2004-09-30    -    [ Internet ]
Using E-Mail to Collect Testimonials

When you're brainstorming about a business-to-business (B2B) brochure, Web site, or advertising campaign, someone will inevitably suggest, "Why don't we include case studies and testimonials?"

Then, a mad dash to collect them begins.

Here are some ideas for using e-mail to make the process a little easier.

An Ongoing Testimonials-Capture Program

One way to prevent a testimonial emergency is to collect them on an ongoing basis. Often, customers and clients will call or send a quick e-mail thanking you for your good work.

If it's a compliment delivered by phone, jot down your client's comments and ask if you can include them in your promotional materials. Presumably, the answer will be yes. Write up the comments in an e-mail, and ask the client to e-mail back permission.

If a compliment is extended via e-mail, send a reply thanking the person and ask for permission.

It's important to request permission immediately. You never know when your client will take off on an extended vacation, leaving you with no way to get in touch.

Don't let these testimonials get lost in your inbox. Create an e-mail folder to store them in. Be sure to print them out and back them up, for safekeeping.

When You're Under a Tight Deadline

We've had several projects lately where clients asked us to interview people for case studies and testimonials. This always seems so easy in the beginning, but it usually turns into a nightmare.

Why? First, much of the contact information you're given will be outdated. Second, everyone waits until the last minute to do this. The brochure will be ready to print, and you need those testimonials now!

Here's what we've found works best when under tight deadlines:

  1. E-mail people to explain exactly what you need. This is easier to understand than a long, drawn-out voicemail message. Give people a reason to respond, such as "sharing your experience will help others." And be sure to give them a deadline for getting back to you. Do this early. Your e-mail messages may bounce, meaning you'll have to investigate further to get the right e-mail address.
  2. Create an interview form. Before you conduct the interview, create an interview form with all the questions you need to ask. If you try to wing it without a form, you'll undoubtedly forget to ask certain questions and have to follow up for the missing information.
  3. Follow up with a phone call. If you can make live contact, you have a good chance of getting what you need; people want to be helpful. Refer them to your e-mail for the details. Ask if this is a good time to talk. If not, set up a phone appointment. Ask interviewees to send any materials for a case study to you by e-mail (this helps put your interview in context).
  4. Record interviews. Audiotape the interview (notify the interviewee you're doing so). After, be sure to label the tape (you may have a bunch of them).
  5. Transcribe interviews and write the testimonials. As soon as possible after the phone call, transcribe your audiotape, write up the testimonial or case study, and e-mail it to the interviewee. In your e-mail, include a paragraph of consent language, and ask your contact to reply back that "Yes, I consent to have this testimonial/case study used."
  6. Track testimonials and request for permission. List all requested testimonials. Follow up until you have permissions for every one. Then put the testimonials in a special file for the project. If this is a client project, e-mail the client the whole file. This way, they'll have records of permissions.

Try to get more testimonials than you need. If you need eight testimonials, interview at least 12 people. Inevitably some people will find they can't be quoted due to company policy. Other testimonials will just not be compelling or relevant enough to use.

This process can be incredibly time-consuming and frustrating. You'll receive return calls and e-mail at all sorts of inconvenient times, often at the last minute. If possible, split the project with someone and work together. Get started the minute you get the project. This is one of those assignments you can't postpone and stay up all night to finish.

And the next time someone suggests putting testimonials in a campaign, be sure to respond, "Excellent idea. Would you like to be in charge of collecting them?"