How to Connect with Your Customers Using Story Telling


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Airbnb loves to share their host’s and guest’s stories.

Airbnb is a digital platform designed to facilitate bookings between guests and hosts. They connect people. If you enter this online world of Airbnb, you can easily come across the stories of guests, hosts, and people across the world. The narrative is personal, heart-warming, and touching. It’s hard not to feel transported and immersed in their world as you read their tales, watch their videos and look at their photos.

For example, here is Anna’s story. As you read it, her passion for hosting guests is palpable.

“I would really like them to experience my home like they were Icelanders for a week or so. And that is what’s fantastic about Airbnb.”

She talks of the little things that she does to make guests feel welcome. All of this really brings to life, what it would be like to be either host or guest of AirBnB.

Behaviour is driven by emotion, not logic

“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in heart forever.”
— Native American Proverb

How many times have you stood up (or sat down in a virtual Zoom/ Teams world) to share a presentation for a new project or a change you want to see happen and where you need to get people on board? Your audience will have come with their own set of beliefs, context, statistics, and experiences. You’ve been in the same situation yourself; you know that as you present your ‘case’, they will be arguing with you in their heads, questioning what you’re saying.

If you do manage to gain agreement or get your audience on your side, you’ve likely done so on an intellectual basis only and that’s not enough to have moved them to action. Research has proven that our behaviour is driven by emotion, not by logic, so you can’t be guaranteed that your audience will be inspired to act by (your) reason alone.

Bullets on a PowerPoint slide are NOT a story and won’t help engage and embed a customer’s story into the business – not enough to gain their support, get people to fully empathise with customers, and feel inspired to act and believe. Narratives are essential to every society and to businesses to motivate leaders and employees alike, around their customer’s story.

Tell your audience a compelling story and you are much more likely to gain their support and inspire your audience to act and believe.

Typically, storytelling has been used as a marketing mechanic, to promote the brand. It has been touted as an engagement strategy to communicate the brand to customers or sell to them. We believe that telling the customer story internally is often more important to create alignment and motivate a customer orientation. Customer (not brand) story telling – is shining the light on the customer – in the organisation, through powerful and carefully constructed (but deeply insightful) narratives.

We all find stories fascinating

Stories are universal and help us find common ground with each other. From ancient caves in France 30,000 years ago to novels to movies to Netflix, we all love stories, maybe even more so during Covid lockdown. According to the BBC, the average adult spends at least 6% of the waking day engrossed in fictional stories across various screens.

The desire to tell and hear stories has never waned and greatly impacts the way we look at life. With customer-orientated stories, we find common ground with our customers; we then connect and communicate with them more meaningfully.

Source: Shutterstock

The more people are exposed to stories, the easier they find it to empathise

There are neurobiology studies which provide evidence for this theory, brain scans have shown that reading or hearing stories activates areas of the cortex known to be linked to social and emotional processing. The more stories people read, the easier they find it to empathise with other people. Telling customer stories will help people better understand, appreciate and connect with customers.

Paul J. Zak, (Ph.D., author of Trust Factor: The Science of High-Performance Companies and The Moral Molecule: How Trust Works, and director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University) has run experiments that show that “character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall of these points weeks later.” So why wouldn’t we tell more stories in business?

Why is this important to the business?

We hear this almost every day, that our world, and that of our customers is changing. We are all having to constantly adapt.

We have at our fingertips data that can help us make data-driven business decisions and stay relevant to the customer, like never before, but business leaders “won’t be heard unless they’re telling stories,” says Nick Morgan, (author of Power Cues and president and founder of Public Words, a communications consulting firm).

Using customer stories to engage the business, is more likely to influence held internal beliefs, attitudes and behaviours than mere data and facts, because stories are more engaging.

“Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.”
—Jean Luc Godard

We believe that there are four areas of alignment which are key to customer centricity and therefore business growth. In our business, we have based our model for aligning the business and the customer, around these.

© Customer Alignment 2021

My articles as an Advisor for Customer Think in 2021 are going to explore each of these areas. The first part being ‘Customer Thinking’.

Customer Thinking

“Customer Thinking” centres around ensuring that the customer story is part of the organisation’s DNA. We assess how well organisations actually employ consistent and relevant customer listening to uncover, assess, build and share the customer’s narrative within the organisation. And if they don’t, we guide them with tools, coaching and analysis.

Organisations can use customer stories in many areas of the business including education, problem-solving, decision-making, innovation, envisioning and strategising the future.

Who does it well?

So yes, I ‘googled’ it. And this is the first hit, I came across:

The Most Famous (Business) Storytellers of All Time

  1. Anita Roddick
  2. Walt Disney
  3. Richard Branson
  4. Bruce Springsteen
  5. Steve Jobs
  6. Sheryl Sandberg
  7. Tony Robbins
  8. Oprah Winfrey
  9. Elon Musk
  10. Stephen King

Whether or not you agree with everyone on that list, it definitely contains people who have known how to harness stories to inspire their organisations (and their customers).

What makes for a well-constructed & compelling customer narrative?

The customer story which is presented to all employees needs to meet some customer fundamentals:

  • The customer is the hero of the story (not the brand or the company)
  • The message that you want to share:
    • Is authentic, real and vivid, based on deep and evolving data/insight
    • It blends art and science – it weaves in the facts, data, statistics, real experiences in a memorable and compelling (and arguably creative) way
    • It focuses on the emotional and human elements to win hearts and minds of employees
  • The story shares the reality of the customer’s experiences, their pain and struggles versus their expectations (so that people want to do something about it)
  • Language is simple, accessible and in customer not business ‘speak’
  • The story is memorable

Thinking back to the PowerPoint presentation at the beginning of this article, If you can harness the organisation’s imagination with a well-told customer story, you will be getting applause and high fives, not yawning and bored indifference.

Story-telling allows companies to visualise the customer in the organisation and to empathy her and empathise with her. It all begins with customer listening.

What is your customer’s story?

Smiling Companies, Happy Customers

Amanda Davis

Amanda writes and shares Thought Leadership, drawing on her 15 years of coaching, guiding, mentoring and consulting for clients in various sectors and sizes around the world. She helps establish organisations understand how to connect to customers; find ways to align their expectations with the culture & capability of the organisation. She has a particular focus on customer experience transformation in the digital age, ensuring that technology development starts and finishes with the customer. Amanda has been a regular featured columnist and advisor for Customer Think since 2018.


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