“StoryServing”: The power of a good narrative in customer service

“Let me tell you a story.” This particular line has always had a powerful way of grabbing the attention of listeners. We all love a good story. Stories have a way of appealing to our emotions as well as our minds. Storytelling is as old as humankind. Long before we could put some form of text on rock faces, clay tablets and papyrus sheets, we were telling stories to keep record of what was transpiring around us.

Through storytelling, our forebears were able to hand down valuable life lessons that has been with us and kept us safe till today. The National Storytelling Network of the US, a group formed back in 1975, defines storytelling as “the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination.” In telling stories therefore, the one must be able to use words, gestures and actions to paint pictures in the minds of listeners.

One area in which storytelling is often put to use is in the area of selling. In attempting to convince someone to part with his or her hard-earned money in exchange for a product or service, sales professionals often resort to the use of stories to get their message across. This is what is referred to by some as StorySelling. As a matter of fact, sales gurus affirm that an ability to tell stories around one’s products and services is a must-have skill for all sales professionals.

It is widely accepted that by using stories, sales pros are able to get customers to better receive and retain the message. Using stories, especially of real-life cases, a sales professional can hold the attention of prospects. Customers are better able to relate to such stories. In StorySelling, the sales pro is better able to connect to the prospects and thereby has a better chance of making the sale. A good way to StorySell is to place the customer in the very centre of the story using whatever service or product is being sold. A sale professional who is able to use a good story to get the product into the head, hand and heart of the customer before the deal is done is one step closer to getting the deal done.

The 1944 film used by Austrian psychologist, Fritz Heider and German-American psychologist, Marianne Simmel in their research on interpersonal perception is quite an interesting piece. If there was anything that study taught us it is that human beings are hardwired to create stories. We create stories because that is the way we receive information from our surroundings. The two researchers made a film of two triangles, a circle and a rectangle. These objects were made to bump into each other in a series of interesting ways.

An overwhelming majority of those who viewed the short film ended up creating whole stories just by looking at these geometric shapes bounce off each other. Just by observing the objects move about, people were able to create interesting stories. According to that study, human beings use stories as a means of making meaning of the world we find ourselves in. Stories help us make sense of our surroundings.

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It is important to note that good storytellers are more easily remembered; therefore, a good StorySeller would also be more readily recalled by customers. And in the ultra-competitive environment we find ourselves, where every little advantage counts, it does not hurt if one stands out from crowd for something positive. If customers will walk away from the transaction feeling great because of the individual who they dealt with, then selling with stories is a good thing.

The need for storytelling in communicating with customers is now, more than ever, a very important facet of business communications. In times past, the selling activity was a predominantly aggressive, and borderline dubious, activity whereby customers were coerced, forced and even hoodwink into making purchases they never intended to make. I recently came across some of my own lecture notes from more than a decade ago and I must admit some of the strategies I taught were downright unethical. In those days, it was all about pushing one’s product down the customer’s throat—by any means necessary.

Thankfully, times have changed. Today’s customers will not be bullied into making purchases they have no intentions of making. Today’s customers are inundated with options so they would not bother switching to the competition at the least provocation. This has made the job of those who sell to customers understandably much harder. However, it is not only the sales professional who is being made to work for her money. Anyone who deals with customers at the front line is also being made to adopt a different approach to communicating with customers. Customer-facing employees must, as a matter of necessity, adopt a much more cordial approach to dealing with customers.

Enter StoryServing!

Yes, StoryServing—an amalgamation of the old act of storytelling with service. Serving customer needs through storytelling, that is what it is. A good customer-facing professionals is one who knows what to say and when to say it. A chunk of the issues that degenerate into customer dissatisfaction is a result of something that was said. If what is said can have such an effect on a customer’s impressions of the quality of service, then the importance of using stories as a means of communicating at the front line cannot be overemphasized.

It is crucial to iterate at this juncture that calling for the telling of stories in communicating with customers is not calling for customer-handling professionals to resort to fibs and outright lies. Lying to customers, no matter how convenient it might seem at the time, is a no-no. The end result can be disastrous. StoryServing is about communicating with tact and thoughtfulness.

It is one thing to tell a customer that his request cannot be granted at a certain time and it is another thing to do so with a nice story. StoryServing is about employing a human face to present an unpleasant news to a customer in a way that would make the bitter medicine a bit easier to swallow. It is about saying “No” without actually saying “No”.

It is widely believed that the best teachers are usually good story tellers. They have an uncanny ability to couch whatever lesson they have in a nicely-woven story that students easily recall. It is a fact that stories help people retain more of what they hear than just a listing of mere facts and figures. This is why the greatest teachers who ever walked among us left us with so many stories. They did not want us to forget the valuable lessons. Therefore, if there is valuable information that needs to be sent to customers, it would greatly help if that information is delivered with a story.

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People buy emotionally and attempt to justify logically. This is something we have heard said so many times and there is a lot of truth in it. Stories are needed to ensure that the purchase is done because stories appeal to our emotions. However, the story should not end when the organization has the customer’s money in its account. The whole concept of buyers’ remorse—when customers feel a tinge of regret after parting away with their money—is mostly as a result of the emotions of the initial purchase wearing away. This is where StoryServing can be employed very well. The period after the purchase is a period where stories can be used to keep the positive emotions still running.

In many cases, where customers have stopped doing business with a particular brand or organization, it was because the customer was left on her own—without as much as a single contact from the organization. Many businesses fail to maintain contacts with the customer after the purchase. They fail to utilize the power of a good story to constantly remind the customer of the prudence of making that purchase.

It pays to tell stories of the experiences of other customers, without necessarily mentioning the names and specific details of those customers—to reassure one’s customers of the astuteness of the purchase. Such a customer would not only be rest assured of the purchase but would perceive that organization has having her interest at heart.

An August 2010 publication of a study titled “Speaker–listener neural coupling underlies successful communication” revealed a very interesting finding related to the use of stories. Conducted by three researchers from Princeton University. It was found that when individuals listen to the same story, they develop a sort of bonding—which the researchers referred to as “neural coupling”—between themselves. In other words, the use of stories in communicating with customers is a sure way to get a customer to feel a connection with the customer-handling professional.

As long as we continue to interact with each other, we will continue to tell stories. It is a part and parcel of the human existence. However, it is a smart business that would take something as ordinary as a story and turn it into a whole customer service strategy. Such a business would collect a treasure trove of stories that would be disseminated throughout the organization to be put to use whenever there is a need for such. The old year is gone with all its challenges and triumphs, victories and failures. The start of a New Year is always an opportune time to try something new. Why not StoryServe your way into your customers’ hearts this year?

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