Depending on the type of product or service offered, many times storytelling can help your existing customers make better decisions about how to use what they’ve already bought from you. And it’s obviously in your best interest to help them do that so they become the most satisfied customers they can be. Here are some examples from Backroads, the active travel company.
Let’s say a typical trip with Backroads is six nights and five days. Each of those days might include three primary options for each person to choose from, decided over breakfast each morning. What decision people make can have an enormous impact on how much they enjoy the day. For example, on a biking day, if a novice biker chooses the longest, most difficult bike route, they’ll be overwhelmed, late, and extremely tired when they return. If an experienced biker chooses the easiest path, they won’t be challenged enough.
So, getting people to make the best decision is critical. The truth is, by the third day, the Backroads leaders know their guests well enough to tell them which option is best for them. But it would be insulting to say to a guest, “Bob, you’re a slow rider, so you should take option #1 today.” The Backroads leaders need to help guests make that decision for themselves, but make it in the most informed manner possible. That’s where storytelling comes in.
Let’s say our slow rider, Bob, has his heart set on taking the longest bike route today. The leader might share a story about a similar guest last week who made the same choice: “Last week, Sally picked the same route. But she knew it was going to be a long ride for her. So she got up an hour early, skipped breakfast, and headed out a couple of hours ahead of everyone else. We drove ahead and met her at the 15-mile mark and had a muffin and yogurt waiting for her. By 11 a.m., she was already over the mountain pass and had the rest of the day to make the easy part of the ride.”
That short little story about Sally now helps Bob make a more informed decision about today’s ride. He might choose to pick another option, or he can do what Sally did and leave early. Either way, he’ll feel better about the experience than being told, “Okay, but you’ll need to leave earlier than everyone else.” That statement tells the guest what to do. The story empowers him to make a better decision for himself.
Storytelling can also help the trip leaders emphasize their flexibility by providing a concrete example. According to Jo Zulaica, global leadership development manager at Backroads, they might say something like the following: “Last week, we had a guest who was really interested in golfing and fishing even though that wasn’t part of this trip. So on the layover days, he found a local operator who could take him flyfishing. And on a couple of other days, we set up a tee time for him at the nearest golf course. We drove him to the course right after breakfast to get started.”
Compare that short story to the nonstory alternatives of just saying, “Hey, we set up a tee time for a guy last week who really loved golf,” or the even less helpful, “Hey, anything you want to do, we can make it happen.” The story is not only more interesting but gives the guest a concrete idea of how flexible “flexible” really is. If all you give people is a platitude, they don’t really know what to do with it.
Jo Zulaica calls these “what’s worked well in the past” stories. If you want to help your customers, in any industry, get the most use out of whatever it is you’re selling, you need some of your own “what’s worked well in the past” stories.
[You can find this and dozens of other examples and lessons on storytelling in sales in my book, Sell with a Story.]
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a Story, Parenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.
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