When was the last time you heard a really great story from one of your customers?

Chances are you hear them all the time – but why keep them to yourself? Spreading those stories across your organization can be a valuable knowledge-sharing tactic.

Storytelling has been a natural hobby of mine forever, but it’s also my favorite way of learning for business. Give me a list of specs, features or names and chances are that I’m not going to remember much about them. But tell me a story about the benefits of how those features can be applied and I’ve got perspective that will make the idea stick. Draw me a picture and I’ll get it even faster – and likely be able to tell the story myself.

Last October, I was approached by Sue Morgan, Sr. Program Manager within Customer Experience (CX). She had taken notice of the great responses we received when we used pictures to explain new features or products. It’s a great way of communicating, but she wondered how we might be able to use drawing for a more outside-in approach. Together, we gathered a handful of artists for a long-term experiment.

Sample sketch, capturing customer challenges and priorities
Sample sketch, capturing customer challenges and priorities

Over the last year, we’ve been capturing sketchnotes of customer stories at our large events like Summit and Synergy and in our Executive Briefing Centers (EBC). There are a lot of stories! To date, we’ve sketched more than 60 from customers across our verticals and geos.

The reaction from customers has been astounding.

They love the extra effort made to bring their feedback to life and the care taken to ensure that their feedback is heard. In fact at Synergy, we sketched one story with a customer and he brought back three different colleagues to participate at different points of the conference.

These sketchnotes help illustrate the topics on the minds of our customers – they give a visual pulse on the industry and allow us to identify off-the-cuff insights and patterns. By identifying customer challenges and initiatives, the sketches are a great starting point for deeper conversations.

The business of storytelling

Explaining the value behind telling stories with pictures to other teams can be a tumultuous road in business. Illustration tends to have a mental connection with childhood, but just like the picture or comic books you read as a child, visuals communicate ideas and emotions faster and more efficiently than text alone – 60,000 times faster according to a study sponsored by 3M.

You just have to look at the 130,000+ attendees for 2015’s Comic-Con to understand that comics aren’t just for kids and a quick peek at YouTube’s staggering viewership statistics will show you that people are looking to consume and tell stories in faster, richer ways. There’s even an elite global conference to evolve the future of storytelling with technology.

So, we know that people like stories – especially visual stories – but how does that help our business?

Context is key

A "yes" in a survey can mean many thingsAt Citrix, our CX teams have become champions for asking the important questions to provide the context around customer insights – the why behind data collected from surveys, research and interviews. To quickly illustrate how important that context can be, I’ll steal an example from  Sr. Lead Business Designer, Renee Flores.

During her innovative journey mapping workshops, Renee is famous for reminding us that a survey will get you a “yes” or “no,” but it doesn’t tell you if it’s a “eh, yeah” or a “HELL YES!!” Is it a “meh” or an “ABSOLUTELY NOT” response? As you can see, context is key to real insight.

Pairing stories with visual context to communicate our customer journeys and pain points to our teams makes the stories more engaging; it makes them more enticing to read and learn. In a world where your attention is stretched to the max, a one-page visual story sheet of key insights is much more likely to be read than an 5-10 page text document — and we’re seeing that proven time and time again at Citrix.

Internally, our teams have found many clever ways to use our sketches in ways we never imagined. Sales teams have used customer sketches to explain the backstory behind a successfully closed deal. Design and engineering teams have quickly pivoted research roadmaps after seeing visual feedback about the products they create. Our EBC team is able to find patterns in customer conversations and prepare materials ahead of time for future visits. But perhaps most useful of all, we’ve created customer “storybooks” for our executive leadership – ensuring that feedback has been relayed up to the highest level of our company.

What we’ve learned

Like any other design experiment, we’ve learned some things over the course of the last year that have allowed us to tweak and pivot our sketching program to better serve our customers. Here are some key things we’ve learned:

  1. Know your audience. While drawing is certainly fun and has a “cool” factor around it, it’s not for everyone. Our sales teams know their customers well and have been a great meter for us to understand if the customer in question would enjoy or benefit from our sketching. For example, we’ve found that stories around healthcare tend to translate into images really well because hospitals or clinics are a familiar setting, regardless of the specific technology challenges.
  2. Deb Aoki sketching a customer story at Citrix Synergy 2015Focus the conversation. When trying to gain insights from customers, it helps to have a specific topic or two in mind before getting started. Leaving the conversation open or asking for feedback from a 10,000 ft. view is too broad and customers don’t know where to begin. We now focus the conversation by saying something like “Let’s talk about security in your business today.”
  3. Gear-up, Partner-up. We learned early on that an artist can’t do it all by him or herself. When you get a good session going, customers will talk really fast, as they unload their thoughts or challenges into the conversation. Trying to capture all of that visually in real-time is nearly impossible. Set up partners for an artist to take text notes and then contrast and compare after the session. Record audio (or even better: video) of the session, so you can catch things you might have missed. Jot notes down on sticky noes and draw them out when you have a break.

After a year of sketching and drawing with our customers, we’ve amassed a really impressive set of stories and we’ve learned some fascinating things that we wouldn’t have uncovered otherwise. While we’re constantly tweaking how we conduct the sketches, we love hearing stories direct from the people using our products and we’re excited to share them more broadly in the coming year.

Are you sharing stories in new, interesting ways? Do you have a story we really need to hear? Share it with us on twitter @CitrixCX or send us an email to cxlistens@citrix.com.