4 Steps to Better Storytelling

Last Updated September 15th, 2020

 

Apple Podcasts or iTunes | Google Podcasts | Google Play | Stitcher | Spotify

 

As you deliver a customer experience, you are also shaping the emotions a customer feels toward your company. And the gateway to cultivating positive emotions — and therefore, exceptional customer experience — is through great storytelling.

There’s power in a story. Storytelling creates a narrative around your brand, people, and product that elicits the emotions you want your customers to feel.

Stories are impactful and have the ability to transform both the human experience and the customer experience.

With all that in mind, our guest on this episode of The Customer Experience Podcast, Michael Ashford, is a journalist by background. And today, he walks us through the traits of storytelling and its impact on brand perception.

Michael introduces us to the four characteristics of great storytelling:

1. Ask great questions first
2. Listen with intent
3. Craft content that answers questions
4. Guide the reader or listener to a heroic outcome

Michael, Director of Marketing at The Receptionist and Owner at Fit Dad Fitness, has served as a community engagement evangelist, marketing manager, and VP of product marketing — among other roles.

He brings his vast experience and enthusiasm to our conversation about the importance of storytelling in marketing.

You’ll hear Michael and I discuss…

In this episode, we discuss…

What the definition of storytelling consists of
How asking great questions results in a great story
How storytelling begins with intentional listening
Why it’s important to create content that answers questions
What it means to build heroic content
Why storytelling is for everyone

 

 

4 Steps to Better Storytelling

Hear the entire conversation with Michael Ashford of The Receptionist right here:

 

Hear this episode of The Customer Experience Podcast – and many others – by subscribing to in:

Click a link above to see the podcast in your preferred player. Then click to leave a rating for the show. That click to rate is extremely helpful to the show.

 

 

 

 

 

Full Transcript: 4 Steps to Better Storytelling

Ethan Beute:
Storytelling, it’s fundamental to the human experience. As such, storytelling is also fundamental to the customer experience. A powerful, well-timed, and a well-told story can make the difference between simply driving a transaction, and building true brand affinity, and customer advocacy. Today’s guest views successful storytelling as an absolutely necessary part of successful marketing and brings to the conversation four key characteristics of a good storyteller.

Ethan Beute:
He served as a sales engineer, a community engagement evangelist, a marketing manager, a sales and marketing operations manager, a VP of strategic partnerships, and a VP of product marketing, among other roles. He currently serves as director of marketing at The Receptionist, an industry-leading and cloud-based visitor management solution that automates visitor check-ins. Michael Ashford, welcome to The Customer Experience Podcast.

Michael Ashford:
Ethan, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited about our conversation.

Ethan Beute:
Yeah, me too. I like the theme. I’m honestly surprised that I’m this deep in. I forget what number this episode is going to be. It’s going to be in the mid to late 90s, and we haven’t had a storytelling discussion yet. And so, I’m really excited to get into it. And I’m really glad that you spend so much time and energy thinking about it.

Ethan Beute:
But before we get going, you’re a certified personal trainer, and you’re the owner of Fit Dad Fitness. So, really quickly, how and why did you start Fit Dad, and maybe what’s one of your favorites, “But my gym isn’t open right now, like fitness?”

Michael Ashford:
Oh goodness, I started Fit Dad Fitness probably about five or six years ago now. When after getting my own health journey going, and really seeing the benefits that it gave me, and my family, and my time with my children. I wanted that for other fathers, and I have a heart for fathers being active and involved in the home. And I have a wonderful father, wonderful experience growing up.

Michael Ashford:
And I see fatherlessness in the United States in particular as a huge gaping hole that is really not being addressed as a lot of the root of a lot of our problems. And I see fitness as a way to get more dads to be active, to be involved, to be present in their kids’ lives. So, that’s the underlying mission of Fit Dad Fitness, and we’re helping guys build some muscle along the way.

Michael Ashford:
As far as all my gyms are closed, and I don’t know what to do, I would say your body can be a fantastic gym. And in much the same way as we establish the habit of going to the gym, you can establish the habit of working out at home using your body or using the things that you find around your house. You just have to be creative with it.

Ethan Beute:
I love it. I’m a cheapskate in general. And so, almost all the activity I do is A, against my own body weight, and B free, and C typically outdoors. If I knew, running shoes and hiking shoes is about the only real expense to what I do. So, the closed gym hasn’t affected me at all. And in fact, it’s so much easier now just to get outside, and even if it’s just for 10 or 15 minutes.

Ethan Beute:
So, I really appreciate the mission you’re on, and the benefits of being physically healthy obviously, lend themselves to being mentally, and emotionally, and even spiritually healthy. I just don’t see how they all work if one of those aspects doesn’t work for you. And so, I really appreciate what you’re doing for families.

Michael Ashford:
Well, thank you so much. And you’re absolutely right. They’re all intertwined. You can’t separate one from the other. So, fitness is vital. And getting outside during these times, with the studies that show how much Vitamin D helps fight the virus that we’re currently experiencing, why not? Why not get outside of move your body more?

Ethan Beute:
Absolutely. Except, at this point, we’re both in Colorado for anyone listening. I’m in Colorado Springs where BombBomb is headquartered, and Michael is up the road in Castle Rock over halfway to Denver from where I am right now. And it’s like sunny in 95 for the next two weeks. And so, that’s-

Michael Ashford:
That’s the perfect time. That’s the perfect time.

Ethan Beute:
Yeah. For me, that is say, on the perfect time.

Michael Ashford:
Well, the good thing about Colorado is the nights do cool off. So, we’ve got that going for us. Yeah, for sure.

Ethan Beute:
So, let’s start now where we always start, which is customer experience. When I say customer experience, Michael, what does that mean to you? What thoughts, characteristics, definition, anything that comes to mind?

Michael Ashford:
It’s the emotion that you feel. It’s the emotion that you feel when you hear a brand, or hear a company’s name. It is the face and the voices that you attach to that company as a consumer or as a customer. Customer experience is wrapped up in our emotions, and so often, we try to take the emotion out of the buying process, and the marketing process.

Michael Ashford:
But that is such a vital piece to it to make your customers feel something when they have an experience with you is the key to creating an affinity for your brand that creates a fan, that creates a lifelong customer, that creates somebody who will pay extra for you, and your service, or your product despite cheaper versions, or cheaper knockoffs being out there. The emotion that swells up within your customers is what customer experience ultimately should be set up to drive.

Ethan Beute:
I love it. I think we do ignore when we design systems, and we design processes, and we design funnels, and stages, and steps, I think we do ignore the emotion far, far too often. And I’m with you 100% on the emotional basis of it, and the idea that the feeling is really at the heart of customer experience. I did a solo episode on that.

Ethan Beute:
And it reminds me too, of a guest whose book I read. This gentleman, Anthony Coundouris, wrote a book called Run_Frictionless. And he talked about irrational buying forces. And you really spoke directly to them. And this was in his framework as a quadrant based one, and it was the shared belief, or the brand quadrant, who we are.

Ethan Beute:
And so, this idea of sharing belief with other people, and triggering these irrational buying forces where competition matters a lot less, price matters a lot less, you buy yourself a lot of grace because we’re all imperfect. And so, when you drop the ball, that what you spoke to is all there from an experience standpoint.

Michael Ashford:
Yeah. And when I think about the best customer experiences that I’ve had as a consumer and customer myself, I never think of, “Wow, that was really great automated email that they sent me.” Or I can tell that I’m now in their customer nurture funnel, it’s always been about the interactions that I’ve had. And even if they are automated, there’s personality put into it, there’s a story woven into it, there’s a meaning behind it.

Michael Ashford:
Rather than just ticking off a box that you’re creating an activity for a sales rep, or for a marketer that turns into a number on a spreadsheet. We all understand when that’s happening, and when that’s happening to us. And I think we so often don’t get out of our heads as sales, and marketers, and the people who are driving a customer experience to think, how can I weave some personality into this?

Michael Ashford:
How can I make it so that I would open this as a consumer, or I would respond to this as a consumer? And for me, and what we’re obviously going to be talking about, the ability to tell your company’s story, your brand’s story, the people who work at your company, their stories is the gateway to all of that.

Ethan Beute:
That’s fantastic, and you just soft doubled down on something you said in your definition that I also appreciate it, which is that it’s that human-to-human interaction when it happens is where we really get the best stories that will end up in an online review or will end up in a personal referral to your brand, or your company, or your product, or service, or whatever.

Ethan Beute:
And that’s what we really, really remember. And saving a bad situation in a human-to-human way, so just a really fantastic opportunity. But let’s really quickly for context on what you’re up to right now. Tell us a little bit about The Receptionist, who is your ideal customer? And what problem do you solve for them?

Michael Ashford:
So, The Receptionist is the visitor management system. Our software is called The Receptionist for iPad. So, we are solely an iPad-based visitor management software that if you’ve ever walked into a building, and walked up to an iPad kiosk, and used it to check-in, and that system notified the person you were there to see that you’ve arrived, that is our what our system does.

Michael Ashford:
Now, there’s a lot more to it. But that is what the visitor for the most part will experience. It’s been an interesting time for us. If you think about businesses closing, and going remote for the time being, if you think about, I don’t want to touch anything that other people have touched. It’s been a very interesting time for us right now.

Michael Ashford:
We just came out with a completely contactless solution that your visitors can check-in using their phone, rather than having to touch an iPad. So, that is what our system does. I’m the director of marketing. I’ve been at the company since October of 2017. And I was the first full-time marketing hire that the company made after years of using contractors and agencies.

Michael Ashford:
I was the first full time, and now I’ve got a wonderful team of me, and two other folks, Kayla and James. And it’s been a remarkable time because we’re coming out have the dip that I think a lot of companies experienced. And I said all along, the best marketing teams will, and the best companies by default after that will be the ones to thrive during this time. And I think we’re feeling that as a company. So, I’m pretty proud of that.

Ethan Beute:
That’s awesome. I’m glad that that is the momentum, or that momentum is feeling that you have right now. It’s really, really encouraging to hear it. And I hope, more people who are listening, this won’t release for some time, but folks who are listening, or experience the same thing in their businesses, and as I was looking at what you all do, I thought about, obviously, the immediate circumstance here. And I can see to the downside, a lot fewer people visiting people’s offices.

Ethan Beute:
And so, there’s this wait and see maybe from a new customer. And can we pause maybe from an existing customer? But I also saw the positive side of this, and you already referred to it as a mobile app, so I don’t have to touch that iPad. But I could also see as just thinking about it for a minute. New features, and functions, and things that would actually be highly reactive in a nice improvement given the state of affairs.

Michael Ashford:
Those are all the questions that we’re asking, for sure. And one of the things we wanted to do is if we were going to start forcing visitors to check in on their phones, we didn’t want them to have to download an app. So, it’s all done through a browser, rather than having to go to the App Store and download an app.

Michael Ashford:
That was really important to us was making sure that the visitor experience was as smooth and seamless as possible. But yeah, it definitely extends to other parts of the business. And most of the conversations that we’re having right now is we’re in the business of checking people into businesses, the world, a lot of the world, and it may be temporary is thinking about remote work. We’re meeting over a Zoom meeting right now.

Michael Ashford:
And I think all of our meetings are over Zoom, or I feel like they have been over the last three months or so. And so, yeah, we are having those conversations as a leadership team at The Receptionist about what are the extension areas that we can go into that revolve around the business of welcoming people into an office? That given what we’re going through right now, how does that extend into a longer horizon?

Ethan Beute:
Yeah. It’s really interesting. And you’re obviously thinking about it the right way. Just your approach to business in general is based on our short conversation so far. And I know you’re all thinking about it the right way. And I can even see it maybe being useful for checking in employees, not that anyone wants to be in a time clock, but-

Michael Ashford:
We do have that feature. We do have that ability.

Ethan Beute:
Yeah.

Michael Ashford:
Yeah. With contract tracing right now, contact tracing. You want to know who was in the building, when, who else was in the building so I can notify them if somebody test positive, and they were in the building two days ago, or a month ago. We want to know those things. And so, we want to know employees, visitors, contractors, delivery drivers, it really can run the full gamut.

Ethan Beute:
Really interesting. Let’s go into storytelling. And let’s start there where we started with customer experience, which is I wouldn’t call it buzzwordy, but you’re certainly hearing a lot more about it now than you were, say, even three to five years ago. So, just to get on the same page with everybody. When I say storytelling, what does that mean to you?

Michael Ashford:
It does go back to what I mentioned in my answer to customer experience. It is how do you create a narrative around your brand that elicits some type of emotion, elicits the emotion that you want from your customers, whether that’s happiness, or a sense of calm, and peace, or safety, and security, or any one of the emotions that a company might want to feel, or pride in wearing new clothes.

Michael Ashford:
You could go through all the different business sectors, and verticals, and come up with an emotion that those companies want to attach to their customers. And storytelling is the way to do that. But done in the right way. I love using this example. If I think about two car companies, and maybe I don’t even need to say their names, but one talks about love, and safety and their commercials are all about keeping your kids safe.

Michael Ashford:
And the mom is looking out the window, and she’s worried about her kid, and all the scenes of their kids are like them. And there’s these horrible situations where the parent’s mind, this imagination is running wild. And then, at the end of the commercial, their kid pulls into the driveway, and the parent smiles, and you feel the relief.

Michael Ashford:
The story is told, without ever really talking about the company, or the feature, or the car itself. It’s love, and I think you can maybe guess what company I’m talking about because their tagline is love. It’s what makes a-

Ethan Beute:
Subaru, a Subaru.

Michael Ashford:
A Subaru, a Subaru.

Ethan Beute:
It’s funny, even before you got there, and I do want to hear the other car example in contrast. But it’s so funny because as soon as you started getting into that, and you were talking about sectors, I was immediately in car brands in my own head. And I was thinking there’s probably that variation of security, pride, confidence, happiness just within cars.

Michael Ashford:
Exactly, right.

Ethan Beute:
So, where are you going to go with the next one? Are you going to go with like a high-end luxury car?

Michael Ashford:
So, in contrast. Not even that. Contrast that with Chevy, and think about their recent commercials. It’s this huge cavernous room, and they bring in these customers or these people off the street. And these cars are dropping down from the ceiling, and they’re talking about their J.D. Power Awards that nobody cares about.

Michael Ashford:
And it is also this self-fulfilling or self-aggrandizing like, look at us, and look at our awards, and don’t you want to be in one of these cars? Why? Because they’re dropping down from the ceiling? How does that affect me? If you think about the story and the narrative that those two different companies in the same space are trying to elicit from their buyers, which one is going to make you feel something, attach an emotion to something?

Michael Ashford:
The only emotion that I attach to the Chevy commercials is this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. As a parent, the emotion that I attach to the Subaru commercials is man, I want my kid to drive that. I think about how nervous and anxious I get when they’re just riding their bike down the street. I don’t know what I’m going to be like when they’re driving cars.

Michael Ashford:
And that, to me is what storytelling is, that you are grabbing ahold, and you are not painting yourself, and I can talk about this with a fantastic book that I’ve read, but you’re not painting yourself, and your company, and your product, and your service as the hero, and the end-all-be-all answer. It’s your customers, it’s their emotions, it’s their experience, that is the end goal that your marketing and your storytelling should elicit.

Ethan Beute:
I love it. And one of the most important ideas that you’ve shared here just on storytelling alone is that you don’t actually have to tell the story. You can evoke it. You can lean on someone there, and they’re telling the story to themselves, which makes it even more powerful as an experiential learning exercise. I’m connecting all the dots. You’re just putting all the dots close enough that I can draw in between them.

Ethan Beute:
And my drawing of the line between them just reinforces it that much deeper, it’s so good. And you previewed one of the four key characteristics of a good storyteller. And so, before we go there, when did this occur to you? When did the light bulb go on? Or what was the aha moment? Or what was the book that you read? Or when did this branding, storytelling, emotion intersection really come to life for you?

Michael Ashford:
There’s two points in time that I’ll point to. The first is I’m not a trained marketer by education. I graduated with a degree in mass communications in journalism, in particular, print journalism. So, I was a newspaperman right out of college. And the stories that were always the most interesting, that were always the most read, that solicited the most feedback from readers were always the feature stories.

Michael Ashford:
The human-interest pieces. The pieces that we got to actually know the person behind the story, whatever that story happened to be. I was a sports writer. And the stories that were always just ho-hum, unless it was a really big game or the postgame wrap-ups. And especially in today’s world, everybody already knows the score, they already know what happened.

Michael Ashford:
They already know all the stats, because you can get all that in real-time off of Twitter or any sports website. But you can’t get that detail of the emotion behind the game, or the emotion behind the athlete, or the emotion behind the person unless you have a really great feature writer. And when I got into marketing, by chance, a little over a decade ago now.

Michael Ashford:
I had a little bit of imposter syndrome because I wasn’t marketing trained. I came up in writing, and project management. So, the only thing that I knew how to turn to, the only thing that I knew was, we’re going to tell stories. We as a marketing team, we are going to tell stories. We’re going to highlight our customers and the success that they have.

Michael Ashford:
And that has been my mantra moving forward. The second part of that then is it really came together in this really nicely packaged head when I read Donald Miller’s how to build a story brand book. And I have it sitting up here on my bookshelf here, it’s Building a StoryBrand is actually the title. He, in one book, captured what I had been practicing for the last decade, plus your customers are the hero, not you.

Michael Ashford:
Your job as a marketer, or as a salesperson, or as a business owner is to guide your customer, your potential customers on a journey, a story, a narrative that gets them to the happy ending, which is you, and your product, and your customers all singing kumbaya around G2 crowd review.

Ethan Beute:
That’s so good. Yeah, that’s what most of us have read at BombBomb.

Michael Ashford:
It’s fantastic.

Ethan Beute:
Yeah. And it’s just so straightforward, and I love the way spoke to it because some of my favorite books are that way, which is like, these things I’ve been thinking, and feeling, and doing. It’s actually a thing. It’s like some sort of validation for the imposter inside us. So, this guy’s legit.

Ethan Beute:
He wrote this book, and it captures and organizes in a simpler, and even more approachable way for a larger audience. It’s something tangible you can give to a friend, or a team member, and say, “This is what I’ve been talking about.”

Michael Ashford:
These are the thoughts in my head.

Ethan Beute:
Yeah. A few of us were privileged enough to go to Nashville and go to one of his workshops.

Michael Ashford:
That’d be great.

Ethan Beute:
It’s the beginning of last year. And it was really good. It was immersive. It was very helpful for us. And it’s interesting because when you look at those workshops on paper, you’re like, “Oh, it’s just the book, but in real life.” But it’s so much more than that because you’re getting live interaction. You’re actually building out your… I forget what the whole one sheet is called, the story breakdown, where you break down all the elements.

Ethan Beute:
And for me, the one piece that really came to life in interacting with his teaching was I always thought of marketing, and like the buying processes, and maybe the product, and service experience as a transformation. I didn’t think about it as a hero, and a guide, and all these other things. But this transformative piece, even if it’s a minor transformation, I was already thinking a lot along those lines.

Ethan Beute:
And honestly, I also came from a mass media background. And I certainly was guilty early in my career of the J.D. Power…type of stuff. So, really falling back into that, “Hey, I’m just here to point the way, to add some highlights, to hold your hand if necessary, to equip you, and empower you,” really, really good. So, let’s get into, I think your four characteristics that you shared with me of a good storyteller right on.

Ethan Beute:
And so, I’ll just offer the first one, and then maybe just share your thoughts around it like, why does it matter much? Or maybe what are some practical tips to bring it to life? And so, the first one, the first of four characteristics of a great storyteller is someone who asks great questions first.

Michael Ashford:
Going back to what you said earlier, sometimes we don’t even need to outright tell the story. We just have to give these dots in time and let your customers, or your readers, or listeners, or whatever audience you’re going for, connect the dots themselves. Questions do that. By asking a question, and letting it sit out there in space, you get your customers, and whoever you’re speaking to, to begin to fill in the gaps themselves.

Michael Ashford:
And by asking great questions, you get so much fantastic feedback about how people think about you, how they view your product, how they view your customer experience. And so, instead of taking what we know as insiders at a company, and trying to project that out to the public, why not flip that and say, “What do you think of us? What is most meaningful to you?”

Michael Ashford:
And begin to collect that information so that it can feed your story down the road that you can answer those questions, which is a point coming up. But that you can then speak directly to the questions that you’ve asked, and heard the answer to. And this goes back, of course, to my journalism roots like asking great questions.

Michael Ashford:
If I don’t ask great questions as a journalist, I don’t get great answers, and I don’t get a great story. But if I ask great questions, either as a journalist, or as a marketer, or business owner of my customers, or the people that I want to be my customers, how will I ever know if I’m truly addressing what they care about? That’s the intent behind asking great questions.

Ethan Beute:
I love it. And it also shows that you care, which is always a nice way to start to relate, “Oh, this is…,” they actually want to know, which leads to the second characteristic, which is someone who listens with intent.

Michael Ashford:
And that not only by listening and listening with the intent to ask a followup question, which is, again, the journalist in me going back and defaulting to that. Listening with intent means that you actually listen for what your customers are saying, and not just seeking out your own confirmation bias. You’re not picking the very best customers who love you, and you know they’re going to say something great about you all the time.

Michael Ashford:
But you’re asking everyone, and you’re listening to the negative and the positive feedback. You’re listening to the things that you are doing right and the things that you’re doing wrong. And you’re not taking offense to that, but you see it as an opportunity to grow. And listening with intent, and as much as you can, tamping down your bias about what you’re actually hearing is that just in society as a whole, not something that is practiced near enough.

Ethan Beute:
Yeah. I think most people are, and I’ve been guilty of this too. I feel like this is a confession, thank you. I’ve been guilty of listening with the intent to respond. Taking in enough information that I see where it’s going, and I can rebut, or I can add to, or whatever as opposed to truly, truly listening. One thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about that is a little bit of a struggle in terms of listening to customer feedback.

Ethan Beute:
And certainly, it depends on your business model. If you’re a very, very high-touch white-glove service, and you can employ 50 people gainfully by serving 100 unique customers, that’s different than what we’re doing at BombBomb where we’re 140 or 150 people serving more than 55,000 customers. So, to that backside of it, something, and I’d be curious to know what your thoughts are before we move on to the third one.

Ethan Beute:
There’s definitely an art to weighing, valuing, so there’s an editorial judgment layer to figuring out how much to weigh any one person’s feedback. Because you can get 87% positive with four or five key themes, but then within that other 13%, you have one or two outliers that are always, never, you have to have this feature. I would never do this. And so, there’s that artfully balancing. You have to listen to even know where you are, and whether it’s an outlier, but any thoughts on that? Did that do anything for you?

Michael Ashford:
Yeah, it does. And if you loop back around to the first point, which is ask great questions. If you do see those outliers, rather than the rebuttal that I think we all want to default to, go back to asking questions, and listening again. Say, you were really adamant about this, and this key feature. Why is that so important? What would that do for you in your business? Do you think these matters to other people in your space?

Michael Ashford:
Be inquisitive, and a lot of times, people will answer the question for themselves, or you might have a different solution. But yeah, it all goes back to me to asking questions, and not defaulting to, like you said, I want to rebut what you said. And I was going to say something else in there, but I completely forgot it. So, yeah, I would just continue to ask questions, and dig deeper into those groups.

Ethan Beute:
Yep. Love it. That’s the why or interesting, tell me more. Okay. So, we have asked great questions first, listens with intent. Third, we have crafts content that answers questions.

Michael Ashford:
And this goes back to the car commercial example. I have never question. I wonder how many J.D. Power Awards that company that I just bought my car from? I’ve never asked that question. I’ve never asked how many J.D. Power Awards have they won? I’ve asked the question, how long do these cars generally last on the road? How do they test in safety, and safeties test?

Michael Ashford:
How do they perform there? And what’s their crash rate? Or what’s their rollover rate? Just these things that I would normally ask, just as an everyday consumer, speak to those, drop the legalese language, or the jargon language that we so frequently get into, and just ask questions that you would ask as a consumer. And that only happens if you complete the first two.

Michael Ashford:
You ask great questions, and you listen with intent. And one thing I remember what I was going to say about listening with intent is going back, and you were giving the example of 87% are positive, and 13% are negative. And one of the things that I often try to bring to the table whenever we have a discussion about metrics or measurables is, what is the measurable?

Michael Ashford:
What are the things that we as humans can logically, and through context of an entire situation, and with the intuitive abilities that we have as humans, what can we deduce from the situation that data and measurables will never tell us? And so, when you have those extreme outliers, we’re really great. I believe humans are fantastic about understanding what those extreme outliers contain.

Michael Ashford:
Who said it, why they said it, what’s the context? I’ve always said, data is a compass that points you in the direction of where you think you should go. But as the person with the street smarts, and the intuitive ability that has to navigate the log that’s over the path, or that has to scale the cliff. We’re in Colorado, so I’m talking in hiking terms. But has to scale the cliff that the compass is never going to show you in the way.

Michael Ashford:
And so, when we talk about crafting great content that answers questions, it goes back to we can have all this data that is telling us that these are the things people care about, that these are the things that we know to be true. But then, we also have to balance that with what are we actually responding to here? What is the root of the issue that we’re responding to that I think we as intuitive people can suss out from the data?

Ethan Beute:
So good, and it is so important to balance. I’m going to grossly oversimplify this with the example I want to share here is, in our senior leadership meetings that we do every Tuesday, we have a, depending on who has what to share, five to 15 minutes on customer feedback over the past week. And we also do the same thing on employee feedback.

Ethan Beute:
And we have NPS, we have NPS broken out by segment for large teams, and medium teams, and small teams, and some industry-related looks, et cetera. But they’re numbers and trends to your point. So, something I started doing about two or three months ago, was we have all of our verbatim feedback for NPS feeding into a Slack channel. And we use two different tools to collect it.

Michael Ashford:
We do that too.

Ethan Beute:
So, I think grabbing all the verbatims with the score, and throwing them just into a lightweight Google Docs so that people can read it. And I did it because I wanted to process the material, and work with it, and touch it in some way instead of just scrolling through a Slack channel. And I figured, “Well if I do it this way, other people who are interested can see it too.”

Ethan Beute:
But there’s something so interesting, and this is what is related to what you were offering there. There’s something so interesting about the justifications, or rationale for the score, whether it was a 10, or a seven, or a three. And the specific language used, from a thematic standpoint, but also, as you’re talking about, are they adamant? Do they see me angry? Or do they seem super excited?

Ethan Beute:
Do they include a heart, or the word love, or a little smiley face? All these little things, it just brings it to life in a much different way. And so, when we carve out more time, instead of just looking at the dashboard version of NPS, where we’ve created time to do it, I now shared in advance. I just did it for tomorrow’s meeting so that people have 24 hours to look at it.

Ethan Beute:
Then, we wind up discussing some of it. And anyway, it’s so important to bring to life the story to use that word again behind the numbers because the numbers are only part of it.

Michael Ashford:
Several times, we’ve had people give us NPS scores of nines. And in their feedback, they’ll say, “You guys are actually the best company that I’ve ever worked for, blah-blah-blah. I just never give anyone a 10. No one is perfect.” And it’s like, “Okay, well, what do you really… it’s a nine out of 10. But you say we’re the best company ever.” We can take so much more away from that feedback, then we can if we only saw that they gave us a nine, to your point.

Ethan Beute:
Absolutely. Yeah. I’m thinking of a seven that I just copied and pasted into a Google Docs, where it’s a seven. So, you’re like, “Okay, good, not great. I’m bad, not terrible.” It’s in the passive zone on the NPS scale. But then, you look at it, and there’re three or four hardcore feature requests.

Ethan Beute:
Not an ultimatum, like I’m going to leave you if you don’t do these things. But I’m like, “A seven could be seven, it would have been a nine, but, or it could be seven. It was going to be a four, but.” The nuances in the language and the justification is so good.

Michael Ashford:
Exactly.

Ethan Beute:
Okay. So, we have asked great questions first, listens with intent, crafts content that answers questions. And then, fourth and finally here, guides the reader or listener to a heroic outcome.

Michael Ashford:
And this is all credit to Donald Miller and StoryBrand on that language because the hero of the story is really what I’m getting at there, and that is taken directly from Building a StoryBrand. It is to go again, back to the car commercial. The hero in the first commercial with the Subaru is the mom or the dad who made the decision to buy the car to keep their kids safe.

Michael Ashford:
The hero in the second commercial, in the Chevy commercial, is Chevy. And there’s just no affinity built there. There’s just no story that I can place myself into and say, “Yeah, I’m dealing with that same issue right there.” And the guide, you as a company, you can be the guide. You can be the wise sage too.

Michael Ashford:
With all the background, and knowledge, and expertise, and information that we have as companies at our fingertips, we can parse that out in a story, in a thematic way, in a way that the reader or the consumer of that content can take themselves, and immediately place themselves into the narrative that you are trying to weave, and it becomes so much more real for them at that point.

Michael Ashford:
And all of that can only be done if you’ve done the first three steps of telling a great story, of listening, of asking follow-up questions, of crafting content that then answers those questions in a real way that affects actual consumers of your product or service. It all comes to a head when we can say, “You can achieve this success. And oh, by the way, you’re happy to be using our product.”

Ethan Beute:
Love it. For someone who is listening, it’s like, “Oh, I been thinking this way, or I read that book and I loved it, or these types of things.” It’s basically, “I’m with you so far, Michael. But how do I operationalize it?” Do you have any thoughts, or tips around how do you make this habit, or practice, or default, or culture, within a team, or even within an organization? Any thoughts around that?

Michael Ashford:
Well, one of the things that we did is we actually went through the story brand process as a company at The Receptionist, and everyone, from the CEO, to the frontline, customer service reps, and everyone in between, we were all involved in that process. Because we all have different vantage points of what the customer says at the different buying part, buying journeys, or their different journey with us as a customer.

Michael Ashford:
And that was really important to us was we wanted to speak the same language. If you’ve ever read the book Traction, it talks a lot about the entire company needs to be talking the same language when it comes to your measurements, and how you run meetings and just the verbiage that you use day-in and day-out as employees of that company. It’s important that it all remains the same.

Michael Ashford:
It’s important that it remains the same when you’re talking outwardly to other people, as well. Not just internally in staff meetings, but in your marketing message, on your social media, on your podcast. That’s important, and if everybody’s not saying the same thing, then we’ve got an issue. And so, go through a book like Building a StoryBrand in the entire process as a team.

Michael Ashford:
If your company is huge, create a working group from all different sectors, and segments of the company to go through that process. And agree moving forward, this is our language that we use. I would say just read more, read more nonfiction, read more fiction, immersive like if you’re not a book reader, like audiobooks, listen to podcasts. Consume more content where people are telling a great story.

Michael Ashford:
And begin to think about how you can weave those same elements into your own marketing messaging, or your own messaging as a company. Write more, the best thing you can do is write more, and read your stuff out loud. When I actually say this to somebody is a great thumb test of if it’s going to fly or not.

Michael Ashford:
And do people actually care about it? If I’m a consumer, would this capture my attention, and cause me to think the way that I want my customers to think? You can turn the tables on yourself, and ask great questions of yourself, and listen to other people in the company with intent. You can do a lot of this internally as well.

Ethan Beute:
This is so good. It reminds me of some of the deep motivation for starting this podcast, and specifically, this idea of cross-functional teams because everyone views the customer differently depending on their seat in the house. We all interact with the customer differently.

Ethan Beute:
I interact with customers differently from the marketing team than someone in sales, certainly than someone in CS, certainly than someone in product or Dev, certainly. And so, having a more complete view, and a more complete understanding of what it’s like to interact with your customers is so, so important.

Michael Ashford:
Yeah. For sure.

Ethan Beute:
Really good tips there. I’m glad I asked. Before I start winding down here, you’ve had a number of sales roles. What do you wish more salespeople knew or understood about marketing, or the marketing process? And/or what do you wish more marketers knew or understood about salespeople or the sales process?

Michael Ashford:
That would be where I would go as what I wish more marketers knew about the sales process. I’ve managed sales reps, I’ve managed cold callers, and business development reps. The act of trying to get somebody to go from never knowing about your product, to getting them to give you money is so incredibly difficult. It’s just so hard.

Michael Ashford:
And to understand the daily battle that a sales rep, or sales development rep, or even a rep who goes to conferences, and travels a lot, and gets in front of people, the daily battle that they have in their minds, and a lot of times the livelihood, their livelihood that is on the line, if they don’t perform that day, and build a relationship, it can be so overwhelming.

Michael Ashford:
It can be an incredibly motivating thing, and also, an incredibly disheartening thing. I once heard it said that the best sales reps are the best losers. You’re always thinking that that last loss is getting you closer to the next victory. And that’s a really hard place for a lot of people to be in. So, often, we as marketers just send things out, and expect, we look at the numbers, and oh, it’s driving more traffic, and it’s driving more engagement.

Michael Ashford:
And this percentage of people filled out a lead form. And we never quite understand what goes on at that point moving forward. And that’s where I go back to understanding the measurable aspect of a sales job. There are some deals along in my career that we’ve won, that I have no logical reason to tell you why we won the deal other than they just liked our sales rep more.

Michael Ashford:
We didn’t have any better features. We didn’t have any better pricing. We didn’t have any better terms in our contract. They just liked the rep more. And if you think about how hard it is to get somebody to like you, let alone give you money, that’s incredibly difficult.

Michael Ashford:
And we just need to, I say all the time, marketers have to, if they don’t fulfill a sales role themselves, and practice at that, they have to immerse themselves into the sales side of the world as much as possible. Because at the end of the day, your job is dependent on them doing their job to the best of their abilities, and you are in support of them.

Ethan Beute:
I love it. I’m so glad I asked that question. The risk of running long on the conversation because it’s so good. A line that I’ve been using in talking about what we do at BommBomm, which is make it easy to send videos to people, typically in a one to one personal basis. But you can use it in a variety of ways is that, one of the reasons you might engage with us is that you believe that your measurables make a measurable difference.

Ethan Beute:
That who you are matters, that your team needs to be more visible to more people. And so, this idea of pulling a deal just because that trust in the confidence, and the warmth, and the competency are all felt there. And it’s so funny. I think about things happening in my own house.

Ethan Beute:
So, when we wanted to put air conditioning in, and get a new furnace at the same time, my wife and I did all three of the people entering our home. And it’s so interesting how much the person represent… they all have beautiful medium to heavy stock pieces, color, lots of details, nice drawing-

Michael Ashford:
Great marketing teams, for sure.

Ethan Beute:
Right. But if the gentleman in your home feels a little bit like a weirdo to your wife, or-

Michael Ashford:
Yeah, exactly. That’s a great example. If I have somebody coming in, we’ve had this example too, we’ve had somebody come in to fix our air conditioner. He spent the entire time talking to me, and my wife is sitting right next to me. She’s on the title too. This is her home as well, speak to both of us, not just to me as the man. That is, and we didn’t go with him for that reason. We did not go with that company.

Ethan Beute:
So, for folks…your team matters a lot into what you offered there, maybe three or four minutes ago. Your brand is the promise that you’re making to your customers. And the customer experience is the actual delivery on the promise for better or for worse. So, this consistency across teams is another key part of the conversation that we’re having in an ongoing basis here on the podcast.

Ethan Beute:
And as your customer moves across your teams, they need to feel that same trust, and competence, confidence, warmth, all those things that are happening that got them as far as they are in the journey. It needs to be continuous, and it needs to be felt similarly. It should be obvious in all those touchpoints, who your team is, and what you stand for.

Ethan Beute:
And so, for folks who are listening, if you have enjoyed this conversation with Michael as I have, you might also like one of my earliest episodes with my longtime friend, and team member, and coauthor on Rehumanize Your Business, back on episode six, Steve Pacinelli, our CMO at BombBomb had a conversation with me, and we titled that one connecting with customers by exploring a shared belief.

Ethan Beute:
And I think the shared belief underpins a lot of the storytelling about who you are, what you’re about, and is that something that the customer, or potential customer can feel, and wants to participate in? So, that’s episode six with Steve Pacinelli on shared beliefs. And on episode 49, with Scott Barker, who is with Sales Hacker and Outreach. He does a number of things there.

Ethan Beute:
He is a sales evangelist at large. And we call that one four tactics every salesperson should steal from marketing. And so, I guess I’ll make that episode 49 with Scott Barker, and I think you’ll see a lot of those themes that we were talking about play into some of the things that he says salespeople should steal from marketers.

Ethan Beute:
Really quickly, Michael, what do you think about, obviously, when a lot of people hear a conversation like this, if you’re a marketer, you’re like, “Oh, yeah, that’s me. That’s me every day.” What about someone in other roles? I know that this is transferable, and useful in a wide variety of roles. But what are some of your thoughts around that for people that might say, “Is this for me, or I don’t think that’s for me?”

Michael Ashford:
Storytelling is how humans communicate. And so much of our jobs is convincing people of a stance that we have, or an idea that we have, or a direction that we think the company should go. If you are a good storyteller, if you can accurately, and appropriately weave a narrative around your idea, your idea for a product, your idea for a new process, let’s just take finance, and that rarely ever talks to a customer unless they’re mad, and trying to get him to pay a bill.

Michael Ashford:
If you have an idea to improve the customer experience through a new process in accounts payable, or accounts receivable, tell it through a story. Don’t just show the raw data and say, here’s the data, here’s how I think how much we can improve. Do you approve this process change or not? Tell a story. Weave in the measurables behind it, and see how much better your ideas are received.

Michael Ashford:
By simply telling a story, and making sure that you’ve checked all the appropriate boxes that we’ve talked about. Have you been asking questions of other people, of customers? Did you listen, and remove your bias out of those answers? Are you now anticipating the questions that you’re going to be asked? So, you’re creating your presentation your content to address those questions.

Michael Ashford:
And you’re painting not yourself, but the company, or the customer, or your boss as the hero, you will be more successful in your role. And I don’t care what department you’re in, what role you’re in, storytelling will work.

Ethan Beute:
I’m with you on that. Michael, this has been awesome. I’ve enjoyed it very much. We could easily go over an hour, but-

Michael Ashford:
For sure.

Ethan Beute:
I’ve never done this on the show. We’re not going to start today. So, before I let you go, though, I want to give you the chance to think or mention someone who’s had a positive impact on your life, or your career. And to give a shout out, or a mention, or a nod to a company, or a brand that you really respect, let’s say besides Subaru. They really respect for the way they deliver for you as a customer.

Michael Ashford:
Well, my shout out has to go to the first boss that I ever had in in a marketing role. He was the guy who took me from a project management role. And within the next year said, “I think you could be our marketing director.” And that was a friend of mine from a few companies ago called Jesse Manning. And Jesse and I were on the student newspaper together in college, and we actually were roommates for a little bit.

Michael Ashford:
And our paths reconnected a few years after college, and he took a huge, huge leap of faith on me by making me the marketing director when I had never had any marketing experience before. And that really set about this path on my career that I absolutely love. So, many, many thanks to him, and his willingness to give me a shot at it.

Michael Ashford:
Yeah, right. I’ll say that. So, I’m definitely a hiker. I am definitely an outdoorsy person. I love climbing the fourteeners here in Colorado, and I really love a company that designs backpacks. They’re called Osprey packs. And just incredible quality. And if anything breaks, they will fix it for you in much the same way. It’s that Patagonia model, where if your zipper breaks, they’ll replace it.

Michael Ashford:
And I love how, for one, I haven’t had to be much of a repeat customer because their packs are so well designed. I get a lot of usage out of them. But my son will be getting one this year for his birthday as we go on our first fourteener together, and I know that’s where I’m going. I enjoy their marketing. I enjoy their storytelling. I enjoy their customer service. It’s been fantastic.

Ethan Beute:
Awesome. I love that company as well. And I think they’re Colorado-based. I think they’re in-

Michael Ashford:
They are.

Ethan Beute:
… or I could be wrong.

Michael Ashford:
You are correct.

Ethan Beute:
In our house, we have at least six or seven of their products, and four of them are mine, including my airplane friendly suitcase. Small, and just amazing wheels on it. I’ve used it for years, and it almost looks as good as the day I bought it, performance as well. I’ve got a laptop bag from them. I’ve got a couple backpacks, a bigger one, and a smaller one, and great company.

Ethan Beute:
I love the shout out there. Michael, if people want to follow up on this conversation because they enjoyed it. If they want to connect with you, or they want to learn more about The Receptionist or Fit Dad Fitness, where would you send people if they enjoyed this conversation, which if they’re listening right now, I know they did?

Michael Ashford:
Sure. Well, thereceptionist.com is The Receptionist website, and you can always email me. It’s michael@thereceptionist.com. And for all things Fit Dad Fitness, you can go to fitdadfitness.com. And much the same way, it’s michael@fitdadfitness.com. And we run a podcast, and manage podcasts for both organizations. So, I have my own personal podcast with Fit Dad Fitness.

Michael Ashford:
It’s simply the Fit Dad Fitness Podcast. And then, for The Receptionist, our podcast is called The FABRIC show, The FABRIC Podcast. And FABRIC stands for fun, authentic, bold, respectful, innovative, and collaborative. And those are our core values. And so, those are the topics that we explore on The FABRIC show.

Ethan Beute:
Awesome. Really good mention there. And I would go out on a limb, and say you’ve probably said those core values a number of times, it also helps [crosstalk 00:53:31] make a word.

Michael Ashford:
Exactly. And that actually was a happy instance, happenstance, not on purpose. So, it’s cool that it worked out that way.

Ethan Beute:
It’s fantastic. Michael, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I really appreciate all the tips you shared with us, the stories you shared with us, and appreciate what you’re up to.

Michael Ashford:
Thank you so much, Ethan. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

 
 
 

Video Highlights: 4 Steps to Better Storytelling

Check out the top five video highlights from the discussion with Michael Ashford of The Receptionist below…

1. The Definition of Storytelling

 

 

2. Storytelling Characteristic 1 – Asks Great Questions

 

 

3. Storytelling Characteristic 2 – Listens with Intent

 

 

4. Storytelling Characteristic 3 – Creates Content that Answers Questions

 

 

5. Storytelling Characteristic 4 – Guides to Outcomes

 

 

Similar CX Episodes You’ll Enjoy:

 
 

Subscribe, Listen, Rate, and Review The Customer Experience Podcast:

 

 

 

 

Ethan Beute

Ethan Beute | About The Author

Chief Evangelist at BombBomb, co-author of Rehumanize Your Business, and host of The Customer Experience Podcast, Ethan collects and tells stories of clearer communication, human connection, and higher conversion with simple, personal videos. BA: University of Michigan. MBA: University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. Fresh air & clean water.