Everybody loves a good story. For a field service executive, stories can be more than just entertaining anecdotes — they can be a powerful tool to motivate technicians, secure new business, and garner senior management’s support to gain the resources you need for your department to succeed.
But what exactly is “storytelling” in a field service environment? How do you tell a good story, especially if you’ve never thought of yourself as a great communicator?
Stories Open the Mind (and the Heart)
First, let’s address the “why” of storytelling, and then we’ll unpack how to do it. So why do effective leaders use stories?
“Storytelling is a way of getting your message across without making your audience feel defensive, so they will be more open to what you have to say,” says Paul Smith, leadership trainer and author of the bestselling book “Lead with a Story.” “This is because a story activates a different part of the brain, where instead of being critical and analyzing, they’re just listening to the story. It creates that open frame of mind in people in a way that data alone cannot do.”
You can use stories to influence your technicians, without wagging your finger at them and telling them what to do, or to impress upon a potential new client your skills and know-how. Stories allow the listener to arrive at conclusions themselves, making them more receptive to you and more motivated to follow through on your message.
Anatomy of a Business Story
What does a good “business” story look like — and what are the essential elements it should include?
“A story in business is very similar to one in any other setting,” Smith says. “It’s a narrative about something that happened to somebody, where there’s a time and place, characters with a goal, a plot, a villain (or conflict) thwarting the characters from reaching their goal, and some kind of resolution — win, lose or draw.”
Stories can be more than just entertaining anecdotes — they can be a powerful tool to motivate technicians, secure new business, and garner senior management’s support to gain the resources you need for your department to succeed.
You might consider a wide range of story arcs (or story structures) — including the Three-Act Structure, Freytag’s Pyramid, and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey — but an arc that Smith recommends for most business situations includes these four points:
- Context: Introduces the time, place and characters involved.
- Challenge: Sets the story in motion, as the characters set out on a quest to achieve a goal.
- Conflict: The bulk of the story, this element lays out the challenges that characters confront in pursuit of their goal.
- Resolution: Ties it all together, usually with a business lesson and call to action.
Putting Your Story in Motion
So how can you apply this story structure in a business setting?
The first step, Smith says, is to clearly identify your business objective and then choose a story that will help you achieve that goal.
Let’s suppose your company is about to roll out new technology that could help service technicians stop warranty leakage — that is, giving away service not covered under warranty. But you sense that some of your “old-school” techs are resisting the change. Your objective: To sway their opinions so they’ll be more likely to embrace the new system.
Here’s a story you could tell them, applying Smith’s four-point story arc:
- Context: Tell a story about when you were working for another field service company several years ago.
- Challenge: Warranty leakage was a costly problem for the company. Techs didn’t have access to the most updated information on customers’ warranty status, which frequently put them in tense situations with customers. When push came to shove, the technician would give in to the customer — and give away the service.
- Conflict: Management learned about new technology that could help stop the leak by empowering techs with real-time warranty information. But when it came time to deploy the system, many technicians were wary about the change.
- Resolution: Despite their initial reluctance, the techs warmed to the new system because it helped eliminate those awkward moments with customers. The result? A more pleasant experience for both customer and technician. Bonus result? As techs embraced the technology, warranty leakage dropped dramatically, creating a much more positive work environment for all.
It’s a simple story, sure, but the lesson is powerful and inclusive: It’s natural to be wary of change, but service pros need to do it for the company — and everybody in the service division — to thrive.
Too often, senior managers bypass storytelling altogether, taking a heavy-handed approach.
But if you really want to change people, try telling a good story instead.