Want Testimonials? Start Spurfing!

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Whenever I gather information from a client, I go through a long list of questions. But there's one question I dread asking: Do you have any testimonials? It's a simple question. But when I ask it, I often don't get a clear yes or no. I get this: Um, well ... I think maybe we have a few. Er ... I know we need some. Been meaning to get around to it. Uh ... I got a nice letter from someone last year. Want me to ... uh ... send that?


* It's painful to listen to an otherwise intelligent person squirm. And, frankly, there's no need for it, because there's a simple, quick way to gather testimonials from your customers. I call it "Spurfing." That's from the letters S.P.R.F., or Schedule, Phone, Release and File. Let's look at how Spurfing works:


* Schedule. Make a commitment to bring in testimonials once a month, once a quarter, twice a year or whatever. The time frame doesn't matter; just make it part of your routine. You may even want to set quotas: 10 new testimonials a month or 30 testimonials for each promotion you do. Again, the specifics are less important than your commitment to the routine. Just ensure your schedule is realistic and productive.


* Phone. Call a portion of your customer list according to your schedule. Start by saying something flattering, such as: The president of our company has personally asked for your opinion. Would you mind telling me what you think about your widget?


Ask a few easy questions that elicit responses that are either positive or neutral: When did you receive your widget? Did your widget arrive in good condition? Have you used it (tried it, tasted it, read it, worn it) yet?


Then ease into the real questions: What is your opinion of your widget? Why did you buy your widget? What is the one feature you like most? Why would you say your widget is better than similar widgets? How has your widget saved you time (or money, or trouble, or embarrassment, etc.)?


Another way to handle this is to ask customers to complete leading statements along the same lines: I bought my widget because ... The one feature I like most about my widget is ... My widget is better than similar widgets because ... My widget benefits me by ...


Whatever you ask, keep it short. Don't ask yes-or-no questions. Ask for open-ended comments. Write down (or electronically record) every word, even the bad comments. This is a treasure trove of customer input. And in all cases, when you get a comment that isn't specific enough, ask your customer to elaborate. Get the dates, numbers, names and other facts that make testimonials sparkle.


* Release. When you get a good comment, type it up and overnight a copy to your customer by FedEx or the express delivery medium of your choice. Include a letter from the head of the company that says something like: Mary told me about your comments. And I was so impressed, I just had to write and say thank you. In fact, your kind words were so valuable, I'd like to quote you in our advertising. Do you mind?


Ask the customer to sign your release (giving you ownership of the testimonial) and return it in the postage-free envelope you have enclosed. And, as a kicker, mention that you're sending a gift as a token of your appreciation. This ensures you will get more releases returned. Plus, it's good customer relations.


* File. If you don't do it yourself, pick one person to organize and store your testimonials in a central location. If you have to share testimonials among divisions or departments, send copies, not originals. Regarding physical storage, a file folder in a filing cabinet works as well as anything. Depending on the size of your company, you may want to set up a separate file for each product or service line. Eventually, you may want to enter your best testimonials into a word processing file. This lets you do keyword searches if you're looking for something special. And you can quickly cut and paste testimonials when it comes time to write copy.


Spurfing may not appeal to you if you don't have customer phone numbers or don't want to make phone calls. If that's the case, you can turn this process into a printed questionnaire that you can mail.


However you do it, start doing it now - before you start another promotion. That way, when your consultant asks you about testimonials, you won't have to squirm. You can proudly say, "Yes, we have plenty of testimonials."


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