I once worked for a software company that offered quarterly bonuses to its customer support engineers. The company wanted to motivate behaviors that would result in the highest customer satisfaction scores. And that’s exactly what they got–just not in the way they expected.

The company used the satisfaction scores from their toll free support number. To protect the support engineers from random fluctuations that might adversely affect the scores, the company chose to “smooth them out” by averaging the survey results from the last two months of each quarter.

The finance department expected to see results that looked like this:


Yet, the actual results looked like this:


So, how did the highest satisfaction scores end up aligned with the quarterly bonus payout date? The answer offers a great lesson for business storytellers.

Software support comes with a unique set of challenges. For example, sometimes customers report poor satisfaction, not because of the actual support they received, but because they weren’t satisfied with the outcome. Perhaps a customer wanted a software feature that didn’t exist, or found a bug that couldn’t be fixed quickly, or refused to accept a suggested workaround for that bug. Such calls created no-win situations for the support engineers.

So, rather than leaving it up to chance, they came up with a strategy to mitigate this risk. Since satisfaction surveys were sent automatically upon closing a call, the team chose to close all of the no-win situation calls during the first month of the quarter–thus removing them from the payout calculation! The team even had a name for the activity: “Flush the Toilet.”

The StoryHow™ method teaches that stories consist of roles, events, and influences. Each character in your story wants something and will act in their own best interest to achieve their goals.

As you’re thinking about creating your story, consider the motivations of all involved. What does your customer want? What does your company want? What do your competitors want? Understand all of these motivations and stay true to them. The end result will likely lead to a very interesting story.

Photo Credit: Library of Congress