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From Surveys To Stories

Whether it’s curling up with a good book or going to the local cinema for a film, as humans we are wired to connect with stories. In fact, research has found that storytelling activates not only the language processing part of our brain, but also the motor and sensory parts as well. In short, a good story puts the whole brain to work.

For example, a fitness company could simply say, “Janice lost 8 pounds in 3 weeks.” But, if the story includes Janice’s trials, tribulations, and the ‘happy ending’ of being able to keep up with her active kids again, we are far more invested.

But what does storytelling have to do with your business? Well, in a previous blog post, we  examined how to convert customers with storytelling. However, one area in particular that stories can come into play is when acquiring customer feedback.One reason? Statistics alone have a retention rate of 5-10%, but when coupled with anecdotes, the retention rate rises to 65-70%.

Every customer has a story to tell, but how do you find those stories?

The three main surveys for customer feedback are:

  1. Net Promoter Score (NPS): Customers are asked a single question, on a scale from one to ten: “How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?”
  2. Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT): A series of specific questions where your customer rates different categories from “Very dissatisfied” to “Very Satisfied”.
  3. Customer Effort Score (CES): This survey asks a single question to find out how much effort a customer had to exert to complete a transaction.

On the surface, the responses to these surveys don’t seem all that conducive to storytelling. After all, how is a story supposed to come out of one metric? The key to collecting customer stories is to find out the ‘why’ behind the ratings they give you in surveys.

What is a Customer Story?

Every customer has a ‘once upon a time’ with you: that first time they made contact with your company, whether in store or online. Like stories, they have a beginning, middle, and end. In essence, every experience a customer has with your business is part of their customer story.  

Why is understanding the story of your customer so important? Anyone can give your customer a “1” or a “10” on the NPS, but if you could figure out why someone gave that score. Isn’t that far more useful? Think of the numerical score as the ‘effect’ of someone’s story. But without the cause, there’s a major knowledge gap in the customer experience. Feedback has typically been limited to either a number or a one-line testimonial.

It’s time to utilize the power of storytelling.

Collect the Stories

We want to collect the stories of our customers, but how do we do this? Many believe it’s difficult enough to get a customer to fill out a simple, one question survey, let alone a more detailed account of their journey with your business. Sources vary on what the average survey response rate is for customers, but they tend to hover around 8-12%. There are a few things you can do to maximize the response and get them to tell their story.

Questions should follow these guidelines:

  • Open-ended: Allowing a customer to elaborate on a simple number score with a question like “Why did you feel this way?” can help to tell their story of their experience.
  • Targeted: Questions should be created with an end goal in mind. If your goal is to understand the customer’s story through a survey, ask questions such as “If you could change one thing about your experience with your company, what would it be?” or perhaps be a little more creative with a question like “If you were CEO of this company, what change would you make first?”
  • Concise: Every question you ask is expensive in terms of loyalty and goodwill. Customers are taking their own time to give you information, so don’t ask any unnecessary, leading, or unclear questions.

Don’t forget, incentives for responding to your new and improved surveys can certainly help increase the number of responses. Research shows that incentives can increase response rates by 5-20%. Don’t be afraid to give away a discount or a prize drawing in order to create value for your customer’s time.

Utilize the Stories

Collecting the feedback is one thing, but how do you turn those survey responses into the stories about your customers?

The simplest way is through a testimonial, which is a short ‘story’ of a particular customer’s experience. 89% of B2B marketers believe that testimonials are the most effective form of content marketing.

Rather than presenting testimonials simply as “Wow, great product”, think of them as having a beginning, middle, and end. Introduce the customer, tell the story of the problem they were having, and end with the unique solution you provided. Salesforce does this in a very effective fashion by providing a whole archive of these testimonials, with the very link to reach them being “See the Story”.

Additionally, customer feedback should illuminate trends in the customer experience, both good and bad. If many customers experienced frustrations with long hold times with your call center, then “long wait times” would be the easiest note to make. But presenting it through the eyes of the customer, like attributing it to the story of a hard-working single mom who is trying to resolve a problem while watching over her three young children, all while being put unceremoniously on hold for a half hour… Well, we feel her frustration. Putting stories to your negative and positive outcomes can help you improve internally.

In Conclusion

The experience of storytelling has long been proven to connect with human beings far beyond statistics or PowerPoint presentations. With a targeted effort, you can go well beyond a simple number to determine the effectiveness of your customer experience, you can tell the entire story of it. This knowledge can help you improve your services and ultimately have a happier customer.

Professional writing may be my career, but I am absolutely an entrepreneur at heart. One day I hope to start my own small business and become part of the lifeblood of this great country. In the meantime, I am an avid screenwriter, film buff, and complete and total grammar nerd (and proud of it!).