Story is ancient, we’ve been drawing, telling, singing them forever. What has changed radically, is the speed at which we’re sharing them. Is it possible to find emotional connection in the midst of a limitless cosmos of micro-stories? Not always. Because storytelling is a craft; if there is no emotional investment, with careful thought to reaching out to the heart of someone, even for a digital moment, then that story is not going to connect.
So how do you engage your customer as they’re loading their kids into the car for school, rushing off to a meeting, driving through Starbucks, or playing mental hooky in a meeting? (Not that I know anything about that).
One word: Talent.
Good communication can get you by but great storytelling will travel across decades and be shared between multiple generations. It takes powerhouse talent to become a household name like Seth Godin or Brian Solis. But the same work ethic and understanding of the customer experience is just as critical at your front desk or in the hands of your most junior employee. However, for many of you, the company may still assume a particular department should be responsible to tell your story on digital channels such as the sales department or marketing or PR because that is the traditional function of these departments–selling the product or service to the end user and commercializing those relationships.
This is a gross underestimation of what it requires to be a storyteller.
There are hotels that I never knew about that I now plan to travel to simply because of the stories they skillfully tell on Twitter everyday. I start to invest my time in their world, reading what they’ve recommended, laughing at their jokes, responding to their questions, sharing some personal, human moment I can relate to and it converts me. Because they’re talented storytellers, not because they’re giving me a Groupon.
If I owned a hotel, I would make my frontline staff my chief storytellers and ensure they were trained and had all the resources they could possibly need to learn the craft of storytelling. I am pretty sure that is what Isadore Sharp had in mind when he began instilling a service ethic (the Golden Rule) across the Four Seasons hotels. He posited that there are only a handful of people the customer is going to engage with, and it isn’t you the General Manager, it is the Bellman, the Concierge, the Front Desk, the Dining Room server, or the Housekeeper. In his book, ‘Four Seasons, The Story of a Business Philosophy‘, he tells his managers in regards to frontline employees: “We either trust them or we don’t. We can’t hedge our bets with penalties.” He saw the frontline staff as ‘company facilitators creating our customer base’. Revolutionary at the time, but this is an essential philosophy in delivering the best possible customer experience.
In today’s service world, it pays to empower, nurture, and grow the talent of your storytellers. I’ve talked about Quintessa winery before and their philosophy of service using technology, but I will say it again: service must now bridge from the frontline to the end user seamlessly through technology.
Invest in your talented storytellers. Create strategy and training that reflects the new landscape of digital service then put an iPhone in their uniform pocket next time they come to work.