Karen Dietz
February 3, 2014

7 Powerful Ways Stories Connect You with Your Customers

I was visiting a company the other day and chatting about stories. I mentioned how tough it is for any business to gather their customer stories and the two principles snorted, threw their hands up while rolling their eyes, and said, “That’s for sure! We’ve tried it.”

So this blog post is all about how to ask for stories – and get them — in authentic ways without sounding manipulative. Doing so will enhance your understanding of your customer’s world, you’ll be able to ‘walk a mile in their shoes’, and it will boost your relationships with them.

Gathering customer stories is hard for companies. Add trying to collect stories via social media or community forums and it feels doubly difficult. Businesses don’t know how to ask for stories, or how to write up the story that makes the customer the hero. When your customer is the hero of the story – not your company – then you win big because you’ve made them look great. A happy and loyal fan is the result. In my next blog post I’ll share tips on the whole ‘customer as hero’ thing.

Getting Started

But first things first. Before we talk about how to write the story to make the customer the hero, let’s chat about how to even ask for a story and get one.

A few years ago a cruise line called me because they had tried – on their own – to gather their customer’s stories. Unfortunately, they failed miserably at it and now were calling for help.

The main reason why they didn’t have any luck collecting customer stories was because they didn’t know the kinds of question to ask that actually generates a story – called a story prompt. Here’s what they did: they whipped out their camera crew and interviewer and randomly approached folks who were on board. The interviewer would ask a customer to tell them what being on the ship is like. Then they would ask what one of the company’s qualities meant to the person being interviewed. What did they get in return? “Oh, I go to the pool and relax” or “The minute I walk on the ship I feel different.”

Hmmmm – not helpful. Instead of stories, they got snippets of opinion, and were totally dissatisfied with the results. And this is what many businesses experience when they go after their customer’s stories.

What Not To Do

When most people want to evoke a story from a customer, they will typically ask questions that mostly generate descriptions. Like:

  • What drew you to this company/product/service?
  • What do you like most about our product/service?
  • What do you like most about our company?
  • Describe how you’ve used our product/service.
  • Describe a situation in which you felt that you received exceptional service.
  • One of our values is innovation. How have we delivered on this value?


Framing questions using the terms “what”, “describe”, “how have we” or “how do you” only lead to lots of information being shared.  You might hear a story – and you might not.  It’s going to be a real crap shoot. Avoid the following at all costs:

  • Describe for me . . .
  • Explain to me . . .
  • Illustrate for me . . .
  • Clarify for me . . .
  • Give me the details . . .
  • Put in plain words . . .
  • Help me to understand . . .
  • Demonstrate for me how . . .


With these openings, people will offer thoughts, opinions, and platitudes. They “talk about” a story instead of actually telling you one. To get to the heart of what you want to hear may take lots of probing. And you also run the risk that the additional questioning will be a put off the person you are seeking stories from.

icingPlus you always run the risk of missing the immediate connection and relationship building that stories create. It will be like eating only the icing off a piece of cake and never getting to the cake itself!

Story Prompts

Whether you are meeting with a customer in person, are on the phone, or are using social media, deliberately use story prompts instead. You will save lots of time and energy, and get better results.

So what are great story prompts that you can use?  These are some of the best story prompts out there that are known to work:

  1. Tell me about …
  2. Tell me about what happened when . . .
  3. Enlighten me about a time when …
  4. Share with me that experience when. . .
  5. Paint the full picture for me about when . . .
  6. Share with me your worst/best experience . . .
  7. You had a great customer service experience. Tell me about what happened . . .


Using these story prompts is much more efficient because 90% of the time they will generate a story for you. In addition, using these specific story prompts will bring you lots of material about your company and the customer that you never even asked for – even sensitive information you can’t inquire about. Emotions, feelings, values, guiding principles, knowledge, wisdom, insights about their needs, lifestyle and other information are all embedded in the stories. When evoking and gathering stories, you hit pay dirt.

Try It Out:

Don’t take my word for it. Try it out yourself. Ask yourself the following questions and jot down a few responses: Ask yourself the following question:

  1. Describe to me who has been the kindest person to you in your life….
  2. Now answer the following story prompt:  Tell me about the kindest person in your life and what happened. And what did that person mean to you?


What are the differences you notice between the two?  What are your conclusions? The story is better, right?

The Secret Ingredient

Over the years I’ve come to realize that in addition to using the specific story prompts mentioned here, there’s another secrete ingredient needed for success. It’s called priming the pump. In other words, sometimes in the warm-up chatter I need to actually tell a story first. That brings my customer into a ‘story state’ just by listening to my story. And it effortlessly sparks a story in return. It then becomes very easy to ask for – and receive – my customer’s story. I just make sure that if I’m asking about something specific – like service or innovation – I share a story about when I was a customer and received excellent service or loved a company’s innovative solution.

Four Tips:

  1. Prime the pump by sharing a story first
  2. Only use story prompts that are known to work
  3. Listen appreciatively (just listen without needing to interrupt or respond). Here are more tips on listening and listening well
  4. Thank them and share a story in return if the situation warrants it


When you approach collecting your customer’s stories in this way, you will do so with greater clarity and confidence. With practice you will improve your skills in asking for stories from customers. You will begin to create longer term relationships with customers. And you will gain greater depth and a richer understanding of their views and needs that you can then take action on. Yipee!!

For additional articles and insights into customer stories check here 

The following two tabs change content below.
Karen Dietz has been working in business storytelling with organizations for over 2 decades. She is also the top global curator on business storytelling at www.scoop.it/t/just-story-it. Karen is the co-author of the just published book "Business Storytelling for Dummies" by Wiley. You can find this and more at her website here.
Filed Under: Uncategorized Tagged With: Uncategorized