Ways to Leverage Storytelling in Customer Service Negotiations

As a collection agent, most of my job is heavily focused on negotiations, and a majority of those negotiations are all about the numbers. Percentages, prices, discounts, and due dates are all quantitative results and goals I might be trying to achieve from a deal. But if IO only focus on the numbers and the quantitative results, I could lose a chance to deepen my connection with a customer, make a better deal, and increase long-term sales to that customer.

Telling the stories about your business that you want to tell and listening to stories from your customers might be the key to more successful negotiations. Going beyond quantitative results to make customer service negotiations also about qualitative results is a better strategy.

When selling my services, I create a narrative to help clients see my worth and understand my value proposition. I tell stories about similar accounts, or accounts that seemed even less likely to be collected on than theirs. These stories put clients at ease and help close the deal.

When working with those who owe money, I again use stories to put them at ease and show them that we can find a solution. Numbers and formulas can become very complicated, but a story is almost always easier for most people to understand.

When people are involved in a collections dispute there is almost always tension. One side feels they are owed money and the other side either cannot or does not want to pay. The same can be true in any sales negotiation; each side has something it wants and those sides might not be compatible. Explaining your side of the situation and your goals can help people relate to you. When people understand that you aren't just trying to get the most money possible out of them, but have legitimate business goals and needs and that you want to work with them, the negotiation will be easier.

Actively listening to stories is just as important as telling stories. By listening to a customer's perspective, you show empathy and respect, you become someone with whom the customer wants to do business. Rushing a customer through the explanation of a problem or concern is not only disrespectful, but can also prevent you from coming up with a better solution to the problem. If a customer is telling you a story about due dates, but you're offering a solution that involves discounts, you are unlikely to make a sale. By listening to customers' stories, you also gain more stories for your own future use.

Most sales and customer service staff might have gone into the field because they're natural born storytellers. On the other hand, training should be made available for those who might not be and want to learn how to use the power of words in negotiations. There are many ways to get professional storytelling training that can become an engaging and productive team activity. Although, you don't need professional help to do so. All you have to do is work with your staff to teach the elements of productive conversation and together map out the beginning, middle, and end.

At the same time, be aware that each story needs a few key elements:

A Hero

Surprisingly, you and your products are not the heroes of the story you tell. You want to choose a hero with which your listener can identify. The hero of your story is a previous client with a similar story to your client's. This is why marketing departments are so fond of using case studies.


A good story has a beginning, a middle, and end. In the beginning of the story, the hero has a problem. In the middle, your product or service solves the problem. And in the end, the hero wins the day.


Identification and emotion are important parts of storytelling. Stories should be as much about the emotions the hero felt as the logical and technical aspects of your product. Don't just focus on how the product solved the problem, focus instead on how upset or afraid for his company the hero was before discovering the product and how much better he felt after using the product.


Stories should be rehearsed but not stiff. Ideally, you and your team will have a few different stories that you can adjust and use as needed. To do this, though, your agents will need to be adept at one of the most important storytelling skills: listening. Paying attention to how interested or disinterested in the story the client seems to be and how she reacts to certain elements can all be essential to helping close the deal. If a client is losing interest in your story and is ready to close the deal, you don';t want to keep talking.

A storytelling approach to a negotiation can take longer than a straight-forward presentation about numbers, but in the long run, offering quantitative and qualitative reasons to work with your company or product will pay off.

Dean Kaplan is president of The Kaplan Group, a commercial collection agency specializing in large claims and international transactions. He has 35 years of manufacturing, international business leadership, and customer service experience. Today, he provides business planning, training, and consultation to a variety of companies.

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