What do the Odyssey, Star Wars, and a good customer testimonial all have in common?
They follow the path of the Hero’s Journey.
For those of you not familiar with the Hero’s Journey, here’s Wikipedia’s definition:
… the hero’s journey, is the common template of a broad category of tales that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed.
Depending on who you listen to, the Hero’s Journey is further defined by anywhere from eight to 17 different stages that lead the hero from a state of innocence to one of mastery, triumph, and resolution.
For our purposes here, we’ll be discussing the stages most germane to the practice of writing killer customer testimonials.
As the story begins, the hero’s normal life is interrupted by a previously unforeseen challenge, which the hero is likely to downplay or ignore.
Eventually, he understands that the challenge will not go away and that he must address it in order to survive and prosper.
Once he accepts the challenge, the hero thrashes about looking for a solution, but nothing works.
Just as despair sets in, a mentor or guide appears, who points the hero in the right direction, and prepares him for the adventure ahead.
Armed with this insight, the hero successfully faces the many challenges ahead, and eventually returns to his normal life, enriched by what he has learned and accomplished.
It’s the story arc for pretty much every epic hero, from Ulysses to Luke Skywalker, to name only two. Furthermore, it’s the story arc we look for when we imagine ourselves in the role of the hero. And, who wants to be the hero? Your customers and prospects.
If you want them to engage deeply with your testimonial stories, you must make your customers – not your products and services – the heroes of those stories.
Translating the Hero’s Journey
So, who will be the hero in your next customer testimonial? (Hint: It’s not you!)
That’s right, it’s your customer. She’s the hero of her own story, and she owns the successful outcome.
So, let’s take a look at how this scenario plays out in a typical customer testimonial. Keep in mind that not everyone can tell a good story, so you will have to ask the right questions to ensure that your customer completes the full arc.
Above all, avoid jumping to the end of the story, where your customer buys your product, and everyone lives happily ever after. That’s like jumping to the end of a mystery to see who done it. Plus, it makes your products and services the heroes of the story, not your customers.
Briefly, here’s the story you want to tell.
After a period of denial, our hero begrudgingly realizes that she has a challenge to meet. She tries all manner of solutions, but none of them work.
It’s at this point in her story, that you appear as the mentor or guide, who points her in the right direction and prepares her for the challenge ahead. Armed with the guidance you provide, the hero meets the challenge, solves her own problem, and emerges victorious, enlightened and empowered.
Here’s that same story, broken down into stages, as defined by Joseph Campbell, with questions you can ask to elicit the proper story components.
The Call to Adventure
For the testimonial writer, there are two things to capture at the beginning of the adventure.
The first is an understanding of what things were like before the customer bought from you. The second is how the customer became aware of the challenge.
Questions like the following, modified to fit your particular industry, should help establish what life was like for your customer, before the challenge was made known.
- How did you process orders, before you installed the new system?
- How much money were you losing on that process, before we started working together?
- What was turnover like, before you made those changes?
Next, you’ll want to probe for how and when your customer learned that there was a problem or opportunity. Keep in mind that many of the challenges business people face aren’t as hazardous as they are in Star Wars.
In fact, sometimes they’re not hazards at all, but present themselves as opportunities. You’ll have to modify your inquiry, as appropriate.
Here are some questions that should get you started.
- When did you realize you had a problem?
- How bad was the problem? Who was affected?
- What would have happened if you hadn’t made a change?
Refusal of the Call
As discussed, the hero is likely to thrash about at the beginning of the story, trying all manner of solutions before encountering the guide. This stage is missing from many customer testimonials, which is a real lost opportunity.
Talking about failed solutions helps your audience rule out some of the solutions they’re tempted to try, without your assistance.
Here are some questions you might try to get at those failed attempts.
- What were some of the solutions you tried before you started working with us?
- Why didn’t those solutions work? (You’re looking for those solutions were too complicated, too expensive, only solved half the problem, etc.)
Meeting the Mentor
How did the customer first encounter your brand, and what made them start working with you to meet their challenge?
This is another stage that is often missing from the testimonial narrative. That’s unfortunate because this is the part of the story that establishes your bona fides as a mentor, someone who helps those in need by pointing them in the right direction on their quest for a solution.
Give the following questions a try.
- What did you learn from those early conversations with us?
- What made you realize that you could do better?
- What did you see or hear that first made you want to explore the idea of working with us?
The Road of Trials
Unless you’re selling low-price consumer goods, purchasing, installing, and using your product will bring their own challenges.
No one will believe that getting a company up and running on your enterprise software solution, for example, was easy, so rather than hide those challenges, you should get your customer to talk about them.
Being up-front about the inevitable challenges of putting your solution in play helps your audience understand that, while there may be obstacles, they will ultimately be surmounted, resulting in a successful outcome.
Here are some questions you might try.
- What were some of the challenges you faced in implementing our solution?
- How did you solve those problems?
- If you did it again, what would you do differently?
Victory and Enlightenment
(The Ultimate Boon)
This is the payoff portion of the testimonial, where the customer talks about how much better things are, now that your solution is in place.
Remember, this is your customer’s story, her journey, and her victory. Try to refrain from asking your customer about how great your solution is. Rather, focus on what your customer can achieve, now that your solution is in place.
Here are some questions to get you started.
- What are you now doing that you couldn’t do before?
- How are you using our so-and-so module to drive additional revenue?
- How has your life as a marketer changed since you implemented our solution?
Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to ask your customer about her personal transformation, since she began using your product. (This is especially true for video testimonials, which excel at bringing out the human element behind business stories.)
This might seem like a lot to cover, but it’s really not. Here’s an example of a truncated customer testimonial that has been structured around the Hero’s Journey.
We had been doing really well in the widget market until we got hit with that new regulation. In the beginning, it wasn’t being enforced, but then a few of our competitors got hit with fines, and we knew that we had to do something.
At first, we tried moving some of our assets out of the cloud, but that solutions soon became unsustainable. That’s when I first met the folks at Company X.
They explained that we could be in compliance with the new regulation and still keep all our assets in the cloud, provided that we made a few modifications to our infrastructure.
Installing their solution wasn’t easy, but it sure was worth it. We struggled with internal buy-in and the project timeline, but we finally got everything moving in the right direction and completed the project with less than a two-week delay.
I’ve got us back into full compliance, using Company X’s so-and-so module, and we’re killing it in the widget market, again.
Having gone through all of this, I have a much better understanding of how compliance works in this industry, and I feel better prepared to face the next regulation they throw at us.
If you’re in the widget industry, that testimonial is likely to have meaning for you. You should identify with the hero, feel her pain, and be able to envision a similarly successful outcome for yourself.
Compare that to the customer testimonial that drones on and on about this feature and that feature, without ever really touching on what the experience really meant to the companies and people involved.
Make the Hero’s Journey Work for You
Customers want to feel like they’re in control of their own destinies, and not the lucky beneficiaries of your company’s genius and generosity.
By following the arc of the Hero’s Journey in your testimonials, your audience will be able to engage with your successful customers and see you as the mentor who makes it possible for them to complete their journey.
For more on the most powerful form of the customer testimonial – the video testimonial, check out our Ultimate How-to Guide to Video Testimonials.