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Phil Bray: How to get authentic client reviews

A look at social proof and how it can help validate your work

Bray-PhilAs one financial planner delicately put it on Twitter a few weeks ago, I regularly bang on about the importance of social proof. He is not wrong, I do. And for very good reasons: it is important and it works.

For the uninitiated, social proof is the practice of using the thoughts and opinions of others to demonstrate the great job you do for your clients and to persuade others, who have yet to engage you, to get in touch.

In times gone by, that usually extended no further than collecting a few random testimonials and displaying them on your website hoping people read them. Unfortunately, they probably did not. Our research shows that fewer than 3 per cent of all visitors to your website visit your testimonials page.

That means getting more sophisticated in the type of social proof you collect and how you display it. Locating it in prominent positions, which the visitor cannot fail to see: for example, on your homepage, above the fold, so it is unmissable.

So far so good, however, there is another problem: authenticity.

This point was brought home to me at a recent presentation I gave. The room was reviewing websites I had picked at random. One contained a sentence at the top of the homepage stating that 100 per cent of their clients were satisfied with the advice they had received.

I have no reason whatsoever to doubt the authenticity of this number. However, it was pointed out to me that the number looked unbelievable and inauthentic; it was just too perfect.

Cut to half-time in one of the few World Cup matches I have managed to catch. An advert for a men’s skin cream claimed that most who used it felt the benefit of smoother and softer skin. However, the small print showed that it was only 71 per cent of men, from a study of 65.

Yes, that’s right, 65!

They were basing their claim (and no doubt a multimillion-pound television advertising campaign) on a tiny data set.

A website stated that 100 per cent of its clients were satisfied, but this number looked too perfect

These two unconnected stories got me thinking. How do you demonstrate authenticity in your social proof, and what do you do when it just sounds too good to be true?

Here are three ways:

  1. Make everything attributable. While short, unattributable testimonials probably still have some minor benefit, the more detailed, ideally 100 to 200 words long, and attributable they are, the better. We also recommend including the client’s name, location, potentially the organisation they work for and the date they first became a client, to demonstrate longevity. Ideally the testimonial should be displayed alongside a picture of the client. Even better, why not ask your clients to record a video testimonial? You might be surprised at how many clients readily agree.
  2. Use VouchedFor to collect your reviews. I often get asked about which platform advisers and planners should use to collect their reviews. While Facebook and Google (especially in respect of search engine rankings) have their benefits, the steps VouchedFor takes in ensuring that reviews are genuine give it the edge in terms of authenticity. We recommend using the handy VouchedFor widget on your website; with individual ratings being shown on your team pages and the company rating on your homepage. The widget displays your ratings, allowing visitors to read the reviews without having to leave your site.
  3. Conduct client surveys. Client surveys are an excellent way of obtaining social proof. The data you collect can be used not only to improve your business, but to demonstrate on your website, and in your wider marketing, the great job you do for your clients. We recommend running surveys on a regular basis; certainly before embarking on a major project, such as developing a marketing strategy or new website. Without doing so, the resultant strategy or website is bound to be weaker. And, if the result is a nice, round 100 per cent, what should you do? Explain the methodology, but display it, loud and proud. After all, to do anything else would be inauthentic!

Phil Bray is director of The Yardstick Agency

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