The Power of Storytelling

03/30/2012     

Whether you know it or not, stories have a huge impact on who we are, the way we learn, and the way we teach. A good story can capture the attention of a huge audience, and really cement a point that you are trying to make. Stories can also build relationships, and bring people closer together. This blog is about the power of storytelling, and the elements that go into making a great story.

Right now, think of a good story that you may have heard recently. This can be anything from a friend telling you about their crazy night last weekend, a good joke, or a recent trip to the movies, absolutely anything. Now think of some good statistics that you’ve heard recently. I bet the story came to you more quickly than the stats. That’s because stories are sticky, and we naturally don’t really care to remember statistics (at least most of us).

Ever since we were children stories have been a part of our lives.  I remember when I was a kid my mom would read children’s stories to me.  My dad wouldn’t read to me, but he would tell me stories about his life and experiences he had in Vietnam. I always found both the fiction and nonfiction very interesting. Not only were the stories entertaining, but they were educational as well. When you think about it, a lot of what we learn is presented in the form of a story. Usually when you are teaching someone something you will support your lesson with an example in the form of a story.

As a content developer I am constantly asking myself how I can create content that will capture people’s attention, which is relevant, compelling, and engaging. Sometimes I forget that the best way to put all of those attributes together is in a story.

Stories are so important today because there is SO much information flying right at us. Good stories will get someone to pay attention without clicking on the next link, changing the channel, or flipping the page. The key word in that last sentence is “good.” So what makes up a “good” story? Most good stories will have the following elements:

  • A clear message
  • Powerful introduction
  • Authenticity
  • Relevancy
  • Engaging with tension or drama
  • May or may not have a call to action

At Zappos, one of our goals is to create story worthy experiences; not only with our customers but with our team members and vendors alike. A story of an incredible customer service experience told from a friend or family member is 10 times stronger than the best advertisement.

There is a great story that I would like to tell you about an amazing experience I had with a customer when I started out in the call center.

First let me explain that I had never worked in a call center, or really a corporate office environment before coming to Zappos; so answering customer service phone calls was something completely new to me. I had gone through my four weeks of initial new hire training, which I felt adequately prepared me for my new role as a customer service representative.  However, I was still nervous to be taking phone calls on my own with real people that needed real solutions. This is the story of one of  my first customer service calls. For confidentiality reasons I’m going to use the name John for my customer in this story.


It was day one of taking phone calls with no assistance, and I had taken a few calls that were new orders and returns, as that is the majority of requests that we get. Then my phone rings and I answer, “Thanks for calling Zappos.com, my name is Corey, how can I help you today?” The voice on the other end of the phone said, “You and your whole company can go to Hell!” Needless to say I was a little taken back, and keep in mind that this is still all very new to me. Knowing that I had to give a timely response, because dead air just makes a bad call even worse I said, “Thank you so much for the constructive feedback, but I must apologize because I don’t know how to get there (Hell that is).” There was a short moment of silence, and then an eruption of laughter from my customer. He said “I am sorry but I totally did not expect that to be your comeback.” I asked him his name, what it was that had him so upset, and what can I do to help him out. John explained that he lives in Hawaii, and that his Zappos package was left outside in the rain, and the box caved in and his items were totally ruined. To make things worse we do not normally offer 1 business day shipping to Hawaii.

Going over John’s order I noticed that he had some new dress shoes, a nice button up, and slacks, the whole ensemble. I asked John if he had placed this order for a special occasion, and he let me know that he was going to a wedding in Florida, and wanted to make sure that his stuff fit properly before he left. My first thought was to send replacements to him right away, but when I asked him when the wedding was he let me know that he was leaving in 2 days. So my plan to send him replacements to his home was out the window because I knew they wouldn’t arrive in time. My second option was a home run! I asked where he was staying in Florida, and he let me know that it was a hotel down in South Beach. I told John that I would be happy to send him multiple pairs of each item in his order in different sizes to his hotel to make sure that everything would fit for the wedding.

At this point the call is much improved from the initial exchange; then it got even better. John asked “That sounds great, but what’s it going to cost me?” When I told him that I would do it for free, it was almost as if Angels were trumpeting from the Heavens, and it started raining M&Ms. Okay, that may be a bit extreme but John was very happy, not that he was going to get his products, but because he was expecting a fight when he dialed the 800 number. I let him know that it is our job to deliver WOW through service, and that we would certainly like to make up for any loss of service that he had experienced. John let me know that he was going to rave about Zappos to all of his friends and family members.

After the call I wrote John a thank you card, and felt a sense of empowerment and accomplishment that I had been told about during new hire training. Who knew that I would experience that on day one?


This is a story that I would share with other New Hire training classes when talking about empowerment and it sticks with them. I know this because I have some of the same team members share similar stories with me often.

So keep in mind that a good story should never go to waste. Even if you are not using stories in trainings or instruction, they are great for motiving, and inspiring others.

What great stories do you have? Feel free to share them in the comments field or in the Forums.

Author: Zappos Insights

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