Testimonials – have you ever seen a bad one?

This came up during the judging of the Outstanding Virtual Assistant of the Year awards, and I wanted to throw it out there and get a response from other VAs:

Have you ever seen a bad testimonial?

Now the reason I am asking is because testimonials can be very powerful things.  People see why they should hire you because the testimonial gives them a real life example of how they could use a VA.  It also soothes their anxiety about sharing their precious business with someone they don’t know – hey, it can’t be that bad, this VA has worked for “George of Aldershot” and he says she’s great!

More and more VAs are building asking for a testimonial into their marketing campaigns, asking for them straight after they have completed a piece of work and often giving pointers as to what to include.

Now that’s great because it means they have a wealth of testimonials to draw from – to put on their websites, include in their sales letters, use in their marketing.  But I’m just not sure about including testimonials in judging applications because I’ve never seen a bad one.

On the other hand, I know some of our clients never want to be seen publicly as using a VA.  They use us to create the image of being a big company with employees and we work hard to make that integration as seamless as possible – ideally no one should ever realise we aren’t sitting right next to them in their office.  They were happy to give them, but not happy to be identified.

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Going back to the validity of using testimonials, what would you think if the testimonial you got was:  “My VA worked adequately.  She was distinctly average.”  People feel compelled to give a good testimonial, especially when they are asked for them.  They also don’t usually have extensive experience of working with VAs and will obviously have thought that this VA was excellent, otherwise they wouldn’t have hired them in the first place.  So I always take testimonials with a large pinch of salt.

What do you think?  Have testimonials worked well for your business?  When do you ask for them?  Am I being too harsh in my dismissing testimonials as worthless in terms of judging a good VA?

  1. Sue on 18 September, 2010 at 11:06 am

    I’m inclined to agree with you; I always view them on websites with a great deal of scepticism. How can you tell if they aren’t just fiction? It also contravenes client confidentiality.

    However, I’ve put a portfolio page on my website for other websites I’ve designed and maintain which is a bit different (with the client’s consent); I link to them and they link back to me, it’s publicity for both sides.

    • Janet Walker on 30 September, 2010 at 11:47 am

      As someone with a lot of testimonials on my page (all absolutely genuine, and no pointers at all provided (what a cheek!) and many of them completely unsolicited) I was a bit surprised at this. If clients don’t want to give one for any reason at all, that’s fine or, if they do, then it hardly contravenes client confidentiality. Whenever the person concerned has a website, I give a link to that site so that people can check the person is genuine and to give publicity to their business/cause, which is always appreciated.

      Of course no-one would publicise a bad testimonial but if you have a good one, why not use it? We are always told we shouldn’t be providing CVs – how else would you demonstrate to a potential client that you have done good work in the past?

      If you are running a business dealing with a stream of unknown clients, then you will operate in a different way from a VPA like myself who is well known to all my clients. Many of the testimonials I have are by people who are well known in my own particular work niche and of course the potential clients in that niche area recognise the names and know they are genuine. They are very welcome to contact them privately and check the testimonial with them if they want!

      I work with a small construction firm which has gathered testimonials and put five on its publicity leaflet. If people don’t want to provide one, they are under no obligation to but those who have have done it very willingly and some comments are, again, completely unsolicited. They have all been very positive and none has had to be discarded. Just the person’s initials and area of London are used for anonymity but all the original letters/emails are in a file which can be checked by any potential client. The company also uses a referral system as, I believe, do many VAs. If a client wants to refer me to someone else, that’s nice and clearly he doesn’t worry about ‘client confidentiality’.

      Having said all that, I don’t think they should form part of an application to be judged such as in the competition Caroline is referring to unless the original messages can be provided and/or the person concerned is willing to confirm the testimonial (ie actually provide a reference for the judges).

  2. Caroline on 30 September, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Janet – we usually don’t give links/name clients as most of ours don’t want people to know they are using VAs to run their business. This isn’t unique to VAs – I know a few webdesigners who have worked with BIG clients as a subcontractor for another design company and can’t take the credit for their work.

    Checking the testimonials is a good idea – but I know that quite a few VAs were asked to write them and then the client just approved them and sent them in. Madness!

    Still, I’m not convinced they form anything other than a nice bit of blurb on the website – even if the VA hasn’t written them herself or provided pointers, they’ve still selectively chosen that one to appear to give the best impression of their business.

  3. Cathy on 30 September, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    I think it is up to the peron reading the testimonial to decide whether it is true or not. I have quite a few testimonials on my website all of which are genuine and I do feel it benefits my business and me. If I am feeling down at all or need a shot of extra confidence I even go back and read them to pick myself up again. I think they are a good thing, but obviously everyone has their own opinion

  4. Janet Walker on 1 October, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    Caroline – surely everyone selectively puts what they want on their website and chooses referees who will give a good opinion of them. I have yet to see a VA put on her website “I am totally useless at Excel and hate doing Powerpoint presentations” – no, instead they put what they are good at and want to provide as a service. Likewise, I have never yet met anyone who put someone down as referee (unless a required one from the last employer with whom they didn’t get on) whom they weren’t confident would provide a good reference. No-one goes to see a potential client or to a networking event or interview looking scruffy – they try to look their best and give the best impression they can of themselves, their business and their professionalism. I can’t honestly see the difference!

    Incidentally, I have used all the testimonials I’ve been given – I haven’t selected them at all. They just all happened to be very positive. It’s a real shame that those of us who are appreciated genuinely by our clients are now under suspicion of publishing lies on our websites because of the underhand methods of (apparently) some others.

    I understand about the client link thing for your business – it depends on the view of the client. One of mine is happy to give me testimonials on my site but in fact on his he puts me as part of the team and doesn’t refer to me as virtual at all – that’s his choice. It’s the same thing on LinkedIn: two of my clients have done testimonials for me on that and I’ve included them both. If the clients want it, I’ve done recommendations on LinkedIn for them too.

    Cathy – I agree. You are right of course – to each his/her opinion!

  5. Caroline on 4 October, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Totally agree – essentially the testimonial is as valuable as the text on a website or the photos that the VA chooses to display.

    The interesting thing I find is that people are placing such importance on them. For example, there is a company offering a “testimonial management service” where they contact each one of your customers and asks them for testimonials after you complete work for them. And then follow them up until they get a response…

    And, like with the VA Awards judging, I feel very uncomfortable about accepting testimonials as black and white truth. What really sparked this blog post was getting quotes on my windows at home. Each company had glowing testimonials but as I recognised one of the names on there, I called up the lady and asked her if the company had been good. Her response was that they were “perfectly okay but a bit messy” – not what she had said in the testimonial. It made me wonder once more about the validity of using them and what their value is.

    I do think that providing contact details of clients who agree to be contacted is a better way forward – if only because the prospect can ask about the issues which are important to them. Is their timekeeping good? Are your invoices always accurate? Is it a good working relationship?

  6. Charlotte Burford on 4 October, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    I find this post very interesting. On redoing my site recently I wasn’t sure whether to put testimonials on my site or not. It is not helped by the fact that a lot of my clients don’t like people to know that they use me and I respect their privacy and wishes.

    I decided to put two testimonials on my site in the end one of which was for a one off copy typing job. The client didn’t mind saying that they used me and was happy to provide. The other was from a very good client of mine who tell everyone that he uses me and is pleased to do so.

    I then decided to put a link to my LinkedIn Page as these are testimonials that my clients have left freely without me asking them, or if I have asked them and have not wanted to provide I do not take offence.

    I find for me personally client feedback is far more beneficial than client testimonials. The testimonials are nice (and good for potential new clients to look at) but as a business I would like to know if I have done anything wrong, or if something could be improved more than what I have done right. If I don’t ask them for the negative feedback as well as the positive how can I improve my service to them and others?

  7. Sue Edwards on 9 October, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    A surprising post – I always understood that it was good to have testimonials on your website, assuming of course they are full of praise. Surely noone would consider adding even a mediocre one?
    I always wait till I have done a fair amount of work for a customer before I ask for a testimonial and even then I make sure they’re happy to do so.
    Why add a false testimonial? Surely it doesn’t make sense. It’s a bit like making up information to make your CV look good.

  8. Janet Walker on 13 October, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    A “testimonial management service”?! What a ghastly concept! Completely by-passes the idea of a service provider/client relationship.

    Caroline – I absolutely agree re the judging. You need references followed up personally, I should think, preferably by phone! I wouldn’t think testimonials would be sufficient.

  9. Rachel on 25 September, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    I have been reading the comments above, which were in 2010. I think if you can get genuine testimonials that is wonderful, but with LinkedIn encouraging every man and his dog to say how wonderful you are, I am not sure they are worth as much as they should be.

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