I’ll be honest: I was a little freaked out when I read the prompt on the CMSWire Editorial Calendar for a theme — “The Psychology and Science Behind Modern Customer Experience.” I’m not a psychologist — I don’t even play one on TV — nor am I a scientist, which is more my wife’s domain.

What perspectives or insights, then, could I add to this particular take on customer experience?

My Corporate Superpower: Storytelling

Late last year, I was at corporate head office for a team event, during which we were asked what particular “superpower” we brought to the team. My immediate answer was that I was a storyteller, which got me thinking: Does storytelling have a role to play in modern customer experience? Of course it does!

For example: Recently I was out for a meetup with colleagues who live near me, and someone mentioned that they were taking the following day off to spend the day at the company that runs the billing for our local toll roads. This immediately elicited sympathetic groans from around the table and unleashed a flood of stories; everyone had a tale of woe about dealing with said organization for various reasons.

That organization’s customer experience reputation, or lack thereof, was summarized in those eight stories around the dinner table.

And that’s the power of storytelling.

Related Article: Why Visual Storytelling Is Important to Brand Messaging

Striving for Customers to Share Tales of Joy

But ideally you don’t want customers spinning tales of woe, as myself and my colleagues did. Instead, you want them to be telling tales of joy. You want them to be so enthusiastic about doing business with you that they will tell tales of recommendation.

Learning Opportunities

So how do we go about creating those stories? Surely the psychology and science can help? They can, but we shouldn’t rely on them. They are tools that can inform and help us build our messages.

I’ve written previously about how the numbers are a reflection of what happened in the past. They are an indication of what people did at a given point in time: what they don’t tell us is why they did what they did.

Build Empathy for Customers, Craft Narratives 

We need to build empathy to understand the customer’s wants and needs. We need to understand what they are trying to achieve when they interact with us, and then craft narratives that help them achieve those goals. The key word for me here is ”craft.” We need to understand the craft of the storyteller as much as we need to understand the needs of our customers, and the data we collect about their behavior.

It’s generally accepted that first rule of storytelling is to know your audience, but there are other aspects to consider.

In his excellent book, “Story,” screenwriter Robert McKee lays out the 10 commandments of storytelling. They are intended for outlining dramatic cinematic story arcs, but I believe they also can be applied to the way we build the customer experience story:

  1. Thou shalt not take the crisis or climax out of the protagonist’s hands: Make sure that you deliver an experience in such a way that the customer feels that they have completed their task themselves based on the knowledge and steps that you presented.
  2. Thou shalt not make life easy for the protagonist: This may seem to be a counter-intuitive one as our role should be to make any experience as easy and intuitive as possible. But we also may need to educate and inform the customer along the way. So think about how we can do that too.
  3. Thou shalt not use false mystery or surprise: Don’t hold back anything that is integral to the customer’s understanding of the process. Reveal information in a logical manner. Make sure that your customers have the information they need to know at the time that they need it.
  4. Thou shalt respect thine audience: Respect your audience’s level of knowledge. Use that data you collect to understand where they are in their customer journey and their history of interactions with you to date.
  5. Thou shalt have a good knowledge of your universe: Give the customer the confidence that we know what we are talking about and the information we are delivering is of value. Demonstrate through consistent messaging, consistent vocabulary and demonstrating that we know our own products and systems.
  6. Thou shalt use complexity rather than complication: In many customer exchanges we need to guide people through an inherently complex system. When we are in this position, break down that complexity into clear steps and topics.
  7. Thou shalt take your character to the end of the line: Every story has a beginning, middle and end. We need to ensure that the customer experience guides people to the result that they desire.
  8. Thou shalt not write on-the-nose dialog: Beware of repeatedly stating the obvious during a customer exchange that will either irritate (or even insult) the customer.
  9. Thou shalt dramatize thine exposition: Simply put, show — don’t tell. Present the customer with logical examples of what they need to do to progress from one step to the next, rather than use long blocks of instructional text.
  10. Thou shalt rewrite: Test your customer experiences. What is it like to take the journey as a customer? Review, refine, rewrite, redesign — and listen to the stories being told about how your customers feel about their experiences.

It doesn’t matter what tools you use, what data you have or how cleverly you think you understand your customer. What matters is that you will deliver an experience about which your customers will hopefully tell stories — positive ones at that.