WRITTEN testimonials influence our actions and choices in many ways.

For example, you and a friend decide to catch a movie, but your tastes do not coincide. So you turn to the newspaper and check out the film reviews. Or you decide to go for dinner first, but there are so many restaurants in your area you don’t know which one to pick. So, you flip through the local magazine and scan for recommendations.

Even more powerful than these “professional” testimonials, however, are those that come from trusted personal contacts. If you have enough time, you may call or e-mail a couple of other friends to get their movie and restaurant suggestions.

You are likely to follow their advice because you know that they are aware of your likes and dislikes.

This is the same with businesses. Before people come to your firm for a particular product or service, they often want the comfort of knowing what others have said about you.

Let’s say you refinish hardwood floors. Before they let you haul your refinishing equipment into their house, many consumers will ask you for written testimonials or phone numbers of people who can attest to your work.

You may even have experience with another form of testimonial: providing references when applying for a new job. Those references are expected to respond by written or spoken word about you and your work performance.

Quite frequently, a testimonial can clinch the job for you. That is a lot of weight riding on someone else’s words.

Testimonials matter

Testimonials carry a level of credibility because they come from someone who has direct experience with your product or service. Consumers generally place more trust in testimonials than they do in a business’s marketing message.

They believe that the average person is unbiased and has nothing to gain from providing a testimonial. The business stands to gain or lose everything, so its own words are seen as less trustworthy.

Recognising consumers’ scepticism, some businesses make a practice of asking for customer testimonials. So do businesses that serve other businesses. If anything, a business can be an even more

demanding customer than an individual consumer because it has its own reputation and ability to function at stake.

Thus, a written testimonial with a professional letterhead from one business to another is a powerful word in your favour, especially if the business represented on the letterhead is highly credible.

Show them off

Written testimonials can be used in many ways to enhance your credibility and set you above your competition. For example, you can include it on your business’s website.

Some websites have them strategically sprinkled throughout so there’s at least one testimonial on each page. Others have a dedicated page where several testimonials can be viewed all at once. Either way, scan each testimonial with its letterhead. This will enhance its credibility and yours.

If your business attracts a lot of walk-in clients, it is helpful to display your written testimonials, each encased in a plastic sheet protector, in a three-ring binder labelled “What our customers say about us” or “Client testimonials”.

Keep this binder on a table in your reception area where your customers can browse through it while they are waiting for services. This is a good way to connect with your prospects and enhance your relationship with clients.

Another way to stand out from the competition is to include testimonials with your business proposals. This strategy works best if you have a wide variety to choose from. You can include a section of testimonials that are most relevant to a specific proposal.

Tomorrow: How to get clients to write great testimonials