Customer Service

How to Re-Purpose a Story

Do you know what it feels like to really help someone but they don't realise you helped?

In our business story workshops, we ask participants to

tell a story about when you helped,

 this is a preparatory exercise to help them construct business success stories (not to be confused with marketing case studies).

Most people tell business stories in this exercise but occasionally there is a memorable personal story:

Nick, a successful marketing manager, told about taking his then three year-old daughter to the beach to teach her to swim in 2011. Nick took her into waist deep murky water and kept her close and firmly in sight as she tried to swim.

Nick felt a brush against his leg and at first thought it was his daughter touching him, but realising that it couldn't have been her, reached down into the water and pulled up a young boy who was drowning on the sandy bottom.

The boy spluttered and recovered as Nick carried him to the beach.

When they reached the beach, the boy's mother came up and exclaimed "oh! There you are!". She took the boy by the hand and led him away before Nick could explain what had happened.

I recently told this story in a discussion with an IT company that was struggling with customer service. Even though the story is not about customer service, the emotions it evokes are universal which makes it a generally useful story if told in the right context,

If you get in the habit of collecting your stories you'll be amazed at how versatile they can be.




Source: Nick Horton personal experience

Story Type:


For Story Students:

The Setting: 2011 beach in NSW

The Complications: Nick discovered a drowning child

The Turning Point: Nick brought the child to the shore but the mother didn't notice

The Resolution: The story is unresolved! which is exactly the feeling it induces

The Point of the Story: Good stories can re-purposed

Service Recovery after Disaster - getting service back on track

The radio networks that allow communication between train drivers and central control rooms are critical to safety infrastructure. If the radios fail, trains cannot operate.

On May 2nd 2004, the Siemens-supplied train radio system had a network-wide failure which lasted several hours. Fortunately the outage occurred on a Sunday - if it happened on any other day, there would have been chaos on the entire rail network.

Siemens state manager John Chapman, realising the critical nature of this incident, rushed to the Railcorp control room and worked with the Railcorp CEO to schedule buses to ensure minimal passenger disruption.

Finally, when the radio network was restored, John turned to the CEO and said "this is going to cost us isn't it?".

The CEO's response was "let's split the bill".

What could have been a very expensive litigious issue was solved with a handshake because John had given up his Sunday and worked with his customer to return them to normal operations.

You can have great service but your service quality is only truly tested when you are in a service recovery situation.



: Siemens and Railcorp


: Mike Adams conversations with former NSW Siemens state manager John Chapman


Story Type

: Values


For Story Students

The Setting

: 2nd May 2004, Sydney, Australia, Citylink Metro rail system

The Complications

: The train radio system failed for several hours which stopped the entire train network. Siemens was the supplier of the train radio equipment and Railcorp was the train operator

The Turning Point

: Siemens and Railcorp worked over the weekend to schedule buses while the radio network was being repaired

The Resolution

: The Railcorp CEO agreed to split the difference on the cost of the failure

The Point of the Story

: The Railcorp CEO agreed to split the difference on the cost of the failure

How to use this story

: When talking about Service and service recovery