Storytelling – How to Connect with Your Customers


HowAirbnb makes Storytelling 

Storytelling is the most tool in the business area. 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

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 ‘storytelling’, 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 behavior 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.

PowerPoint slide are NOT a storytelling

Bullets on a PowerPoint slide are NOT storytelling 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) storytelling – is shining the light on the customer – in the organisation, through powerful and carefully constructed (but deeply insightful) narratives.

We all find storytelling 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 storytrlling, 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.

There are neurobiology studies that provide evidence for this theory. Brain scans have shown that reading or hearing stories activate 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 has run experiments. It shows 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. Also 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, communications consulting firm).

Using customer stories to engage the business, is more likely to influence held internal beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Then 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.

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” centers 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. It is 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:

  1. Your customer is the hero of the story (not the brand or the company).
  2. The message that you want to share is authentic, real, and vivid. Based on deep and evolving data/insight.
  3. Blends art and science. And it weaves in the facts, data, statistics, real experiences in a memorable and compelling way.
  4. Focus on the emotional and human elements to win the hearts and minds of employees.
  5. Your story shares the reality of the customer’s experiences. Their pain, and struggles versus their expectations.
  6. Language is simple, accessible and in customer not business ‘speak’.
  7. The story is memorable.

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. Also to empathy her and empathise with her. It all begins with customer listening.

What is your customer’s story?

Smiling Companies, Happy Customers.