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Episode #39 Crafting Authentic Stories to Connect With Customers Ft. Kindra Hall (Author, Stories That Stick)

Kindra Hall, former Chief Storytelling Officer of Success Magazine, joins Josh Schachter, founder, and CEO of UpdateAI in this episode of the [Un]churned podcast to discuss
– Importance of storytelling in business and a framework for compelling storytelling
– Four types of stories: value story, founder story, purpose story, and customer story.
– Activating customer stories
– The founding story of UpdateAI
– The importance of authenticity in storytelling was emphasized.

The conversation ended with a recommendation for the book “Stories That Stick“. 

"There are so many different ways that you can activate your customer stories. In some cases, it might be a big, beautiful, well produced piece. In some ways, it might just be like, a comment blurb that scrolls past on your website. However, it's not just, Oh, I love this company. It's, here's what we were struggling with. I found they found me I've never been happier write it get it has that it's there you go the extra mile to pull out the normal explosion new normal from the customer get some of those components in there. So that it really comes to light."

Listening to Unchurned will lower your churn and increase your conversions.

Hey everybody, and welcome to this episode of [Un]churned. I’m your host, Josh Schachter, founder and CEO of UpdateAI. And joining me on today’s episode, I have a very special guest. She is the best selling author and the former chief storytelling Officer of Success Magazine. Her work and research teaches individuals and brands to harness and leverage the power of stories. I read her first book stories that stick Sherry, if you’re out there listening, thank you for recommending that book. To me, it was a great read. And it’s a beaut at number two on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. A lots of other accolades, we’ve got Seth Godin on the cover, you know, commenting on how wonderful of a productive have read it was. And it really was very helpful, has been helpful for me, and I’m going to share an example of that. So in any case, I’d like to welcome Kindra Hall to our show. Kindra, thank you so much for being on this episode.

Gosh, I’m really glad to be here with you. And I also want to say thank you to Sherry, two things are passing the book on that’s the that’s the greatest thing an author can hear. So thanks, Sherry.

There you go. There you go. Shout out to Sherry. So let’s get started. Warm up the conversation. A couple questions for you. I’d like to know Kendra, where you’re from. And where do you live? Now I obviously know where you live. Now. We’ve talked a lot about this. But for everybody out there listening.

Yeah. So I always have three chapters it to my life. So I grew up in rural Minnesota. So I was born and raised in Minnesota stayed there for through college then. I mean, it was Minnesota, it was really cold. So I moved to New Mexico and then Phoenix, and I was there for about 15 years. And now I am in New York City.

Wow. All very, very different types of environments. That’s that’s makes you very well rounded. Very cool. And I joked about where do you live now? Because you and I are neighbors? I think we live two to three blocks away from each other. Yeah. We were swapping restaurant recommendations last time. Have you been to Nikolas? Yeah,

I haven’t. I haven’t been there yet. It got really busy. It got really busy in those last couple of weeks since we chatted. And so that’s definitely on the agenda for January.

And in that time, your daughter was in the Nutcracker. How did that performance go?

You know, i i People said that it was going to be a big commitment. And I just had no idea, Josh, it was it was so much work. However, as a parent. However, it was one of those moments where I will remember the story and tell it back to my daughter because we really got to see her as her person when she was going to school and she had still had sports and she was in the Nutcracker. It seemed the busier she was the better she was. So it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

Something tells me that she should take after you in some way. Maybe a little maybe you’re watching a young entrepreneur, but it sounds like Yes. How did you come into the business of storytelling,

I came into the business really realizing that I had grown up during my time in Minnesota, telling stories. It was an assignment for my fifth grade English class. And I was one of those kids who discovered what I was meant to do at 11. Of course, at that point, I didn’t realize the business applications. But as I continued through school, I would tell stories then and festivals are I know you don’t know that their storytelling festivals are open mic nights. Through my graduate research, I started studying the role of storytelling in organizational culture. Then I went into sales and marketing. And I kept realizing that even though we talk a lot about stories, and even back then it was a buzzword. No one was telling actual stories. And there was that jumping off point you mentioned being an entrepreneur where I decided even though I didn’t really know what it was going to look like that that was actually my job was going to be to teach people how to leverage their stories.

You know, now that you say that has become a little bit of a buzzword, hasn’t it? Storytelling, it wasn’t it like as a concept. And it certainly is a business aid. It wasn’t really thought of if I think back a decade or two ago, and certainly folks like yourself had been very instrumental in putting it on stage there. But what has been that inflection point for storytelling being being kind of cast into the main stage now?

I think there were important people who started talking about it, right? Gary Vaynerchuk started mentioning storytelling, Richard Branson, Seth Godin, like you started to see the word pop up in modern marketing. And so it added some, you know, social proof to the concept and that was about the time was the you know, like 2010 ish that I started really making This my focus. And it was at first it was really hard I got laughed out of, you know, I would write to different companies and say I’m a storytelling expert, and they would have no idea what I was talking about. And now it has become mainstream. And again, maybe to its own detriment, buzzword.

What is a story in what is a story not or what is not a story. And this

is where this is where it’s so this is where it’s so important, right? Because what you see then is as people are talking about how important stories are, and and you know, the thought leaders are saying this, and then it trickles down to the people who are actually responsible for telling the stories or using stories in marketing or sales, or whatever it is. The tendency is to, one of the things I see happen is people preface whatever information they’re going to give with this is our story. So for example, if you’re telling your company’s story, someone else say maybe it’s in a sales presentation, and they have a deck ready, and they have the slide that says, X company’s story. And then they go right into we believe in excellence. We are our top notch innovators, we never rest or sleep until we are on the precipice of the next great thing, right. But that that is not a story. Those are just words. And yes, exactly. And so and so you just putting the word, this is our story, or that phrase does not make something, a story. Or if it’s a product or a service that you’re selling or sharing it’s, well here’s our story, we have x number of gigabytes and 97% customer satisfaction. And it’s you can see the bullet points on the brochure or on the slide deck or on the website or wherever they’re putting it. And, and ultimately, when you think about what a story really is, it’s when your friend tells you what happened to them on the street, or the crazy thing that happened at the airport. Or if you’re if you have kids and they want a bedtime story. There’s there’s an arc to it. There are characters in the story, there’s a motion in the story. And somewhere in the rise of the word story we lost, we got confused about what really makes a story.

That to me was emotion, characters and arc.

So yeah, yeah. I’m sorry to interrupt you. So I was thinking about that. I’m like, Oh, I didn’t really say what it is. So Josh, one of the things that I teach, and that is very important to me is that stories are something that anyone can do. So you don’t just have to, because we often think there are some people who are naturally great at telling stories and some people who just aren’t. And so I wanted to create kind of a blueprint so that anyone, particularly in business, could tell a story. So there’s a framework. And in stories that stick I outlined the framework as three parts normal explosion, new normal, what was what was the situation what was at stake, what were they feeling what was happening to kind of set the scene get the person interested draw the person who’s listening, or reading or whatever it is in, there is an explosion. And now that doesn’t require fireworks or you know, mass destruction, but really, it’s that inflection point of change, something’s introduced, a decision is made, action is taken. And then the third part is the new normal, which is what is possible now what are who are they? What have they become? So the first part is kind of that arc that I said, I call it the framework, normal exposure, new normal, then the second part of the blueprint, and you can use this as a checklist of the components that a story needs to have, which are characters now that again, this isn’t saying, XYZ. We had XYZ company like who is we? Nobody knows who the we’re like, you we need an a nobody. Company is this esoteric? Like that’s not a thing, right? It’s a concept. So So who is the person who are the people? And it sounds and I know you might be listening to this and thinking, Well, I’m not just going to talk about Susan or Carlos. Yes. Talk about Susan or Carlos. Right. So you need an identifiable character in motion, right? Yeah. Can

I cut you off here because this is my soapbox. And now is like the you know now as the company founder and concert businessman, I need to talk about my own stuff, right? Yeah. But But what what was interesting is you said no, like, like, name the character, right like give and, and my colleague and I recently decided that with our company, you know, we focus on customer success as a core function for a lot of companies, SAS companies out there. And we realize that what’s happening right now in the world of the economy and in SAS and SAS, this downturn, we’re seeing everything you’re having, are having a tough time sales teams and salespeople unfortunately, in this moment, and customer success managers who own existing customer revenues, most of the time are having to step up. But they’ve always kind of been like in this, like, they’ve always been in the shadows of sales. And so we thought, it reminded my colleague and I, it reminded us of Rosie the Riveter during more time, you know, like, like they’re asked, the women are asked to step up and show their strength, and in some ways that reminded us, so we named our superhero, Rosie, to go through this journey as a customer, because I don’t know, I don’t know, maybe maybe that’s a real, it’s good. Maybe it’s not, you could tell me Well,

there’s, there’s good and then there’s, there’s things to think about as far as that goes. But we’re right to have it to have a person that they can think about. And I would also just add this as sales are struggling Customer Success experts. This is not only is it your time to shine by necessity, but you actually know, the characters that you’re working, right, if you’re trying to tell customer success stories and equip your salespeople because they need those stories. Now, more than ever, you’re the bridge, you’re the one who knows them by name, you’re, you’re the one who knows, what they’ve been through.

Yeah. When I when I read your book, in the reason I wanted to have you on the show is the relevance of, of what you talk about is, I mean, it’s so, so relevant to the world of customer success. And I was thinking about different use cases where there could be huge value, you know, how do you sell your company vision to your customers? How do you elicit stories from your customers? Customer marketing is increasing? How do you share your own story, you always have to be advocating for yourself. And, you know, I see that now on LinkedIn and all over the place. You know, how do you share the story of your customers? Once you’ve elicited those stories? How do you share? Has Customer Success share the story of their own impact? Basically, there were all types of different kinds of applications is what I saw. And you’ve outlined, really kind of four main types or models of stories, right? We’ve got the value story, the founder story, the purpose story, and the customer story. Did I get that right? Yep, that’s right. So I’d love to kind of just go through each of those. And then we can really put that in perspective of how companies can can use these stories most effectively.

Yeah, to give you a little breakdown on each one, so and it’s pretty, it’s each one, it’s kind of in the name. So the value story, those are stories that illustrate the value of what you offer. And as you said, there, Josh, I was, that’s why I was so excited to come on here and talk with you and speak with your audience. Because there really is a it’s a 360s spherical opportunity here for you to be telling stories to express value. So, you know, typically, that’s the value of a product, the value of a service, the value of this company, but as you mentioned, it’s the value of you and your role in customer success. I mean, there’s so much value that could be communicated. That’s what value stories are for founders story, it’s right there in the name. It’s the story of the founding of the company. Now there’s two ways to look at this, of course, if you are the founder, or if you know, the founder, you can, and you know the story of the founder, which you should, because the founder should have told it to you. You can also tell the founders story, even if you didn’t found the company. And I would say another little little tributary, what is that river I’m thinking about another little like another little side story there is when you kind of like your founding in the role that you’re in when you first discovered that this is what you wanted to do. So that’s another way to

look at saying you don’t have to be necessarily the founder.

Yeah, you can. And you should always if you aren’t the founder of the company, you should always know the founding story. Why did this company start? What was the idea and we’ve seen that the companies that really nail that story are the ones that have incredible lasting success because it becomes the foundation upon which the company the lore, the culture, all of it, the brand is built. However, on the other side of it, you also had your own founding moment when you became an employee when you became a partner when you became a part of This company. So you can also, there’s also an aspect of that story that I sometimes lump in there,

I think that’s really important and not to be overlooked. Because a lot of times I find it very effective when, let’s say, let’s stick with customer success. A new CSM will come on as my representative, you know, to me is the client. And they’ll say, you know, oh, I, I used to be a client of this company as well, but I love them so much that I made the move over or, you know, like, what, what triggered their decision to come join this company, and that they’re clearly not the founder of the company. Right. But it is their founding story, their origin story with that company. And I always find it I don’t know, it always kind of captures my attention.

And I think that it just add there’s so even as you say that it adds so much power, because people are always asking themselves, why why are you here? Why are you talking to me? Why? What? And and you can answer that question on such a deep visceral level by sharing your founding story of why you’re there why you believe in it.

So you got value story, founder story? Yes. Next

purpose, story, purpose story is, those are the stories that are really meant to align and inspire teams. Why we do what we do. This is where this is more an internal, typically an internal storytelling opportunity within organizations, as so many companies right now are struggling with retention, there’s, you know, employee retention, they’re struggling with bringing in new talent, there’s so much shifting around right now, being able to really communicate what the company with the brand is about, and why that matters to your team members so that they can become a part of it. That’s the purpose story as kind of a genre. And you’ll notice that these all because sometimes your purpose stories also are illustrative of your value. Like this is why we matter because we are so committed to these specific purposes. But it was kind of an easy way to divide it up. And then finally, the customer story, which you mentioned, and is so important, Josh, with this group is what are the stories that you can curate or obtain or get your fingers on from your customers. And these are real stories. These aren’t like Avatar stories are imagine you have customer ABC like that. It’s that what was their normal explosion, you normal working with you.

And I’ve been told from folks in the industry in the customer marketing, customer advocacy industry, shout out to slap five my friends over there that have a platform for this, that the less production value for those stories sometimes like, Yeah, I’m thinking of video production here. But sometimes just more like, the more Lo Fi it is, the more authentic and the more it sticks. For those customer stories,

there are so many different ways that you can activate your customer stories. In some cases, it might be a big, beautiful, well produced piece. In some ways, it might just be like, a comment blurb that scrolls past on your website. However, it’s not just, Oh, I love this company. It’s, here’s what we were struggling with. I found they found me I’ve never been happier write it get it has that it’s there you go the extra mile to pull out the normal explosion new normal from the customer get some of those components in there. So that it really comes to light. Yeah,

you know, as a founder of of a tech company of a startup. And my background is in product management. And we always talk about the lean startup and launching products and getting to product market fit. But But then, you know, in my current role at update AI, the concept of having a, like a market narrative fit came up, right? Like there’s a product sure does that work? Does it solve a need? But then it’s just like, does your narrative fit into the arena of what you’re doing? I want to try to blend a couple of those story types together in telling you my story and get your feedback and really critique if that’s okay with you, Kenji.

You, you you got it. Let’s see. Let’s see what we can let’s see what we can do.

So this is unedited, raw and you’re gonna you’re gonna, you’re gonna like blast it back at me here. Candidate feedback.

Okay, you asked for it. Here we go. All right.

So I haven’t rehearsed this either. To my own detriment here. So I’ve been running update AI for a little over two years now about two and a half years. And prior to that I was working as a consultant at Boston Consulting Group. And in consulting, it’s just there’s lots of communication. There’s lots of presentations, lots of communication, lots of notes, all kinds of things like that. That’s in many ways, how consulting in that type of world can make their revenues and We’re moving really quickly. And information was getting lost from these fast moving high performing teams. And so I said, you know, how can I make sure that everybody stays on the same page each week in all the work that our team is doing and all that we’re accomplishing? And so the very first kind of inception for update AI, was just that it was like, how do we take all of the key information for the team, whether it’s, here’s all that we’ve accomplished, here’s all that we have to do. Here’s all the action items, here’s the blockers, the open questions, and distill that down until like a quick update into a quick narrative that everybody gets on the same page for, then we started to, you know, we jumped into this. And we started interviewing and kind of understanding different functions and verticals, we realized that meetings were really kind of the central point of communication for lots of teams, especially during COVID going to this remote working world. And then we saw, okay, great, let’s solve meetings. We don’t want to just be a generic meeting, note taker, so to speak. So we started talking to different functions about understanding what they would need, we came across customer success managers, realize that these folks for in meetings with customers every day under appreciated and underserved in our opinion, and they had a lot to follow up on after calls with customers, because accountability to the customer matters. So we said, okay, how can we help them the most. And that’s where we developed our algorithm for detecting action items, so that we are in calls with customer success managers with their customers, detecting all the action items automatically for them, so that nothing slips through the cracks. And we can relieve some of their stress in back to back meetings so that they can stay focused on the customer conversation. And that’s the start of our company. And there’s a whole story about the vision, which to me is actually more interesting, but I’m not going to go there. I feel right now. Kindra. Like, I just had a really long and uninteresting monologue. pick that apart.

Okay, so here’s where and it would take. So I’m just gonna give you a kind of a few things because I was taking notes. And so then I was, but here’s, here’s what was, here’s what was great is that it was cool. Like we had, you could see the it was clear why you came into this. There was a moment in there when you said that information was getting lost. But here’s where things kind of fell apart. So the good news is, so that’s all I can say nice. Right? Yeah, so, so here’s, here’s where I want to go back to the four components we need at characters. And in this situation, you’re one of the characters and we can explore whether or not we need to have another one. Because usually the Narrator The teller of the story is an inherent character. And it’s valuable to have another character in there. We were missing the emotion, which we can talk about, but but like you said, the information was getting lost. And here’s where we’re the misconception about emotion in a story in business is that it needs to be dramatic. In its information, getting lost probably isn’t super dramatic, except that it’s emotional. Like why we’re doing all of this work. We’re it’s frustrating for the people who are putting in the effort and they don’t have they know that they’re not maximizing the work that they’ve done, because the information is getting lost, I would imagine that there’s a lot of time loss, there’s a lot of, I would imagine that there’s a lot of efficiency. And these are these are people these are people who are like I’m good at my, there’s so much good stuff here. And I can’t do anything with it. Because all I’m just trying to keep track of the stuff. So even having not knowing anything about what except for the little that I know, I would imagine that that is the emotion and anyone that you’re telling this story to because we tell stories to audiences for reasons. And the reason you would be telling this is because they know how that feels. Right? They’ve felt that before. And so and you don’t you know what I mean? So bring the emotion Exactly. And and then I’ll

be the first person to tell me that I’m not a motive, by the way. The first woman to tell me I’m not voting, but it doesn’t.

But that’s and that’s another it’s good that you bring that up, because you don’t have to cry while you’re telling this story. This is very matter of fact, emotion like this is this isn’t right. It isn’t right, that it happens this way. There’s a better way and even that emotion on your part is sufficient. Okay, so then. So the last few components that are missing that we actually didn’t even touch on earlier. One is a specific moment. So here’s where the story right now what we have is, and this is a perfect, not uncommon first step, Josh. So you’re excited about telling a story. You’re like I’m going to tell it in more more color than just we started here. This is what we do. This is how we can help you, right? But we did still get a like a chronological. First we did this, then we did this, then we did this.

My brain was kind of processing it as I was going, right? Like it’s like reading off a resume like, Oh, let me start. I was in college, and my first job was this. And then there was this. And now here I am.

Exactly, exactly. So we’ve, so we’ve got an A, again, that’s why I say this is a great place to start. But if you think about it right now, it’s kind of it exists in one dimension. And so what we would do, we won’t do it now. But we would lift out pieces of it that make it and this is where you can’t see this, when I’m making all these hand gestures. That’s where I go a little bit mad scientist. So it’s possible that we don’t need to know that you were in consulting. Now we might write but like saying first it was a consulting and now I’m doing this, it could be more about you met up, you came across the money, someone who was in customer success, and they expressed their right. So it might be we might not need to know that first you started with meetings and then you looked at functions.

Can we bend the truth? Kyndra? Can we can we can we fib a little bit for the sake of the story, what’s there, there’s got to be some kind of gray area at some point here, right?

I would say that it you never need to fib because the truth is the truth that you need is there. And so now if like details are lost, or let’s say you are going to name someone, but you don’t want it to be the actual person’s name, you want to anonymize them a little bit, but you want to keep the essence of the person that that’s perfectly okay. But what happens is, we, we lean towards Oh, well, I’m just gonna say that this happened this way, we lean towards the fib. Because we aren’t disciplined enough to just go and think a little bit harder on the thing that could fill it in is the actual thing that we need. And here’s the other problem. If you fib in a story, your audience will remember that fib and you will have a very hard time keeping track of it because it doesn’t live in you in the same way. You know, you made that up. And so when you talk about like, stories, for them to really work need to be truthful, they need to be authentic. If it’s if the story starts with a lie, it’s never going to reach its full potential. I that’s what I believe, I’m always gonna say storytelling for good. But it could be entirely possible that you were the one where you were you were in consulting, you spent all day every day collecting communications, and you knew that it was wrong, you were feeling these feelings, and you started to investigate to see if there was something that can be done about it. Now, here’s where we zoom forward a little bit, instead of saying, well, first we did this and then we did this and then we did this, you say okay, it was boom, boom, boom, boom, we said first, we decided to look where this information was most getting lost than this than this. It goes very, very quickly. And then that third component is a moment. And I bet there was a moment, Josh in your in this linear thing that you laid out where you were talking to somebody or you figured something out, you’re sitting at your desk, you were in a team meeting, whatever it was, and you were like, That’s it.

There probably was but honestly, it was probably also just like a very iterative type of path. So maybe that’s where we can

Yeah, into a quote unquote moment, bring that out yet build that out. Exactly. And you can zoom it in so that somebody can see it. And then and then and then loop it all the way back around where you can say I don’t know if you’ve ever if you’ve ever had that feeling where you can feel the information slipping through your fingers like grains of sand, but now we can catch them and the yet happily ever after.

Happily Ever After kindred this was this was so amazing to talk to you really helpful. I’m going to get to it right now and are finding my story. I really believe in this stuff. I would love for everybody to read stories that stick. I loved it. Sherry Streb Nick of Forrester loved it and of sharing loves it then you know it’s good. No, it’s good. And we’ll have to save the rest for another time. Kendra, thank you so much for being on this episode.

Thank you and thanks for thanks for being willing to share a raw story we that was fun. That was fine.