Customer Narratives


Technologies may come and go, but one thing remains: Word-of-mouth is the most trusted, and least expensive, business-building technique.

Too bad most of it is out of your control, right?

Wrong. While you can’t force your customers and clients to speak highly of you, you can help them tell their stories.

Customer success stories lend your business social proof, which is especially important for startups and other new businesses that need to demonstrate value compared to more established competitors.

Customer stories are also a powerful tool for content marketing. Customer success stories and case studies can be featured online and organically spread to the “right” customers — your target market — by social networks.

“People trade experiences and ideals through narrative; brands can (and should) be part of the exchange,” writes Suzanne Gibbs Howard. Stories, notes Howard, are one way to do it.

How can you encourage and collect customer narratives for use in content marketing?

Capture success stories immediately.

Capturing customer stories can be as low-tech as an online feedback form or as highly produced as on-camera testimonials. What both share in common is the immediacy with which businesses collect them — ideally, right after the product or service has been delivered. This doesn’t mean the stories are ready for prime time, as writing or editing still need to happen. The important thing is capturing the feedback and sentiment as soon as the product or service is delivered.

Remind your customers of the problem you solved.

Describing the problem or issue that your business has solved is a great way to start the conversation. For example, a caterer might start the survey with an open-ended statement to remind customers of the problem solved such as, “I needed a multi-course meal for a family reunion, so I called and requested…”

Craft your story using traditional story beats.

Literature is said to repeat the same handful of stories — for good reason: they are timeless. Here are three acts and nine beats contained in most stories. Use this format to present your customer success story to your audience.

Get permission to share the story.

Make sure you ask customers to give their permission to share their story — even if it means sharing the story confidentially. One way is to include a statement where the default action of doing nothing gives permission, such as, “Thank you for your feedback. Please initial here if you would NOT like your story to be shared in my marketing materials.”

It is particularly important to get direct and explicit permission in writing if you plan to use photos, video, or audio of your customers telling their story. Make sure to get a model release for photos and a general release of rights for video and audio. Getting formal sign-off is a necessary protection for you.

Edit without changing the meaning.

Use your best judgment when editing material collected from customers. Don’t omit the context or imply their success story applies to more than the service or product they are endorsing. Not only would this be wrong, it could also land you in trouble. Honest reviews build your greatest support.

Enlist the help of employees to find good stories.

Employees who have the most direct contact with customers are another resource to uncover testimonials and the stories behind them. Chances are, you can find several marketing stories using internal channels. Just be sure to clear permission with your customers or clients — some may not want to share a success story openly, or may need to clear it with their supervisors, too.

Use the stories everywhere!

Customer success stories can be used nearly everywhere online and off — brochures, websites, multimedia presentations, apps, etc. Refer to these frequently and use them as a sales tool.

Katie McCaskey is a freelance writer on startup tips and trends for Vistaprint, a leading provider of professional business websites, business cards, and hundreds of other marketing products for small businesses and startups across the globe. Katie is also co-owner of George Bowers Grocery, a neighborhood grocery and café in Staunton, Virginia.