How to use storytelling to connect with your customers

Devin Bramhall | November 3, 2016

Storytelling has become such a buzzword in recent years that even saying it’s a buzzword seems out of style.

But the truth is stories are still the best way to create stronger connections.

The question many companies continue to struggle with is: how do we use stories to create and nurture customer relationships?

To help answer that question, we spoke with the folks at Muse Storytelling, a story-building course and platform, about how companies and customer service professionals can use stories to connect with customers.

1. What elements differentiate storytelling from copywriting or video content?

 
Kathryn Giroux, Story Strategist with Muse Storytelling, is most inspired when she helps others harness stories to make connections, and create a lasting impact in their communities.

Storytelling is really a structured pattern of communication, a pattern that can be found within video, copywriting, and other media and formats.

The two defining characteristics of a story are character and plot. You can be the character in a story you’re telling about your childhood, for example, and the plot is simply a series of things that happen.

Customer success is an important part of retaining customers. Here's how it can impact your business ➝

There's a huge difference between telling a story and telling a great story. A great story needs to have these four main ingredients, what we call the pillars:

The Four Pillars of a Great Story

2. When does storytelling fail with customers and when shouldn’t you use storytelling with customers?

 
Kathryn Giroux, Story Strategist, Muse Storytelling

Stories are the most powerful way to connect, but they aren’t always the right way to communicate.

Be sure to avoid answering a simple and direct question with something far more complicated than it needs to be.

When a customer is asking about a feature, for example, they are looking for a fact or statistic – you fail them if you dive into a story. For example, if a customer asks about the battery life of a product and you launch into a story about someone else’s use case, that’s only going to frustrate them. Now if you give them the fact or statistic and they’re still looking for more information, or seem unsure, that’s when it’s a good time to dive into a story to help bring that feature to life and ensure it’s felt.

3. How can companies use storytelling internally?

 
Kathryn Giroux along with Siouxie Alarcon, Director of Operations at Muse Storytelling

When you think of internal storytelling, make sure you have clarity on your own story. Today, more than ever, people are looking for a mission and something to believe in far more than a job. Internal storytelling works best when you have passionate people who believe in the stories they’re telling.

4. What are some highly effective stories that were produced by a company (i.e., not by an external agency), and what was their process?

 
Kathryn Giroux, Story Strategist, Muse Storytelling

Gnarly Bay does agency work and creates their own stories. Not surprisingly, the stories they tell for themselves are their most popular and most viewed work, as well as the work that attracts most of their clients. The most effective stories, whether told by a company or agency, are the ones that truly have something to say.

When we try to create a piece of content to get views, awards, or likes, it rarely works. That particular motivation doesn't lead us to create something that resonates with our audience. However, when we truly have something to say, and we let that lead us in creating a strong story, it can resonate much more deeply.

5. When should I use visuals over written storytelling? Is one better than the other?

 
Siouxsie Alarcon has been telling stories professionally for the last 20 years, and is from a long line of storytellers, jokesters and pranksters.

Storytelling, regardless of medium, is all about helping the audience experience and feel your story.

Video is a strong storytelling medium because it stimulates the senses. When you’re telling your stories in written form, visuals certainly help pull readers more into the story. Including visuals throughout a blog post, for example, helps the audience quickly get a sense of the story and encourages them to spend more time with it.

Ultimately, it comes down to helping your viewer feel and experience your story as much as possible.

You can find more free resources on storytelling on the Muse Storytelling website.

About the author: Devin is the Director of Content at Help Scout, the invisible help desk that helps you build a company your customers love with more human, more helpful customer support tools.