Q&A with a Story Guru: Mike Wittenstein, Part 5

See a photo of Mike, a link to his bio, and Part 1 of this Q&A, Part 2 of this Q&A, Part 3 and Part 4.

Q&A with Mike Wittenstein (Question 5):

Q: Your company’s Web site states: “Storymining helps you hear the real voices of your customers.” You and your company seem to believe that the customer-experience story is the most important one an organization can tell. Without giving away all your secrets, can you talk a bit about the Storymining process? Have you encountered organizations whose customers have very few positive things to say about the company? How do you turn around a situation like that?

A: Storyminers is a business strategy studio with a focus on customer-experience design. Storymining™ is the trademarked name for the proprietary process we use. The “secret” is this: We teach our customers that brands make promises that their businesses must keep. We show them why the best service brands use customer experience as a differentiator and as a way to achieve sustainable competitive advantage (the holy grail of marketing). Then, we take them through a process of finding the soul of their business — their story. Clients are often surprised to find out that it’s not their story that becomes the focus of attention. Rather, it’s the story a contented customer tells their friends and colleagues about the experience they just had. The retelling of customer experiences as stories is the genesis of word-of-mouth. By focusing the entire business on the stories customers tell their friends, the entire business becomes focused on the customer and the experience they provide to them. In my opinion, that’s the beginning of a great brand!

The rest of the Storymining™ process involves change management, organizational alignment, process, training, people, and technology. Once we have the story, we can engineer the right kind of experience. With the detailed experience design in hand, we and the clients’ teams can determine the operational requirements for the business to deliver on its promises. Once we know what the business has to do, we work with clients to help them figure out the best ways to do it. This may involve drawing pictures of who owes what to whom and creating other governance tools such as Governing Principles and a Reason For Being.

It’s not uncommon to run across prospects, whose promises are unfocused and weak, or whose operations are sloppy — to the point that there is no good experience or good story to tell. If, through our due diligence, we find that the people in the organization aren’t honest, don’t care about their own employees, or don’t want to listen to the voices of their customers, we simply won’t engage. For those clients we do take on, if they decide not to do the hard work of changing the way they work to create better value and better outcomes for their customers, we also disengage. Working with those visionary, intrepid and people supporting leaders who are left is a great deal of fun and the work is quite easy. Generally, they are very excited about having the tools they have been looking for to make their brands better. It’s all about delivering a better customer experience, based on a great story that yields raving fans.

Interestingly, as Frederick Reichheld proved in the mid-90s, treating your employees well leads to happy customers. And happy customers lead to happy shareholders. In summary, a great story supported by a great experience, helps improve the bottom line. I think the world is ready for that message now and I’m excited to be a part of the community is helping to make it available to mainline businesses.

Personally, I’ve found it quite interesting to witness the transformation as hard-nosed, bottom-line-oriented leaders make the transition from believing that their businesses make money (only the US mint can really make money) to realizing that their operations must deliver highly engaging experiences to win the attention — and loyalty — of their customers.