allow prospective clients to compare their fears with actual clients’ reality.

Question #2:  What, specifically, was your favorite part of _____, and why?”

If you’ve followed this blog for awhile, your spidey senses should see this one coming:

Concrete, tangible examples sell.  Vague, intangible words do not.

We’ve been over this in detail, but telling a client that your sessions are “fun” is not particularly motivating.  However, telling them you’ll host “a watermelon picnic with 100% pure laugh-till-your-abs-hurt family time” will give them a clear picture and let them decide for themselves whether it sounds like fun.

“Fun” is vague and somewhat untrustworthy (what you and I each think of as “fun” probably differs a great deal), but a concrete example helps them feel and see what it’ll be like for themselves.

It is the same for testimonials as it is for any writing.

If someone says “Susie is a wonderful photographer!  We had so much fun!” it is nice, but it doesn’t help the prospective client determine if Susie is a wonderful photographer for them.  

But if the testimonial gives a specific example:  “With jelly beans for the twins and bubbles in her bag, Susie made the session a blast from the minute we got out of the car.  Our kids wanted to go back and ‘play’ with her again the very next day!”

Asking someone to give a specific example instead of just saying “what did you like” helps prospective clients picture all the great things working with you will bring.

#3:  “If you were to recommend us to your best friend, what would you say?”

Liechtenstein-0543Remember how it’s important that when you write, you sound like an actual human?  Well, preferably your testimonials sound human, too.  😉

The thing is, if you ask a client for a testimonial, they usually want to do “a good job” for you.  Which often results in them morphing into corporate-speak mode faster than you can say Bueller.  They think it makes it sound more “official.”

They’ll churn out a “Joe is a friendly but reliable professional,” when really, you want them to write about you the way they would talk about you to a friend.

Not irritatingly so (Joe Photography 4eva!!) but with a regular voice (“Joe immediately became ‘one of the guys’ and for awhile we forgot he was even taking pictures…that is, until he knocked our socks off with a spectacular albumful of wall-worthy shots!”).

However you do it, give them permission to speak like they would when sitting across a coffee shop table with their friends.

Note:  The exact wording of these questions will vary depending on who your clients are.  The idea is to ask questions that will get at the following:

1)  Comparing feared outcomes to the awesomeness that REALLY happened,

2)  Pulling out concrete examples to make your prospective clients’ eyes shine, and

3)  Giving them warm permission to speak in their normal voice, not their “official” one.

Make sense?

Now, go ask your three quick questions!

P.S.  Oh, and by the way?  Once you have the testimonials, be sure not to waste them!

Liechtenstein-0548P.P.S.  Tangent alert:

One of my goals for 2014 is to meet more of you in person.  Because if there’s one thing I learned in 2013, it’s that sometimes you just need someone to know you, to look you in the face, and to tell you a truth you were afraid to admit to yourself.

Sometimes it’s a nudge to pursue something you really want to do, but are afraid to.  Sometimes it’s someone co-brainstorming a way to market something that you think folks would never pay for, but secretly long to offer.  Sometimes it’s someone just sizing up your strengths from an outside perspective – like that perfect stylist who just knows the right haircut for you, even though you wouldn’t have thought of it yourself.

One of the people who helped me the most in 2013 was Kristen Kalp.  She has a gift for truth-telling and helping people see beyond self-imposed limitations.

So when Kristen told me she was renting out a mountain retreat for 600 people and hosting a summer camp-esque, shoes-optional business “conference” there complete with an eternal s’mores flame and a Ferris wheel,

of course I agreed to speak at it.  (Especially when she agreed that Groucho Marx glasses were clearly going to be a necessity for my presentation, and said she’d supply a pair for each audience member.)


I’d love to meet you and give you a huge hug at Brand Camp.

In fact, if you use this (affiliate) link to check it out and decide to come, we may end up being bunkmates.

And since I’m an introvert, that’ll probably involve geeky stuff like exchanging handmade bookmarks, passing junior-high-style folded notes, and plotting to TP a rival cabin (tip: always bring dark PJ’s to summer camp!)

Whether you want to come to camp or not, hurry over anyway, because tomorrow (Thursday) there’s a free “Mo’ Money Mo’ Meaning” class that you should check out (click this link and scroll to the bottom).  A recording will be available later.

I hope to see you there.  And if not there, then stay tuned….P4P will be hitting the road in 2014.

  • Sarah Heggen - This article is perfectly timed. I was just fretting over the lack of testimonials on my website, and I couldn’t quite figure out how to ask for them without feeling slimy. You’ve saved the day! Thanks much. Now to get to work!ReplyCancel

  • Jen Trombly - I had to laugh when I read this blog… I literally had the exact statement, “Would you mind filling out a brief survey” in my questionnaire email. Yikes!!! I had revised it and have just sent the first one out! Whew…. thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Megan DiPiero - Whoa! Just spent the last 40 minutes on this page and clicking all the great links within. Chock full of goodness! I have been thinking about surveys for the last few months. This is just the action-driven post I needed to point me in the right direction. Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Danielle - Thank you for this!! Great information I will definitely be using. And I am going to brand camp! Hope I get to meet you!ReplyCancel

  • Shayna Hardy - Oh my gosh!! I literally just copied and pasted these into an email to a client and I received this amazing testimonial! I was crying when I read it… THANK YOU soooooooooo much!

    “I would say that you were really more than photographer. You went above and beyond to make sure we were pleased with the product. Not only did you photograph our family but you came into our home and recommended places to display that work. The consultation is something you don’t always see in photographers. You seem to know how to market your talent rather than just “take pictures”. “ReplyCancel

    • Jenika - Woohoo Shayna! So happy for you, and that’s a great testimonial to have 😀 Congratulations.ReplyCancel

  • April Bennett - This is such an amazing, site, amazing article, and the website ebook is absolutely amazing too! Thank you so much.ReplyCancel

  • Katie Bertoli - This post was SO helpful. I just finished my testimonials page (and scattering them throughout my website too)! Thanks so much!
    This is good for my business but also GREAT for my self esteem as I am just getting started. If I’m having a rough day I just read my testimonials! 🙂

    Check it out for yourself:

    Thanks again!

  • Jennifer - thank you for the very specific suggestions!ReplyCancel

  • Camille - This was so helpful. I’m an introvert who hates self-promotion, and can never find a way to ask for feedback that results in useful information. I tweaked your script to make it a bit more formal for my corporate executive clients, created a form, emailed it out, and just got back responses from two former clients. They’re fantastic! And more than one or two sentence answers. I’ve got plenty of testimonials to spread throughout my website.

    Thanks for your help!ReplyCancel

  • Tonya Damron - love reading all the info here!ReplyCancel

  • Leanda - Thank you this is just what I needed today! xoxoReplyCancel

  • Elaine Welbourn - This. Totally. Worked!

    I asked a client recently to write a testimonial about her experience working with me at her recent engagement photography session. I followed the format presented in this blog post carefully. although I thought it might sound too “pushy” to ask specific questions, thus limiting what she might want to say to me/about me, it was completely successful! Not only did she write a testimonial, but it was heartfelt and relaxed – exactly what I wanted! Thank you for this helpful blog!

    (…and in case you hadn’t noticed…I used the same three questions to write this testimonial for you!)ReplyCancel

  • Kristin Duncan - I love these questions! And the part about telling clients it will be quick and painless is genius. Thanks Jenika!ReplyCancel

  • April - Thanks so much for the guidance! I had been waiting a week for testimonials from a few clients I’d recently reached out to. Yesterday I fired them a reminder email with these specific questions and overnight got responses from half the bunch. It’s so much more helpful to them to write about their experience with prompts and you’re right- they wrote exactly what I needed to turn would-be clients into bookings. Now I just have to get that info up on the site. Thanks, Jenika.ReplyCancel

  • Aaron - Fantastic, thanks!!ReplyCancel

  • Logan Geng - Creative, imaginative,I like the ideas about the three quick questions.ThxReplyCancel

  • Crystal - Prenatal Coach - Great tips! Thank you. Testimonials definitely ‘sell’ my services more than anything else!ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth Hall (@SmartOfficeHelp) - This was a great article. I especially like the tip about being specific so you don’t get the canned responsive from people. I have’t been getting the testimonials that I should and your article was very comprehensive. I’m definitely going to use what I’ve read here. Thanks for the great info.ReplyCancel

  • Laura - These 3 questions are perfect! I think I’ll be adding these to my customer follow-ups. Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Jeff Cross - Let’s say you’ve been fortunate enough to be hired by a major commercial client, someone who also has a reputation to protect, and their company’s reputation… How do you ensure you have their approval to use their name and company name (or should you even try?) Do you also need to contact the company’s legal department?
    If you got hired by Coca Cola – how do you use that??ReplyCancel

    • Jenika - Good question! Yes, you’d need anyone’s permission to use their name and info, be they private individuals or companies. If it’s a company I’d get the permission of whoever gave you the testimonial, and I might ask them directly (all in writing) “is there anyone else whose permission I need to post this?” If they say no, I’d probably still query the legal department to cover your bases, but asking them first might expedite the process, and the legal department might respond differently to an in-house request than an email from an outsider. Good luck!ReplyCancel

  • Ben - Nice Post! Online Reviews helped me a LOT to build trust. I used the Trustbadge reviews widget on my online shop to collect and show customer reviews. It’s fairly easy to use. They have many integrations in different shop systems. And it comes with 7 languages and is mobile-optimized. There’s a freemium version available at at so you can try yourself if it helps 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Dawn - this is going to be wonderful – I really need testimonials and now I know the exact questions to ask in order to provoke the best kind of response! Thank you once again Jenika <3ReplyCancel

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