Brands love sharing customer stories as social proof they have great relationships. And, told well, these stories can show us real people we relate to, which is so much more effective than a shiny celeb endorsement.
But some customer stories feel so manipulated there’s not much real life left. They feel faked. Because they are.
The cringiest kind are over the top “Yes, yes, YES!” endorsements that take their cues from the most famous scene in the 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally.
Sure, it’s wonderful when customers are enthusiastic about their experiences with a business – and of course we’d all love our customer audiences to think “I’ll have what she’s having” – but if the satisfaction isn’t authentic, not much else matters.
(Just quietly, if a brand wants a customer to fake their enthusiasm for its products/services, or regurgitate pre-approved brand messages, or perfectly articulate complicated product names…. the ‘customer’ should be paid to act in an ad. I’ve lost count the times I’ve been told by businesses to direct customers to say specific words pre-approved by a committee. It’s just awkward all round.)
Many of the customer stories I’ve enjoyed working on like this one I did a few years back for PayPal feature people from the audience, and give them space to tell their story, in their own words. They’re often raw. Sometimes emotional. Occasionally utterly charming.
Some stories even surprise their tellers. (For customer stories, the tellers might be the interviewer and interviewees). And part of the pleasure of storytelling is the adventure: what will we discover?
We’re human, after all.
In the words of the seminal The Cluetrain Manifesto: “Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.”
If you’re asking someone to champion your business, champion them too
Great customer stories motivate our audiences to take action. So, if we want the customers we’re featuring in our stories to inspire other people to want what they’re having, then our stories really have to be about customers first. And the brand second.
We want to give them permission to tell their own story as they’d tell their friends and peers if we weren’t recording or taking notes.
So, let the customer be raw and emotional. Give them space to talk about genuine (provable) successes they’ve experienced that are repeatable if someone else follows their lead. Even if those things aren’t currently on a pre-planned list of Feature>Benefit callouts. If they’re true and replicable, they’re probably worth repeating.
Unfortunately, one of the awkward challenges of interviewing non-actors is they might start acting when they’re being recorded.
We’ve seen how politicians, business leaders and sports stars switch into ‘media mode’ when a camera or microphone is pointed at them… so it’s our job to make the interview feel like a conversation among friends or peers. That time we spend building rapport can go a long way.
Then when we champion customers who are relatable and inspirational, we make room for our audiences to be part of the story too, because it feels real.
So, for the love of all that’s wonderful in human relationships, don’t coax customers into faking it.
By Stuart Ridley, Senior Content Specialist - Storyation