CX Leaders Need to Become Customer Storytellers

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We’ve all seen bad presentations. Too much data, or too many boring PowerPoint slides with text and bullets. And occasionally we see an excellent presentation, one that is interesting and engaging, with clear action steps.

What’s the difference between the two? It could be a particularly dynamic presenter, slick multimedia, or a cool setting. But one of the most consistently powerful elements is the use of stories. Stories make an emotional connection and captivate an audience.

Customer experience leaders make lots of presentations to describe the customer perspective. Storytelling may not be in their job description, but if their goal is to compel an audience to take action, it’s highly effective.

One of my favorite examples of great storytelling is a dynamic presenter who uses no visual aids. He never starts with an introduction. Instead, he looks at the audience and then begins a story. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s dramatic. Many times, it is unclear where he is going and how it is relevant. And yet the story always grabs the audience from the start and somehow always relates to the heart of his message. I’ve found this professional, the priest at my church, to be an excellent role model for CX leaders.

FINDING GOOD CUSTOMER STORIES

If you are in a large company, you might struggle to find good stories in the complexity of your daily work. In fact, when it comes to delivering presentations on CX, you likely turn to a ready source—survey feedback. This source provides gobs of statistics, ratings, and scores. But these don’t connect like a good story.

For example, we consulted with a company that consistently received low ratings for invoicing, and we could not convince them to take action. Instead, they wrote it off, saying, “Of course scores are low. Nobody likes to receive an invoice.” Later, we facilitated a journey mapping session that involved several customers. One customer arrived with a box in hand. When asked about the box, she said she knew we’d be discussing invoicing as a customer touch point, so she decided to bring an example. “You didn’t need to bring all your invoices,” stated one company representative. “Oh, no—this is just the invoice from last month.” The astonished group abruptly prioritized the issue.

Activities such as journey mapping are excellent sources of customer stories, as are qualitative interviews, focus groups, advisory boards, observational research, and online sources such as communities and forums. They all provide a glimpse of what it is like to be a customer.

PRESENTING COMPELLING DATA

While stories have become essential, we still need data to support a need for action. There is room for creativity here as well—no need to always rely on charts and graphs.

My favorite example is from the book Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath. They tell the story of a communications director who was tasked with alerting consumers to the health risks of movie theater popcorn. A medium bag of popcorn was found to contain 37 grams of saturated fat—nearly twice the recommended daily limit. He called a press conference and, in place of a boring bar chart, had a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a fast-food lunch, and a steak dinner on display. His point? The bag of popcorn contained more saturated fat than all those foods combined. It was a dramatic use of data that triggered a change in the way movie popcorn was produced.

ARE YOU A CUSTOMER STORYTELLER?

Storytelling should come naturally to CX leaders. If you are passionate about how you represent the viewpoint of customers, you want to tell these stories—both good and bad—to drive customer-focused action that makes a difference with them.

Here are four easy tips to try in your next presentation:

• Start your presentation with a customer story. Grab attention from the start.

• Turn off PowerPoint. Literally shut it down at some point so the audience focuses on you instead of the slides.

• Get creative in showing data. Use props, infographics, or some other means to support your stories.

• Ask for more. Invite participants to share their customer stories. It’s amazing what you might find.

So much rides on each presentation you deliver. Storytelling is one of the best tools a customer experience leader can rely on to captivate an audience and compel them to take action.


Patrick Gibbons is a principal at Walker, a leading customer experience consulting firm. He can be reached at pgibbons@walkerinfo.com.

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