Storytelling is a powerful tool that can be used to capture your customer’s journey. Humans are natural storytellers – and story listeners. We are wired to remember information better when it’s told as a story. Listening to your customers’ stories will improve your product and increase customer loyalty.
I think you’d agree that the rapidly changing nature of the modern consumer is making it harder to pin down your customer’s journey. Gone are the days when people bought the same car, newspaper and brand of coffee year after year.
What on earth makes people buy one product over another in this hyper-modern, digitalised consumer world of ours?
And, more importantly, how can you keep track of them in such a rapidly-changing environment?
Well, it turns out, there is an effective way of understanding the fundamentals of your customer’s experience and easily translating this into customer loyalty:
We love to tell stories. And listen to them. From pre-historic cave drawings to Shakespeare. From Homer’s Illiad to Disney. Stories have always played a huge role in every society. They are used to portray emotions, powerfully capturing the hearts and minds of their audience.
WE’RE WIRED TO TELL STORIES
Recently, confirmation of the potency of stories has come from a surprising source.
A recent study in Neuroeconomics has shown “that character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make”.
This is because we are “wired” to connect with people when we are exposed to their emotional experiences. If we see or hear somebody go through a happy, sad, stressful or tense situation, our brains tell us “this is something you need to remember”. So, our attention switches on and we retain the information in the story.
These revelations in Neuroscience simply reinforce what Consumer Psychology and Anthropology have been saying for a long time.
Anthropologists tell us that storytelling is a central tenet of human existence, a fundamental way in which we create social bonds and build cultures.
And psychologists tell us that stories are how we think: we take in information and turn it into a sort of mental narrative in order to better understand it.
“Character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make”
STORYTELLING HAS A PLACE IN BUSINESS TOO
But, the power of storytelling is not only useful for building links between different academic disciplines. It also has huge potential in business. How?
By revolutionising Customer Experience.
In today’s high-speed, low-fidelity consumer culture, it may seem impossible to keep up with all the purchasing decisions of your customer.
Fortunately, though, consumers are people too. Meaning there is always a consistent narrative running through their purchasing decisions, motivating what and why they buy. Capturing this narrative in the form of a story holds the key to understanding their motivations.
And this allows you to tailor your product to suit their needs. And that allows you to gain their loyalty. Which is what we all want, right? Customer loyalty?
But how does it all work? Below are 5 reasons why storytelling is such an effective tool for improving Customer Experience.
#1 PEOPLE TELL EXPERIENCES VIA STORIES
This point seems fairly well-worn at this stage in the article, so it doesn’t need pressing. It’s a simple truth – people communicate their past experiences in the form of stories. We tell stories about our lives, picturing ourselves as the lead character going through a series of events and emotions.
Think of the last time you were telling a colleague about your weekend. You would never “powerpoint” the core facts of watching you daughter play football – that would just be strange. It’s more natural to tell a story, evoking the joy when she scored the last-minute winner, or the anger when she was wrongly red-carded.
#2 CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES ARE EMOTIONALLY CHARGED
In 2011, Airbnb were at a critical juncture, knowing they had a big next-step to take but unsure of what to do. What they did know was that their decision needed to be driven by their customers.
So, they brought in a Pixar storyboard artist to help them capture their customers’ travel experiences in a story format. They found that the key decision-making processes in a guest’s journey are emotionally charged and heavily dictate the rest of the stay.
The guest goes through a range of emotions such as angst about the state of the home, nervousness at meeting a stranger to collect keys, and relief when everything seems to live up to their expectations. These emotions are experienced at different touch-points along their customer journey, e.g. at what they’ve called the “moment of truth”:
“In the guest story, there’s a “moment of truth” when they arrive at the Airbnb space they’ve rented and immediately decide if doing so was a good idea.”
A story is much more compelling in connecting the customer’s emotional experience to the touch-points than facts and numbers. Along with the Pixar artist, then, Airbnb produced a series of storyboards that beautifully portray a typical Airbnb stay, capturing the customer’s emotional state at each touch-point.
It seems stupid to say but, customers are human. And the vividly descriptive narrative of a story is perfect for capturing the emotional complexity and contextuality of humans – something a cold, hard number will never be able to do.
#3 CUSTOMERS CONSTRUCT THEIR OPINIONS AROUND STORIES OF PAST EXPERIENCES
However much we like to think it, we are not rational animals. We do not make well-informed, objective decisions. Rather, the decisions we make are heavily influenced by prior experience.
More specifically, research in Cognitive Psychology shows that decisions are influenced by the stories we tell of our own past experience. If we construct a positive story about a past experience, we will remember the events in a positive light, making us more likely to have positive opinions of the people, places or products in that story.
Think about it: who wouldn’t believe their own story?
If I tell a friend about how much fun I had at a concert, I am more likely to think positively about the concert. Yet, if I focus on the overpriced drinks, the long queues and the sweaty crowd-surfers in my storytelling, my own opinion of the concert will go down.
Nike have taken advantage of this faculty of storytelling extremely well in their current marketing campaign.
Starting with its ‘Just Do It’ campaign, Nike has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to successful marketing campaigns, constantly reinventing themselves and adapting to new challenges.
Their newest endeavour “Social Sharing” is no different. When they first introduced Nike+ Run Club, they would automatically update your information on social media for you, effectively doing all the active engagement so you don’t have to.
However, the latest update to the app has taken away the automatic social media posting. Now, they allow you to “share the story” in your own way. Actively telling your own story means you will tell the story positively.
This doesn’t only provide your peers with a positive view of Nike, it also improves your own opinion of Nike. By telling a positive story which includes Nike’s product, you are influencing your own opinion of the brand purely because you are the one telling the story. Clever stuff!
#4 BRANDS ARE USED AS ANCHOR POINTS IN STORYTELLING
Whether conscious or not, our storytelling is littered with references to products and brands. And there is good reason for this. When telling a story, referring to a product allows you to describe a certain scenario or evoke an emotion without having to go into minute detail.
The descriptive might of products comes from the fact that they are heavily laden with cultural value. By referring to a well-known product or brand, a storyteller can easily convey meaning to her audience and bring them into the story.
Let’s have a look at an example:
“… and then he asked me if I wanted to Netflix-and-chill!”
Even though we have no other context or storyline, this tells us all we need to know about this girls experience. “Netflix-and-chill” is such an evocative phrase that it succinctly provides masses of description and context to the audience – in just three small words.
Coincidentally, Netflix have actually taken notice of this rather seedy usage of their brand in popular culture and used it to their advantage. Rather than fight this potentially negative image, they have embraced it and shaped their social media image around it.
Consumer psychologist, A.G Woodside, has shown that this is an inherent element of storytelling: “consumers often use products and services as props or anthropomorphic identities to enact story productions”.
We use products to elucidate a moral in a story because they capture the essence of the story so powerfully.
“consumers often use products and services as props or anthropomorphic identities to enact story productions”
Because brands are so deeply entrenched in our culture, they create their own identity despite how the company themselves see it.
This is important for businesses attempting to understand their customer. The product takes on this culturally-produced identity when customers recount their experiences. They refer to this version of products when “anchoring” their experience to the multiple brand touch-points.
#5 STORIES TRIGGER EMOTION IN YOUR EMPLOYEES
The most powerful aspect of a story is its ability to move an audience. Just think about the last film that made you cry (Love Actually, anyone?) When hearing a story, we connect to the characters and feel their emotions with them.
This is possibly the biggest reason for listening to your customers’ stories. It’s all well and good letting your customers tell stories and share them with each other (like in the Nike case). But it is ultimately your employees who need to hear these stories.
And, as we have seen, customer experiences are extremely emotional. When you hear your customer telling their story, you literally feel the emotions that they are feeling. You feel their happiness, sadness, fear and frustration.
Research in Neuroscience shows that we remember something better if we are emotionally connected to it. Emotions trigger more parts of the brain than facts, meaning our brain is more “on” when hearing an emotional story.
So, it remembers more.
Be it designers, marketers or frontline staff, all your employees need to hear what the customer is thinking and feeling. Because they are the ones with the power to change the product. They are the ones improving product design, increasing awareness, and sending your product out into the customer’s world.
GO CAPTURE THOSE STORIES
Storytelling, then, is an extremely effective way of understanding your customer better. If you want to increase your customer loyalty in today’s highly competitive market, you need to start listening to their stories.
But don’t take my word for it – ask your customer!