Every customer has a backstory. Do you listen for it?

Let’s start with defining the term first, as I often do. What is a backstory? says that it’s: a narrative providing a history or background context, while states that it’s the experiences of a character or the circumstances of an event that occur before the action or narrative…; the set of background conditions and events leading to a real-life situation; a prequel.

Why is this an important topic that customer experience professionals would be interested in?

The purpose of being in business is all about the customer, right. And most important to a successful customer experience and, ultimately, a successful business, is customer understanding: who he is, what he’s trying to achieve, what his pain points are, and more.

Your customers have backstories. They have experiences and circumstances that occur before they have a need that brings them to your front door. Those backstories shape who they are and how your brand fits into their lives.

How do you uncover those backstories? Simple: listen to customers; ask questions; get to know them.

Consider the example that I gave in last month’s post, The Future of Customer Experience. It’s an example of anticipatory service, but this is a great use of a customer backstory.

Scenario: A USAA member calls to submit a change of address. Since members are military personnel, USAA knows a little bit about the individual, not the least of which is that an address change probably comes with a larger life change. Agents ask members other questions to understand the customer’s backstory, which helps them to determine an appropriate solution and experience for the member.

Maybe that’s not a perfect example, but it illustrates how when you understand a little bit more about where the customer is coming from, you can design a better experience for him and likely anticipate needs going forward.

Once we know customer backstories, we need to share them with others so that the experience is consistent for the customer across the organization; when we tell the stories, we facilitate customer understanding within the organization.

The backstory is also important because it creates a connection, one that is both personal and emotional. The emotions elicited as a result of the story support that customer relationship. They help to create empathy for the customer, as well. Backstories form the foundation for the connection between the customer and the brand. And, in the end, that bond will be  what makes people want to see your brand succeed – for the greater good.

If the backstory is the prequel, what will you uncover about the customer to help you define the sequel? How will you use that backstory? How does it impact the customer experience and CX design?

The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon. -Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings