Helium, Passion, Storytelling

Make Your Customer Experience the Ultimate Hero’s Journey, Four Ways to Victory

In the spirit of Sunday's 90th Academy Awards, I figured we could pay homage to the Oscar’s by making a strong yet sometimes forgotten correlation between the experiences we build for our customers and storytelling.

Most times when you hear the term “storytelling” you probably think Brand Storytelling - which relates to how brands tell their stories to their customers. This is largely related to design, messaging, and tone. Often times, the full, end-to-end experience that we present our customers is a collection of small handoffs between departments, systems, tools, etc. If the end-to-end experience isn’t purposely thought through and architected in a meaningful way, it will leave the customer empty-handed.

Has anyone ever called a customer service line to just be referred to another number and they ask you all the same questions you just answered a minute ago? Yeah, so have I. That’s an experience that lacks continuity and thoughtfulness, and no executive within an organization should have any patience for these experiences.

The Hero's Journey

How can we fix broken experiences, or make good experiences great? That’s a tough question with a dozen different answers, but – what if we start thinking about our customer’s end-to-end experiences the same way we think about storytelling? Naturally, when you engage with a brand..whether it’s to buy a product or recruit a service, there is a beginning, middle, and end. Heck, if done right, there's even a sequel.

Anyone ever notice that some of our favorite stories or films follow a very repetitive, predictable format? They generally call this the Hero's Journey. Popularized by Joseph Campbell in 1949, Campbell describes the Hero's Journey as:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
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Does this ring a bell? Most of our favorite stories follow this format. One of my favorite movies, Back to the future, surely does.

Marty is living in a boring, mundane Hill Valley in 1985. He connects with Doc Brown and accidentally winds up driving the Delorean at 88 MPH and ends up in 1955 - a region of supernatural wonder. He defeats Biff and ends back up in 1985 as a victory.

Now, start putting your customer and their experience with your brand in the same context. Does your brand help the customer overcome their challenge, or is it adding to their challenges? Do they arrive at the end of the journey confident, stronger, and with a little magic? Your brand should enable the customer. Be their Yoda, be the Doc Brown to their Marty, be the magic wand to their Harry Potter.

If your experience isn’t enabling your hero through his journey, your story is sure to disappoint and no one likes a sad ending.

Four Ways to Victory

Here are four ways to think about your customer’s experience in the context of the Hero's Journey:

1. Strong Call to Adventure
Most Hero's Journey tails start with a “call to adventure”. There’s a problem, something isn’t quite right, or our hero is fed up with the status quo. Much can be said when a customer engages with a brand - they usually need something. Make your call to adventure, or the initial way a customer engages with your brand exciting, or at the very least frictionless. 

Where do we see a strong call to adventure in the wild? Amazon has their Dash buttons, ordering via Alexa. Squarespace has made it ridiculously easy to build sites and get started. Instacart starts by letting you know when to expect delivery and which stores they service.

2. Be the Mentor
Every hero has a mentor or a guide of sorts. Someone who shares wisdom and helps the hero through their journey as they go from the known world to the mysterious unknown. If we can start thinking of our brands as the Yoda to our customer’s Luke Skywalker, we start building a positive relationship throughout the engagement lifecycle and become closer to our customers and the relationship becomes less transactional.

Starbucks’ mobile app, Google’s voice assistant, or Instagram sharing relevant content and imagery are all great examples of where brands make the experience feel less daunting and lonely. Another great example of this is premier benefits and concierge services at major credit card or airline companies. Building these relationships requires data, systems, and a good understanding of your customers, and something all brands should aspire to.

3. Triumphant Victories
Before our hero returns home, he or she usually has a hard-fought triumphant victory. As this relates to customer experiences, our customers deserve a triumphant victory. After all, they’re spending their hard-earned dollars with us. If the customer is just simply happy their experience dealing with your brand is over, you’ve failed. They should feel content, accomplished, and ready to engage with your brand again.

Not every experience can be as seamless as ordering an Uber and finishing a ride, but this is an example of an extremely easy victory. Redfin and QuickenLoans each in their own way to trying to simplify the home-buying process, and even something as simple as buying a new iPhone with the SIM card already installed are all great examples of closing off an experience with decisive customer victory.

4. They’ll Tell Your Story
I could go on and on about different ways to relate your customer journey to the Hero’s Journey, but you probably get the idea by now. This final point is the strongest and really the sum of the parts above. At the end of the Hero’s Journey, they return stronger than when they started, and sometimes with knowledge, or a gift to share with others. If our journey and experiences with our customers are exceptional, they will tell others. And others will tell others. And so on and so forth.

Word of mouth is a very powerful tool and has proven time and time again to be the strongest form of marketing. When experiences are exceptional, people will share. This is human nature. HQ, the mobile phone trivia game, Venmo, mobile payment solution, and Snapchat have all benefited immensely by word of mouth.

The Hero’s Journey is tried and true method for storytelling. The more we can start thinking of our brands as the enabler of these stories and our customers as the heroes, the more we can appreciate and empathize with their relationship with our brand.

To keep in touch, follow me on Twitter @hasskhalife

This article first appeared on www.thinkhelium.com/heros-journey

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Helium is a digital strategy and execution company focused on working with brands to create elevated experiences.