Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Corporate Storytelling: When Your Story is Worthless

A good corporate story is worthless if you do not have the product or service to back it up.

Welcome to the world of the dangerous “Lure Story.”

I have been teaching and training storytelling for several decades. I have come to know that storytelling should be the most-used tool in your metaphorical toolbox when you want to communicate anything to anyone about any subject.

A story is powerful except when you can not back up the story with excellent service or product.
The following applies to any organization, whether it is a for-profit or non-profit group.

Recently, I worked with a company that has a great story. I was their customer for a big event so customer service was what I needed from this organization.

They had a great story to share, a story that the news media was very excited about. The owners shared their story on television and in print media more than once. With just a little polish, they could have presented a story that would probably lock in more business than they were already getting.
I thought that with their powerful and attractive story, the company would be delivering fantastic service that I would be able to rave about. Afterwards, I would be ready to write one of those raving-fan letters that every company would like to get. How exciting it would be to see a good story connected to a good product.

The company did deliver, but it was not what their story promised.
I ended up with a company that simply did not communicate. The leadership may have been excited to share their story, but their employees were not delivering. Maybe the employees did not even know the story. If they did, they did not care about living up to the story. I doubt that the employees were ever allowed to even participate in the company legend and that they were only there to do the job. The employees I worked with, the few I actually saw, told me several times, “I don’t know anything about that,” when asked even the most rudimentary of questions.

Their company story was great. Their services were poor. I did not write any raving fan letter. I did not even write a letter of dissatisfaction. I simply will not use their services again. I do not want to be part of their story any longer.

In my workshops, we call this the “Lure Story” of a company. Customers are lured into a sense of the greatness of your company with your fantastic story, only to discover that the lure has a painful hook attached to it. Like a fish that escapes, a customer will bite once but not ever again.
How do you avoid the “lure story,” that causes your customers to vanish?

1. Be sure that your company story and the product or service you offer are growing together concurrently. Good press is not a substitute for shoddy service. Do your employees or peers feel a part of the ongoing story?
2. Actively seek out the stories, both positive and negative, from your staff. Use our “Trigger Words” or “Intentionality” methods we teach in our “Storytelling 101" to get to the heart of what your employees are feeling and experiencing. Make storytelling a part of every company meeting. This is a risk-taking process, but well worth every moment you spend doing it.


3. Allow your story to change. Like any good story throughout history, a story changes as it encounters new people. What you did five years ago is already outdated. How has your story changed in the last year or even six months?

4. Follow up with customers, inviting them into your story. You might, for example, write to a customer. “At XYZ Organization, we believe that our company story is all about (fill in the blank.) Please tell us how we did living up to that story.”
You may have a company story, but it might not be the real story. Your customers and your staff are speaking your true story every day in every encounter.
What are they telling about you? Back up your great story with great service and you will be unbeatable.

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Sean Buvala is the author of the Storytelling 101 Training Workbook.
C. 2008. The official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

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