The real power of a good brand story is that it communicates an idea in an emotional way. Listeners immediately get your message and if the story is good, they internalize it and may even share it with others.
For example, you can tell your customers that you provide outstanding customer service. In fact, many brands say exactly that in their advertising, mission statements and their web sites. And it’s all completely forgettable.
Or you can “show” your customers a story.
No doubt you’ve heard about the woman who returned a set of snow tires to Nordstrom (or maybe it was a toaster). The salesperson gladly refunded her money and took the tires off her hands. The hook is that Nordstrom doesn’t sell tires. But they did what it took to make a valued customer happy.
That story is almost certainly an urban legend. But it is told and retold by Nordstrom customers to illustrate how great the customer service is at Nordstrom. It feels true.
Another example is the pizza story told by Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh.
This story has become a part of the Zappos narrative. This story has been told by Tony hundreds of times. It brilliantly demonstrates to what lengths Zappos will go to serve their cusotmers. And each time he tells it, Tony says that he hesitates to share it because he doesn’t want people to call his company to order pizza. (Given that Tony has shared this story over and over, we can assume that he isn’t hesitant to tell it in the least, and this is just part of his approachable delivery.)
I’m reminded of a time when I was in Santa Monica, California, a few years ago at a Skechers sales conference. After a long night of bar-hopping, a small group of us headed up to someone’s hotel room to order some food. My friend from Skechers tried to order a pepperoni pizza from the room-service menu, but was disappointed to learn that the hotel we were staying at did not deliver hot food after 11:00pm. We had missed the deadline by several hours.
In our inebriated state, a few of us cajoled her into calling Zappos to try to order a pizza. She took us up on our dare, turned on the speakerphone, and explained to the (very) patient Zappos rep that she was staying in a Santa Monica hotel and really craving a pepperoni pizza, that room service was no longer delivering hot food, and that she wanted to know if there was anything Zappos could do to help.
The Zappos rep was initially a bit confused by the request, but she quickly recovered and put us on hold. She returned two minutes later, listing the five closest places in the Santa Monica area that were still open and delivering pizzas at that time.
Now, truth be told, I was a little hesitant to include this story because I don’t actually want everyone who reads this book to start calling Zappos and ordering pizza. But I just think it’s a fun story to illustrate the power of not having scripts in your call center and empowering your employees to do what’s right for your brand, no matter how unusual or bizarre the situation.
As for my friend from Skechers? After that phone call, she’s now a customer for life.
Tony could have said, “Our service is the best,” or “We’ll do anything for our customers.” But by telling this story he doesn’t have to. Instead, he shares an experience that a listener can relate to. And we draw our own conclusions.
What stories are you giving your customers to tell?
In case you’re interested, here’s a longer version of Tony talking about Zappos (and the pizza story) from the Business Innovation Factory: