Why You Can’t Rely on Memory to get Stellar Testimonials and What to do Instead (Hint: It’s Brain Science)

Have you ever wondered why so many testimonials seem like they came out of a giant testimonial factory somewhere in the deep dark corners of the internets?

Some massive monster of a machine churning out praise after praise, shaped from the same overused mold!

I think this is because many of these are at least partly written by the service provider herself (yes I know shocking!) simply because the customer was either too busy or because seller was just too scared that the words will not be able to capture the sheer awesomeness of her work.

And I can’t really blame her (even if I do silently judge her)

People are horrible at recalling experiences…even great ones.

Even if the client experience was as special as holding her first-born, it is very rare that the brain retains the essence of that experience for too long. Our brains are terrible at reconstructing memories and that sucks for getting testimonials.

Wanna know what affects memories?

  1. What happens after – any event that happens after changes the memory of the original event
  2. What happens in parallel– Something that happened at two separate events but during the same time frame could be fused into one.
  3. What never happened – Our brain sometimes fills in memory gaps with random unreal events simply because they fit the person’s previous experiences.

How Words can Actually Change People’s Memories:

The words used to recall past experiences are super important and can actually change people’s memories. I strongly suggest you check out the work of Elizabeth Loftus who proved how a change of words can influence the recall of events in eye witness testimonies.

In the experiments Loftus showed a video clip of an automobile accident followed by a series of questions about the accident. The way she worded her questions about the speed of the car (using the word smash instead of hit for example) had a massive impact on the recall of the participants. Those who were asked “how fast do you think the car was going when it hit the other car” estimated the speed to be almost half of those who were asked the same question but using the word smashed instead of hit.

Can you imagine what this means for testimonials?

Your customer will reconstruct the memory of their experience on their own, unless you support the creation of that memory.

Take a moment to grasp that!

They need your help in recreating the memory of the experience and only when you do that well, can you hope to get testimonials that are impressive, capture the spirit of your awesomeness and are genuine.

You know what you need to do right?

Rule Number One: Ask for the testimonial as soon after the use as possible, when the memory is top of the mind and mutual feelings are warm and fluffy!

Rule Number Two: Always always always send them a template, a questionnaire or a fill-out form where they can share their experience with you on different things. This helps nudge their brains into recreating memories of specific aspects.

So no more one liners requesting them to “share their thoughts on the experience” but a detailed “leading” questionnaire that asks for their opinion on everything from effectiveness to ease of use to professionalism. Make sure you ask questions about specific features you wish to highlight in your marketing messages.

Rule Number Three: Use high emotion words that help aid better, more positive memory recall. Don’t ask about how this experience has “changed” but how it has “transformed” their approach to life. Instead of saying if the course has made her more “happy”, try saying if it has made her more “joyful”.

Small tweaks like these could mean that she will recall the experience for what it really was (hopefully a positive one) and not a watered down version.

Do try these tips and don’t forget to send me the testimonial you get after using these three rules….AFTER you have proudly displayed it on your site. I will be waiting!

A science backed, psychology trick for getting stellar testimonialsA science backed, psychology trick for getting stellar testimonials #entrepreneurtips #marketingtips #onlinebusiness #thepersuasionrevolution


  1. Alex on August 12, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Bushra, fantastic piece. Number 3 is my favourite. By the way, your articles keep getting better and better! 🙂

    • bushra.a on August 20, 2014 at 5:49 pm

      Thanks Alex, you are such a wonderful writer yourself that this is high praise for me 🙂

  2. Lisa on December 2, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Another good hint is to set the template up in a way that the last thing the customer thinks about is something positive.
    1. Name 1 thing that could be improved
    2. Name 3 things you really liked about this


    • bushra.a on January 28, 2015 at 9:31 am

      Brilliant idea there Lisa. Thanks!

  3. Sabita on February 1, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    Nice post Bushra. 🙂

    Clients always seem busy when you ask for testimonial right after the project. I can totally relate to it. The memory factor has caused me to wait significantly. It feels weird to remind them of the details.

    What I did recently was to track the written conversations with the client, and I then mined them for the warmth they poured my way. I made it the essence of recapturing client’s words into a testimonial ( the real one) :D.

    Well, It’s a great idea to have a structured set of questions to lock the experience right there and then. But still it makes me think: how to ensure having the testimonial right after the project?


  4. Rosalind on June 16, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    This is a great post! Testimonials and reviews are a great asset to any business and can help attract new customers. It’s really important to get good reviews and build them into your marketing strategy.

  5. Kerrilee on April 3, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    Thanks for the awesome post Bushra. In my in-person business (vs. online) I usually have my clients fill out an ‘exit survey’ during our last session. If I frame it as a testimonial, they are at first leary because they aren’t sure they want to share their experience of coming to see me – I’m a hypnotherapist. The questions guide them to focus on the fabulous “transformations” they have experienced as a result. Then at the end, when they’ve had a chance to actually focus on and write down all the positives, I ask them to provide a signature if it is ok to use their ‘testimonial.’ I haven’t had one person say no. And I’ve wound up with some amazing testimonials. Once I implement more of the high emotion words into my survey, as you suggest, I’m sure my clients will be begging me to share the fact that they sought out the services of a hypnotist 🙂 Thanks again Bushra!

  6. Kristen Iuppenlatz Grech on April 3, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    Perfect timing, as always, Bushra. Thanks for more nuggets.

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