Have you ever thought what would be the awesomest thing your might tell about you? How about using such a statement as a guideline for your design efforts?

Photo by Łukasz Szóstek

When I worked back at Google in Zurich, my non-Google friends were teasing me about my co-workers. Whenever we went out to a bar or a restaurant you could easily spot Googlers by their t-shirts, hats, jackets and other accessories branded with Google. It kept me wondering why would people show off so much where they work. Later I understood that these Googlers were telling themselves a story of why they work where they work.

In his book “ Things that make us smart” Don Norman said:

“Stories have the felicitous capacity of capturing exactly those elements that formal decision methods leave out. […] Stories capture the context, capture the emotions… Stories are important cognitive events, for they encapsulate, into one compact package, knowledge, context, and emotion.”

How do people make choices today?

You can probably guess that: — they make them through stories. Although majority of us claims we are pragmatic in your selection of products and services, when it comes to actions the reverse is the truth. Of course, we check the offer, the price, the parameters. But unless our choice strictly follows the value for money criterion, in over 80% of the cases we will take the final decision based on what other people say about that solution. So, in fact, we are taking emotional rather than pragmatic decisions about what we use in our daily lives. This is why the whole concept of “the word of mouth” is so crucial today.

If you look at the definition of “the word of mouth” on Wikipedia you will not be surprised to see that at the core of this phrase lays the notion of storytelling as the ultimate human tool for conveying common truths equipped with relevant emotions and a context (exactly like Don Norman said). Mythology and legends, fairy tales and proverbs are closely related to what we call “the word of mouth” today. So, it might be wise to assume that if we have a tradition of assessing everything in that form, it might be a good idea to think about experiences we provide in a form of a narrative as well.

How to create stories about experiences?

Recently, I was running a workshop for a bank around were we were trying to define strategic measures for Customer Experience. As some point we got stuck with trying to grasp the angle which we could use for defining the CX vision. So, I asked the participants to write three quotes they would like their customers to tell about them after the vision was to be implemented. The quotes went like this: — “Finally, I feel that I am taken care of as an individual not a mass” and — “Never have I felt that I know my money truly belongs to me and I know what to do with it”. Suddenly, it was pretty obvious what parameters we should choose for defining the vision. This method is one of the methods I call backcasting: — envisioning the future state and working your way from there to the present moment.

Why is backcasting so powerful? Because it builds a story of an ideal state in our heads. It forms an aspirational basis for who we want to be. It creates a narrative leading in the longer run to us wanting to wear the t-shirt with our company logo. It forms a strategy in a way that is easily digestible for anyone across all departments and roles. And it forms an amazing basis for measuring the progress: simply by checking what your customers say about you and asking them what else needs to change for them to be ready to state your ideal claim. Using quotes has one more advantage: — you can use them as prompts with your co-workers to inspire a behavior change. As Seth Godin says about culture: — “People like us do things like this”. How better to convey such principles if not through short ideal future statements?

Basis for future stories

There are different ways you can apply to create the future quotes and future stories. You could do it like I did it in that workshop I told you about before. But I would recommend a more grounded approach if possible. So far I can see four ways to do so:

  1. One method that I love and use as often as I can are the love and hate letters first introduced by the innovation consultancy Smart Design. The idea behind the method was as follows: instead of directly asking people what they like or don’t like about a particular product or service, you ask them to write a love or a break-up letter to your company that it based on their real-life experiences and interactions. I add another element to this method: I ask the customers to also write their “word-of-mouth” stories, stories they tell others about a given brand. You can’t imagine the richness of insights you get from this exercise. Insights that are not only allowing you to create a strategic perspective about who you want to be but also giving you tons of inspiration about what needs to be improved and strengthen in your CX approach.
  2. Another approach is to build your future stories around people’s deep needs. Imagine that you decide you want to help your customers feel competent and joyful in every interaction they have with you. What quotes would you imagine that encapsulate these two needs? Perhaps you could envision them say: — “What fun it was to finally understand and cook up a plan how I can save for my retirement.” In such a way you are hooking into the basic human needs that could form a basis for your experience design strategy.
  3. Next approach could be to define narratives around the CX values your company has. Let’s take Disney as an example. Their vision is to create a place where adults and children have fun together. Disney builds that unique experience around the values such as: safety, courtesy, show and efficiency. Each value is equipped with actionable lessons for providing outstanding experiences like, for example, offering a free beverage to a kid who just spilled his drink. These actionable lessons could easily take a form of future quotes and stories of happy customers.
  4. Finally, you might consider to aspire to be like a company you admire with respect to their customer-centric approach. Let’s take Zappos and their CEO Tony Hsieh’s book on delivering world-class customer service. Zappos has instilled a WOW factor in their customer service as their main CX directive ever since the company was founded in 1999. This WOW factor is embedded in their corporate culture leading employee behavior and choices. And the stories of just how far they will go to make a customer happy are legendary. You could take the stories told about Zappos, transform them into the future stories about your brand and use them as an inspiration for action.

Why is it worthwhile to build future stories?

Building future stories has a number of advantages. First of all, it help you to capture the fleeing notion of what the essence of experiences you want to offer should be. As a consequence it makes it easier to build your strategic vision and to prioritize your actions.

Such stories also help to build empathy in your employees, to inspire and to teach them about the net result you expect from their actions and behavior towards your customers. Future quotes could become a powerful internal narrative to start changing the company culture towards building powerful customer experience. And, at the end of the day, it would be so awesome to build a culture your employees are proud of (like the Google guys in Zurich) — and stories make it easier to express what this feeling of pride is about.

Daniel Pink said: — “Stories are easier to remember — because in many ways stories are HOW we remember.” How awesome would it be to use these stories to shape the culture of your organization?



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