Build a Strong Customer Story in Seven Steps

Apr 30, 2020 • FeaturesService DesignCustomer Satisfaction and Expectations

Many service innovations fail because they do not have a substantial and desired impact for clients. Often, customer insights and value propositions are limited to a description of features and benefits, without considering the outcomes clients desire. The best practice is to have a compelling customer story and vision as a starting point. Jan van Veen, explains how you can achieve this and (and launch irresistible advanced services)...

This customer story illustrates the challenges, common mistakes and best ways clients should solve these mistakes. Based on this insight, you can develop irresistible new advances services and compelling marketing and sales messages, even if you have limited resources.


The Importance of Building Your Customer Story:

Do you still see that many ideas and new advanced services do not hit the nail on the head?

  • The pain points your teams discuss with their clients do not hit their nerves
  • Your clients are not eager to use the new services
  • Let alone that they are willing to pay extra for these services

Even though you already did:

  • Voice of the customer projects
  • Customer journey mapping
  • Customer feedback like NPS

Develop a set of features and benefits, for example by using the value proposition canvas

The good news is

  • You are not alone. 
  • And it does not have to be like this.

In this article, I describe seven practical steps to build a compelling customer story. These are the best practices applied by leading manufacturers to successfully develop and commercialise irresistible advanced services.

Here is the Problem

Your clients do not recognise which of their essential problems you are solving or how your services are offering a better solution. They do not see the positive impact they get from your offerings. And often, this problem is a bigger game than just higher uptime of equipment.

The Solution

You and your colleagues already have most information at hand. It is a matter of turning this information and knowledge into a compelling customer story, for irresistible advanced services.


The Elements of a Customer Story

Customer Story Structure


  • For every customer segment, you should be able to describe the bigger picture;
  • The relevant trends which have an impact on the business and lives of your clients. 
  • The ultimate fear for your clients, caused by 3-4 dominant problems.
  • 3-7 common mistakes your clients make, which cause the 3-4 dominant problems
  • Related to each common mistake, your vision or the best practices to solve this common mistake
  • The ultimate prize your clients will get, with 3-4 benefits

You can use this customer story in many ways;

  • A pitch to your CEO or your client of 1 minute
  • A presentation of 5-10 minutes
  • 7-12 articles of 700 words each
  • Source of insights to develop new advanced services
  • Source for the marketing team to develop marketing and sales messages and marketing collateral


Be Aware of the Common Pitfalls

This customer story is all about your clients, not your company, products and services. I have done quite a few workshops and masterclasses to develop a customer story. In the beginning of these workshops, pretty much every team struggles to focus on the customer. The pitfall is to be stuck in;

  • Use of your equipment
  • Maintenance of your equipment
  • Performance of your equipment
  • Performance of your services

Although these insights are useful for many improvement processes and initiatives, they do not contribute to developing and commercialising irresistible advanced services. On the contrary, these insights increase biases and keep your innovations being stuck in business-as-usual.


Getting Started

The following 7 steps take you through each element of the customer story. Ideally, you form a small team to work on the 7 steps.

Step 1: Define the Niche/Segment

A customer insight or story should always be specific for a group of clients with the same characteristics that are relevant to the same challenges and needs they have. This could be a particular customer segment or your ideal client.

At first, it can be challenging to define the specific customer segment. This is not a problem. In that case, just move on to the next steps. In step 3 and 4, you will notice that a lot of the customer problems are not relevant to all clients and how you could segment your clients into a few groups. By then, you can jump back to step 1 and iterate.

Step 2: List 100 Customer Problems

Having this customer segment in mind, start listing all the business problems you know or think they encounter or will encounter. If you do not have a clear definition and choice of a customer segment yet, just start with 1 or 2 relevant clients in mind.

The objective is to build a long list of problems, at least 100. Use the following tactics to keep the flow of new problems going and to ensure you have a broad and open perspective;

  • Do not evaluate yet. Just write the ideas. Consider it a brainstorming practice.
  • Build on problems you have already listed and think of 4 directions to reframe (see the picture below) 

  • Description automatically generated
  • Consider different stakeholders in the business, including the CEO and the field engineer
  • Address challenges and problems your clients will or may encounter in the next 3-7 years too
  • Also consider external stakeholders of your clients, like their clients, other vendors, partners and distributors
  • And again, avoid topics which are related to your products, services and organisation. 
Many areas of problems


Step 3: Cluster to 7-10 Main Problems

Now start grouping all similar or related problems. You can do this in a spreadsheet. If you are doing this in a workshop with several people, you may want to work with post-it notes.

You will probably see that there are different ways of clustering. That is perfectly fine. See what makes the most sense.

Now, it is also an excellent time to evaluate if the customer segment you chose, still makes sense. Or, in case you did not select a particular segment, see if you can recognise some sort of segmentation. If so, you can iterate the process so far and start with step 1 again.

Step 4: Further Group to 3-4 Dominant Problems

7 to 10 problems is a lot to memorise and to help to build and communicate a clear message. The magical number is 3. 4 is okay too. If you have more than 4, you will notice that colleagues and clients will not memorise all of them after a conversation.

So, the next step is to further reduce the main problems into 3 or 4 dominant problems.

Summarise these 3-4 dominant problems into one single ultimate fear, like “adapt or die” or “hard work for less financial results, with no perspective for better times."

Step 5: Define the 3-7 Common Mistakes

Next step is to identify the 3-7 common mistakes you see your clients make that prevent them from solving the 3-4 dominant problems. These common mistakes are “wrong” thinking, actions and practices of your clients. 

For example, if one of the dominant problems is “too high operational cost”, one of the common mistakes related to this dominant problem could be that your clients have a “lack of understanding of their cost drivers and cost structure”. 

You may find some inspiration in the list of 100+ customer problems you identified in step 1.

Step 6: Define the 3-7 Solutions for Your Clients

Now define your vision of how your clients should solve each of the 3-7 common mistakes. This is not about your solution or offering yet; you will cover that in one of the next steps.

This is a relatively easy step. In essence, each solution is the opposite of a mistake. Further building on the example in the previous step, your view on the clients’ solution could be that they should “establish cost management practices”. They should gather and analyse data and step by step build a structure of their costs and cost drivers so they can monitor and manage their costs. 

Step 7: Define the Benefits and Outcome for Your Clients

Finally, describe the 3-4 key benefits and the ultimate outcome for your clients if they address the 3-7 common mistakes and apply the 3-7 customer solutions you have specified. The 3-4 benefits are the opposite of the 3-4 dominant problems, maybe structured slightly different. And the ultimate outcome is the opposite of the ultimate fear. 

Next Steps After This:

At this point, you already have a tremendously valuable insight, just using the information and knowledge you already have. Next steps to make this insight and your customer story rock-solid, are to get feedback and additional ideas from:

  • Colleagues in various functions (sales, marketing, R&D, other countries)
  • Partners, vendors
  • Distributor or dealers

and then;

  • Process the new information and update your customer story
  • Build variations of the customer story for the most important customer segments
  • Get feedback from your clients through open and in-depth conversations
  • At some point, you may want to initiate a customer research based on the insights in your customer story to validate and expand the insights
  • Adjust the wording and messaging to make your customer story more compelling and attractive for external and internal use.


The Benefit:

Now you have a robust and in-depth insight into your clients’ needs for today and the future which offers you an “unfair” competitive advantage. You can now;

  • Improve existing service offerings
  • Boost the innovation of advanced service offerings
  • Improve your marketing and sales messages and marketing collateral
  • Advance the conversations all customer-facing colleagues have with their clients
  • Improve your Customer Success practices


You are sitting on gold. You and your colleagues already have a massive amount of information and knowledge about your clients. You can turn that into actionable and compelling customer insights and a customer story to boost;

  • Development of your services 
  • Engagement with your clients
  • Commercial success of your service business


You can build a substantial competitive advantage, even if you do not have the budget and resources for intensive customer and market research.

All this requires is to;

  • Follow the 7 steps I described in this article, ideally with a small group. You can do this in 1-2 days. You can use our job-aid with slides and assignments for this workshop (
  • Keep each other focussed on the clients, not your own business or offerings
  • Be open to new perspectives

It is not about convincing your clients of the value of your services, but about letting them convince you what they need.


Final Question for Reflection

Which 3 common mistakes do you make when developing and using customer insights for service innovation?


Further Reading: