The Power of Story in Guest Experience

Stories can be very engaging. We fill our lives with stories. When we tell our friends what happened on our vacation, what we say to our coworkers after the big meeting, talk about our kids’ activities, what happened at the grocery store, we are storytelling. Stories are powerful methods of communication.

The concept of “story” is coming together for me in several areas of my life. While doing research for a work project, I read the following by Robert McKee in his book Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting:

Stories fulfill a profound human need to grasp the patterns of living – not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience.

The last phrase of McKee’s quote reminded me of the importance that emotion plays in a Guest Experience. Extending that thought, the power of stories and anecdotes should not be underestimated as you consider how you might weave them into the design of your Guest Experience.

The power of stories is very captivating. When you are sitting down and watching a good movie you can become captivated (in the same way discussed here). Movies and theatre are just stories in another form. What’s your favorite film? You can probably recite the story line in great detail. As you are doing that, you can even remember how you felt when you were watching it. The movie captivated you, you were laughing and crying with the characters – you were the character, you were in the film.

You feel the emotion they do. People talk about being “on the edge of their seats.” Movies evoke emotions in powerful ways. Recently, a group of friends, my wife, and I saw the movie “Argo,” based on the true story of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979. Since all of us are about the same age, we were young adults in our early 20s when the story was news, not a movie. In a discussion following the movie, everyone could recall what they saw and felt and talked about during those tense times. The movie took us back over 30 years to bring back memories that were vivid.

That is the power of story – it is an experience that enables us to escape to another world, to be captivated and be in the moment.

So ask yourself this:

What are the stories that your Guests would tell about you?

Remember that those great movies that you remember every detail about don’t just happen. They are planned and scripted. In the same way, organizations that aspire to WOW! Guest Experiences spend hours planning that Guest Experience. Every detail is considered and the senses are used to evoke emotions. In the same way a movie uses music, a tender love scene, and great dialogue to evoke emotions in the viewer, you must use the same principles to create a great Guest Experience.

Over the last few weeks I have been referring a lot to the work of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading experts on customer experience. In conversations with their staff and in researching their great resources, I have been able to “translate” the world of corporate customer experience to that of Guest Experiences in ChurchWorld.

In Beyond Philosophy founder Colin Shaw’s book Revolutionize Your Customer Experience, expert storyteller and story coach Doug Stevenson tells of the power of story. I have modified the language to that of Guest Experience:

For a Guest Experience to come alive and captivate an audience, the content, structure, and performance must be crafted strategically. The Guest Experience itself is only a beginning. Guest Experience is an art and the designer of the Guest Experience, the artist. And all artists need tools. The actor needs a stage, props, and costumes. The musician needs her instrument. The artist needs his brushes and paint. And the Guest Experience designer needs form, content, and presentation skills and techniques. The great designers of Guest Experiences distinguish themselves not just by their talent, but also by their dedication to their craft. They think about their Guest Experiences constantly. They structure the sequence and flow of the Guest Experience, and experiment to find the right words that are genuinely theirs. They work on a gesture or movement until it is just right. Then they rehearse if over and over again until it becomes second nature – the line and the gesture effortlessly married together. The incorporate acting skills and turn their Guest Experiences into little theatrical events. In order to have an end result that is amazing, you will have to spend many hours working on your Guest Experience. Your Guest Experience must be worked and re-worked, formed and re-formed. You’ll want to find the drama and comedy of your Guest Experience and let them shine.

Can you see that stories are essential enablers of the Guest Experience?


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