Harness the Power of Storytelling

Originally published on Strategic Link

You’re the restroom story lady!”

That’s how some people “recognize” me at credit union conferences and networking events. And it’s because of a story I like to share with credit union employees about the importance of a positive attitude.

I travel a lot and many of my past connecting flights were through Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina. At this particular airport, each restroom had a designated attendant, who is responsible for its cleanliness.

One day I walked into a restroom and noticed the attendant sitting on a box. Butt sunk deep into it, elbows on her knees, head in her hands. She looked truly miserable. I mean, would you want to work in a bathroom with stressed out travelers all day long? That’s the vibe she was sharing. Please, pretty please….get me OUT of here.

The next day I’m back at the airport, different terminal. As I walk into the restroom I’m greeted by an attendant with a huge smile singing, “Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now. Everybody gets a seat!” And then launches into “don’t worry, pee happy!” Ummm….oh my goodness. My eyes got big.

Smiling and singing the entire time, she keeps the line moving along. When it’s my turn, she puts her arm around my shoulders, starts singing “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine..” and escorts me to the big stall and says, “We have the penthouse available for you! Don’t worry, pee happy!” I was a bit stunned as I pee’d happy, but like everyone else, I was laughing and left the restroom with a smile on my face.

Shortly after that happened I was asked to speak at a credit union All Team training day. It was requested that I spend some time talking about having a positive attitude. As I thought about my content and having a positive attitude, the restroom attendant kept popping into my mind. So I did what you do when you are curious – Googled her. 

I couldn’t believe it. There were YouTube videos, even a blog post! Valerie the Happy Restroom Attendant has shared smiles with thousands of people and even dazzled some to the point that they take videos and write about their extraordinary experience. 

I’ve been through that terminal countless times since and every time I saw Valerie she never stopped smiling or singing. She built quite the following and people would seek her out. She found a way to share a little happiness, even if for just a few moments. Think about that. She cleans a public restroom all day and she chooses to have a positive impact on every single person she comes in contact with. The sad part of this story is that the airport in Charlotte no longer has restroom attendants and I have lost track of Valerie. In my heart, I know that whatever she is doing – she’s doing it while singing and smiling and she is making people remember that having a positive attitude is a choice.

Back to my “fame.” The first time someone smiled at me and said I was “the restroom story lady” I was a bit taken aback. I mean…do you remember anything else I shared with you? Then, as she was hugging me like we were old friends, she said, “I bring my positive attitude every single day!”

Imagine that. That’s the power of storytelling. A study at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business shared that 5% of people remembered simple facts or statistics, but a whopping 63% remembered a story.

Credit unions team members have a great opportunity to share stories across different channels, harness that storytelling power and create memorable experiences.

Share relatable stories: Members are looking for solutions, empathy and a sense that they are working with someone who understands or can relate to their situation. Stories can help connect the dots. If in my session I simply stated, “Attitude is a choice,” it wouldn’t have been as effective. Stories are memorable. It’s much more meaningful to share information through a story rather than running through a checklist of the features and benefits of your products or services. Find ways to weave in those real stories of service, where you made a meaningful difference, with the members you serve.

Check your attitude: The love that Valerie has for her job is infectious. It’s inspiring and the takeaway is that if she can choose to be a positive force, then we can all do the same. Can members feel that we love what we do across all channels? How many “Valeries” does your credit union have?

Be memorable: One of my favorite quotes is from Disney: A brand is a thousand small gestures. It’s truly all the small gestures that make the biggest impact. Ask this simple question: How can I utilize stories to help make this member’s experience memorable enough to be shared with everyone in their circle and beyond?