Janet Mobley was working with an auto repair shop to improve the shop’s marketing efforts. Mobley, the owner of marketing and graphic design firm FatCat Strategies, Raleigh, N.C., and a 16-year marketing veteran, suggested to the shop’s owners that they use customer testimonials to supplement their marketing. But the owners, Mobley says, were not comfortable gathering testimonials. At that point, the office manager opened a desk drawer and brought out a handful of cards, thank-you notes for many jobs well-done. The owners had the material for testimonials already; they just didn’t think of the cards in those terms. And that’s a lesson for senior advisors.

Thank you very much

Seniors may be among the last people in the country who actually take the time to write thank-you cards. The more tech-savvy among them may even send thank-you e-mails. Either way, those notes of thanks represent one great way to gather customer testimonials: Take advantage of the praise you get without even asking for it. If a client sends a card with a glowing sentiment written inside, get her permission to repackage it as a testimonial and get it into your marketing materials and on your Web site.

To get clients interested in sending notes of thanks, advisors have to be sure to take care of rule No. 1 in the testimonial game…

1. Earn it. The best–and most difficult, but worth it–way to garner customer testimonials is to make yourself worthy. Be the advisor you claim to be and your clients expect. Promise the moon and the stars, then deliver the moon, the stars and the planets.

“The No. 1 way to get testimonials,” Mobley says, “is by offering great customer service. Financial professionals are in the helping profession. They’re doing their job best when they are genuinely trying to help solve clients’ problems.”

The auto repair shop wasn’t even trying to gather testimonials, didn’t feel compelled to do so and yet the owners had a drawer full of them when the time came. Simply by doing a great job and offering exceptional customer service, the shop was a testimonial-generating machine. Advisors have the capability to do the same thing — with people’s money, their most valuable asset.

2. Use their words. Whether you take great notes during a meeting or record the proceedings — with client permission — never let a moment of praise go undocumented. If a client says something that strikes you as testimonial-worthy, be sure to get it down so it can be presented to the client later.

Being an advisor is all about coaching, and testimonials are just another area where clients may need that coaching. “There’s nothing wrong with helping them along with the words,” says Jeff Kopitz, president of the National Ethics Bureau, in Carlsbad, Calif. “But definitely get their OK. Make sure they are comfortable with the wording, and get permission to use their name.”

In fact, failing to get permission from clients to use their words in your marketing is one omission that could cost you. Kopitz sees it as a big ethical breach, one that is so easy to avoid. (For more mistakes to avoid in gathering testimonials, see sidebar at left.) While Kopitz suggests that using a full name and city of residence is most effective, bashful clients might be placated with a first name, last initial arrangement.

Phone conversations are another time clients will extol an advisor’s virtues, so be ready to capture those sentiments, too. Mobley says that advisors who’ve made testimonials a regular part of their marketing plans will be less likely to miss these opportunities.

“If I’m on the phone and a client praises me,” she says, “if I’ve already thought it out, it’s natural to ask if I can send them a permission slip to use their words in a testimonial. Being prepared is key.”

3. Client advisory boards. Not all advisors use advisory boards, but they are good tools for getting the pulse of one’s client base, and they can turn into great places to secure testimonials, too. You don’t want to stack an advisory board full of clients you know will sing your praises, unless that’s what you’re looking for. Testimonials are a nice bonus, but advisory boards should be aimed at gathering direct and honest feedback. How can your practice run better? What services should you offer? If, in the course of collecting the kind of feedback that will make your practice stronger, a couple of the participants say something that would make great testimonials, be ready to ask their permission to use it. Do it there, though, instead of waiting.

“Strike the iron while it’s hot,” Mobley encourages. “You don’t want to go back three weeks later and ask if they remember what they said at the meeting.”

4. Customer appreciation events. These are also good testimonial creators. They’re opportunities to mingle with clients in a no-pressure setting that tells them how much you appreciate their business. They’re also events that leave clients with good feelings toward their advisor, feelings they may want to translate into kind words.

Events can be as elaborate (paid excursions to ball games, or the theater) or as simple (a family oriented BBQ) as suits your client base. Many have also dovetailed the events with an annual holiday celebration. Just be sure to formalize the process of recording your clients’ sure-to-be positive impressions into testimonial form.

5. Help from NEB. As part of its ongoing efforts to put consumers’ minds at ease when it comes to advisors, the NEB is adding a customer service survey form to its member materials, and making the form available to non-members, too. Members already let clients and prospects know they are NEB-affiliated. Now they can inform clients they are going to ask them to fill out a survey at the end of the meeting or series of meetings. The client or advisor will send those forms to NEB, and comments included on those forms can be turned into testimonials–with client permission.
Advisors can create their own surveys, of course, and they probably should, but the third-party endorsed surveys may put more minds at ease and encourage more open praise.

“Customer service forms from a third party organization are a powerful way to show accountability to clients,” Kopitz says.

Either way, advisors who know clients will be filling out surveys are more likely to provide the level of service that makes them testimonial-worthy.