Red Shoes Pillar #3: Stories

This article first appeared in the opinion section of Aftermarket Newson April 11, 2014. It was originally written as a guest commentary by Lonnie Mayne.

Photo taken by Flickr user Garry Knight

Everyone Has a Story

Every last person out there has their signature features—visible clues that tease out their story. It could be a glaring flaw or a glowing trait: a tendency to talk too fast, a flair for the dramatic, a hard time getting out of bed, an appreciation for birds, an addiction to texting, a love for baseball, even a broken finger that never healed right.

It doesn’t really matter whether it’s negative, positive, or neutral—what matters is that it’s there and it outwardly marks their experience.

These unique clues are powerful elements in the customer experience, because they are personal—just like good business is today. Commerce has taken on a very integral role in our daily lives, and I’m not saying this as a lament that “Corporate America” and “the Material World” are taking over our lives; I’m saying that technology and community have (thankfully) allowed personal life to reassert itself within the workplace and marketplace.

We can’t afford to forget what Christopher Locke so perfectly states in his book, The Cluetrain Manifesto:

“Corporations are legal fictions, willing suspensions of disbelief. Pry the roof off any company and what do you find? The Cracker Jack prize is ourselves, just ordinary people.”

Journey to the Center

I hearken back to childhood often, and I invite anyone who will listen to do the same. The reason I do this is that it gives me perspective. There’s something amazing about looking back on a person so innocent and so different from us—yet who IS us.

Viewing our personal leap from then to now is both awe-inspiring and instructive. By retracing the knotted thread that ties us back to our childhood selves, I believe we get closer to our true self. We get closer to finding an answer to North’s question in Rise of the Guardians, “What is your center?”

That thread, that magical twine that perfectly explains your lifelong metamorphosis, is your story. I encourage you to retrace it whenever you get the chance.

The Things You Keep

We all began this life without much more to our name than an appetite—for food, for knowledge, for love.

Our interests and possessions increase quickly, and fairly suddenly, but we outgrow most of them in a matter of months. We advance through our early development so rapidly that what’s useful one day is outgrown the next. I can name so many things from my childhood that I no longer have use for: my onesies, my liquids-only diet, my diapers, my 11-hour nights, my bib, my night light, my tricycle, my wagon, and the list goes on.

We do so much outgrowing of childhood things that we can be excused for feeling like everything from the past is meant to be outgrown and left behind. But the reality is that the most important things from our childhood—the relationships, the bonds, the purity of motive—are meant to grow with us.

When you retrace your story, pay attention to the things that have grown with you. Those are the things that define your story the most.

See Your Customer’s Story

Customers can connect in a more meaningful, committed, and loyal way to the human side of your company than they can to the material or operational side. That’s not to say loyalty isn’t contingent upon fulfilling transactional expectations, but the hard, historical truth is that people are wired to connect best with each other. It’s through other people that we find validation, positive emotion, and meaning.

When we, as customers, interact with company employees who are guided first and foremost by human empathy, our instinct is to welcome that employee, and the brand they represent, into our lives. Yes, companies should train employees to make sure they are also guided by brand attributes and company policies, but they can’t afford to bury employees’ personalities under scripted procedures.

The key to fitting your company into a customer’s story is to help them validate their own story through yours. That takes human understanding. If we as leaders can cultivate a culture of human appreciation that reaches frontline employees and empowers them to see, appreciate, and validate the stories of individual customers—then we will have won.

Who Knows Yours?

Looking and listening for clues into your customers’ stories should take priority over publicizing or promoting your own—but that doesn’t mean you can take without giving. As individuals and as brands we must be willing to openly share our real, imperfect selves with others if we expect to gain their trust and loyalty.

I’ll speak more about this in Pillar #5, “Putting Yourself Out There,” but it’s worth asking right now if you have retraced your own thread recently to get a sense of your story, self, and center? Have you done anything recently to show that true identity to others? Who knows your story?

If you have a moment, which I know many of you don’t, I encourage you to check out BYUtv’s Story Trek. This wonderful program follows reporter Todd Hansen as he knocks on doors and finds amazing stories behind every single one.

You can do the same.