About Megan Burns
Megan Burns is one of the world’s leading experts on customer experience and culture change. She advises leaders and organizations on how to use the science of human behavior to embed world-class customer experience (CX) practices into operations, IT, customer service, and sales so an exceptional experience becomes the everyday norm.
Megan’s insights into customer and employee experience come from 20 years of research and consulting. Prior to launching Experience Enterprises, she spent more than 10 years as vice president principal analyst at Forrester Research developing where she developed ground-breaking research on how brands like Amazon, Apple, Starbucks, and Salesforce deliver great customer experiences at scale in the face of constant social and technological never-ending disruption. She is the author of more than 75 research reports on topics such as measurement, the business value of CX, executive engagement, change management, and how emotion drives customer loyalty.
As a speaker and consultant, Megan has worked with teams of all shapes and sizes on the journey to experience-driven growth. Her client list includes more than half of the Fortune 50 and spans diverse industries like financial services, healthcare, tech, telecom, manufacturing, retail, and the non-profit sector. Some of the world’s biggest companies such as Verizon, FedEx, and Akamai have tapped Megan as their guide to experience transformation.
This episode was also recorded in video format. To watch the conversation, tune in below:
Mary Drumond is Chief Marketing Officer at survey tech startup Worthix, and host of the Voices of Customer Experience Podcast. Originally a passion project, the podcast runs weekly and features some of the most influential CX thought-leaders, practitioners and academia on challenges, development and the evolution of CX.
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Worthix was born in the Experience where customers are the backbone, and customer-centricity is the soul of every company. Innovation is at our core, and we believe in welding technology to bring companies and customers together. Our purpose is to use cutting edge mathematical models and Artificial Intelligence to extract actionable, relevant, and easy-to-understand insight straight from your customers’ minds.
Mary Drumond: This is season seven of Voices of CX podcast. Still bringing you the best thought leaders, practitioners and academics of the industry. But this time with a renewed focus on the human touch, empathy is our key word and we’re going all out on discussing how conversations can reshape experiences and your business inside and out. No matter how big your business is, what your challenges are, or your industry, connecting with your customers and their decisions is essential to leading through empathy.
I can’t believe I’m wrapping up season seven of Voices of Customer Experience. Today I am joined by Megan Burns, who I feel is the perfect person to wrap up the season and you guys will understand why once we start talking, but she really does a great job of bringing together the – a lot of the concepts that we discussed along the season and tie it with a pretty bow.
So, Hey, Megan, how are you?
Megan Burns: I’m good, Mary, how are you?
Mary Drumond: Great, I’m so glad you came on. One thing that Megan and I discuss a lot is that we couldn’t believe that we weren’t introduced because we’re kind of in the same circles, kind of know the same people, but had never really been introduced. So I’m really glad to have you come on now at the end of the show.
And be able to tell our listeners, share with our listeners a little bit about your mission and your goals and the work that you do, which is so amazing. So I’m going to stop talking and I’m going to give you an opportunity to tell people who you are and what you do.
Megan Burns: Sure. So first of all, thank you for having me.
I’m psyched to be here. Who am I and what do I do? I am a customer experience researcher, thought leader, mentor, speaker, basically 15 years ago, I decided that customer experience was too important to leave to chance and made it my full-time job to figure out how do you do it well? And help companies do it better.
So I’ve been doing that for 15 years. And for the last five of those years, I’ve run my own practice, focusing specifically on the people side of customer experience, particularly how do you help the people inside a company create the right experiences for the people outside a company? By helping them understand and work together the right way, because you know, annoy customers is not on anybody’s to do list.
So I want to help people do the thing that they already want to do.
Mary Drumond: So a lot more human experience in your words, right, than necessarily customer experience or employee experience, just, everything around is just human experience, right?
Megan Burns: It’s both. And the more you understand about how humans experience the world, you can apply that to working together and influence and change management inside. Which is one thing a lot of my clients are focused on. You can also apply it to designing customer experiences that are going to have the effect you want from a business perspective. So it’s kind of a nice – human experience is a really nice baseline thing to understand, no matter which side you’re looking at.
Mary Drumond: So do you believe that your background and your education, let’s just put it that way.
Your education was pivotal in helping you in this intersection of human behavior, let’s say, and experience? So, I mean, I already know what you did in school, but why don’t you share a little bit of that?
Megan Burns: Sure. So I was always that weird kid in school that liked math and science and English and history, equally as much.
So when I – I was just a nerd overall, which I’ve now come to embrace, but –
Mary Drumond: It’s cool now.
Megan Burns: Yes, it’s totally cool now. When I was trying to decide on a major for college, I majored in computer science. I won’t age myself by saying when that was, but the narrative was basically all the jobs are going to be in computers.
So I said, okay, I’ll do that. But I ended up through no sort of grand design, I double minored in management and psychology. The management minor was on purpose, cause I figured if I’m going to work in business, I got to understand something about management. The psychology piece was just, I have to take a bunch of humanities classes and what am I interested in?
And I was at an engineering school and I ended up finding through the course of that. I also took some really cool courses on the history of technology. One was the history of American technology. One was the history of information technology, which started with the written word as the first information technology.
So it really gave me this framework to understand that technology isn’t about algorithms and code it’s about enabling people to do things faster, easier, better. And so, as I moved into grad school, I went to grad school for software engineering, but I majored in requirements engineering, or that was my concentration.
And that was also my first job out of school. I spent basically seven years acting as a marriage counselor between the business product organization, that was launching some of AT&T’s first websites for selling and servicing online, and the technology organization that was building those. And trying to bring those two groups together and say, okay, here’s what we can do. Here’s what we should do, here’s why. In an effort to make the customer the ones that would actually benefit from all that cool technology.
Mary Drumond: So you were the marriage counselor, and all you cared about was the kids essentially, not really what mom and dad were fighting about.
Megan Burns: Yeah. That’s one way to put it. It was almost, you know, another analogy is like a translator.
Mary Drumond: Okay.
Megan Burns: Everybody wanted virtually the same thing, which was a good, reliable, successful, experience implemented in a way that wasn’t too hard or difficult for all of us who were putting it together.
But there was a lot of seeing things from different perspectives. And so there was a lot of helping people see the different sides. It’s sort of the classic IT business.
Mary Drumond: Yeah. Do you think that that beginning in IT and in computer science, how did it shape the professional that you are today?
Megan Burns: It primed and trained the naturally analytical part of my mind. Where I take a problem, any problem, even a human problem and I look at it from the perspective of what’s going on, what are the component parts, what are the forces. And it trained me to think in systems, right? Not just an individual thing that’s going on, but how are all of these things interacting?
Because that’s what computers ultimately do. Overtime I gravitated toward taking that analytical skill and applying it to figure out human – the solutions to human problems. Why are people doing what they’re doing? And more importantly, how do we influence them to do what’s best for them and for the system.
So it definitely built those muscles up.
Mary Drumond: Do you think that it gives you a certain advantage when it comes to seeing customer experience as a more results driven than other professionals in the market may see it.
Megan Burns: You know, I think it’s a different kind of result. You know, it’s always result driven. For me it’s results again, up the system longer term, right? Any system tends towards equilibrium. So conversations about how does short-term thinking influence long-term customer loyalty, right? Those outcomes I have a much stronger sense of those.
Not from kind of a vague, like, you know, fluffy perspective, but from an actual, you know, here’s, what’s going on in somebody’s mind and here’s how past experiences are going to come into play. And the decision they’ll make two years from now. So it’s a different kind of results. It’s a longer term picture, but I do also think it gives me an edge.
I am naturally a little bit of a luddite, which shocks many people. I grew up in a multi-generational household. We had a rotary phone until 1999, and then only because I went to work for AT&T that my grandfather was willing to get rid of it. So I am not – I’m incredibly skeptical when it comes to the idea that technology is the be all end all silver bullet solution to anything.
And that I probably lean a little bit more towards one extreme, but most of the practitioners I know lean sort of toward the and understandably so, because technology can do cool things. So we need to end up in the middle and I kind of help people find the right way to use technology as a tool to facilitate the outcomes they’re looking for.
Mary Drumond: You know, it’s interesting, cause you’re not the first engineer that has come on this show to talk about experiences and most importantly about human behavior. And in our second season, I had this brilliant woman, Dr. Nammy Vedire, and she works here in Georgia ATDC no, not at ATDC at an accelerator inside of Georgia Tech, and she talks all about how human behavior is absolutely essential, not only to organizations when it comes to their relationship with the customer, but with their relationship towards the market, how they position themselves, how they see growth and innovation, how they adopt innovation into their processes and it all boils down to human behavior, human psychology. What we see and what we do with what we see and how we apply that and the things that we are willing to apply. And so whenever I’m speaking to someone, that’s got a kind of engineer mindset. I realized that there’s something really valuable in adding steps and processes into the way the company builds their customer experience strategy, and that is what you do. Isn’t it?
You go into companies and you help companies build out their customer experience strategy. Can you give us a little bit of insight into what you really truly bring to the table with the work that you do every day?
Megan Burns: Sure. So the thing I typically start with is just helping people create some language and understanding what is this customer experience thing, because customer experience is for a business, what you should eat healthy and exercise is for a person, right? Everybody kind of knows what it means, but we may not mean the same thing.
We may not think of it with the same urgency. So just creating some language around, what does it mean to quote unquote, do customer experience, and why are we doing it now? So I talk about the idea that you have always had customer experiences and in the past, maybe the world was simple enough that you didn’t need to be that careful or thoughtful about designing them as one integrated experience, because they just kind of happened that way.
But the world has gotten more complicated. And the implications of having some sort of a snafu in that experience have gotten much bigger. So I talked to people about, and then I help them take what they’re doing. Everybody is instinctively doing something to manage customer experience, even if they’re not calling that.
And we kind of reverse engineer, alright, how do you monitor the experiences you’re having now and then build the layer of checks and balances on top of that, so that you start to prevent problems from happening. And then how do you gradually work your way up to the point where experiences are really one of the things you deliver as an organization that you design very intentionally and very strategically. Similar to what you would do with products and services and in services organizations, very often the product is an experience and has been, but it’s kind of bringing structure and thought and intention to something that has otherwise been kind of organic and ad hoc.
Mary Drumond: Yeah, it’s interesting that you say that because companies are already delivering experiences, whether they have a customer experience program or not, and that’s kind of a mistake. The experiences exist. Now, what you have the power to do is manipulate those experiences to a certain degree to make sure that it’s mostly good ones and not so much bad ones. So in general, I talk about this a lot. How companies and customers, when – again, with the marriage, right? Let’s imagine companies and customers as a marriage, both parties come into the relationship, hoping it’s going to work out right? There isn’t a company in the world that starts a relationship and they’re like, you know what, we’re going to fuck up this person’s life. Intentionally right here. That’s what we’re here to do. We’re going to make it terrible. We’re going to provide them a horrible experience from beginning to end. We’re not going to give them the service they need, their product isn’t going to work. It just horrible. This is what we do. And at the same time, there isn’t a single customer who signs up for a product or service with the idea of, oh, I hope this company fails me. Right? So people come in with the most intent, best intentions, both the customer and the company.
And somehow it breaks down, even though everybody knows that it’s supposed to be good. Companies understand the importance of providing good experiences. It’s still breaking down. Million dollar question. Why is this happening? Why can’t we solve this?
Megan Burns: Well, it’s partly happening because of just the complexity of the system, right?
There are so many permutations of across channels and situations and scenarios that it has become impossible for anyone to think through all of those things in advance. Right? As a requirements engineer in software, we used to like to try to plan out every potential case. You cannot do that. So there have to be some sort of structural decisions that happen upfront that set people up for kind of the category of the right kinds of things.
And then building the judgment within individual people to say, okay, you know, there is no rule for this situation. Here’s what we need to do, you know, here and there. So it’s a mix of structure and wisdom. I talk about it as wisdom, and just kind of recognizing that and thinking about it in layers.
The other thing that’s going on though, is the fact that neither side knows what they want or what the other side wants.
Mary Drumond: Or what they need?
Megan Burns: Or what they need, this is not a lack of empathy. This is not a character flaw, right? Humans are notoriously bad at knowing what we want, what we need, at describing it to other people.
And so we have to work really hard to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes. And the onus is really on the organization to do that with customers, but, you know, vice versa, to say, what are they asking for? What are they looking for? And not just what, from an outcome perspective, but what from then emotion and an experience perspective.
And that’s another piece of this that we haven’t really thought about. Everybody’s been so focused on functional needs. That, that corporate conversation hasn’t been about social or emotional needs. But those are really the more powerful ones for humans. And if we don’t think about them intentionally, you know, they’re not something that happens correctly by accident.
Mary Drumond: And so how, how can companies remedy that? Because, like you said, the onus is on them essentially, right. As the ones wanting to make a profit off selling that product or service. So how do they fix it?
Megan Burns: One way that that helps to fix it is to practice perspective taking, in situations that are not necessarily your customer, right? Because we have a tendency to get to know our customers, but we only see a piece of them. So there was one company, it was a hotel company. And they asked all of their managers, this was obviously pre pandemic, to go to a mall and shop for a particular thing and notice and take note of everything they smelled, everything they saw, the textures, the feels. To resensitize them to things in the environment that we naturally sort of gloss over, especially when we’re in an environment that we’re in every day. And then when those folks went back to their own properties and organizations, suddenly they were seeing stuff and noticing stuff that customers had been seeing, but then had kind of faded into the background for them.
So there’s this building up, this muscle of noticing and taking perspectives. Netflix does on something also, at least they used to, I assume they still do, really powerful, which is making people argue the opposite side of a debate. Right. So imagine if you have a particular position and you think a customer experience should be a certain way.
If I told you to argue against that, you would have think about a whole of different things then you’re typically thinking about. And that, again, forces you to take a different perspective. You don’t have to agree with it, but you have to at least understand it. Everybody loves the word empathy and the word empathy has become, you know, sort of a buzz word in customer experience.
And empathy is great, but you can’t have empathy without perspective. And empathy in some organizations, and this is where the, the engineering culture sometimes comes in, especially in technology or you know, very operationally driven organizations, empathy gets people’s eyes rolling. But if we start to talk about perspective taking, that’s something they can understand and do.
It’s almost like pulling on people’s, sort of their scientific, their interest in scientific tendencies or experimentation, it gets you to the same place. They understand what another person is wanting and feeling, but it doesn’t carry some of the perhaps cultural baggage.
Mary Drumond: Yeah, you’re right. It’s not like forcing somebody to get in touch with their, with their heart, you know?
Hey, no, you don’t, you know? Okay. You’re at work. You don’t have to get all emotional about this. Let’s take a scientific perspective on this. So, it – I think that people have an easier time processing perspective than necessarily tapping into that emotional aspect that, that empathy carries. But there’s another part of it as well, which is that it is really difficult to have empathy with someone that you don’t feel aligned to somehow, or having empathy for people who look and think differently than you or who have a different perspective than you do. I’ll give you an example while you were talking. I was thinking about this. Has it ever happened to you that you you’re out to eating maybe with someone and they’re like, oh my God, that music is awful.
And you’re like, what music? There are people who can’t hear background music, they just tune out entirely. They, it makes zero difference to them and other people like me. If music is playing in the background, I can’t ignore it. I can’t block it out. Now, what if the person on the other side, that’s in the organization, planning out my journey or planning out my experience is someone who doesn’t care about music. How are they supposed to empathize with me? If they can’t be touched by the same things and the same thoughts that I do. So unless they’re able to actually have my perspective or, you know, walk a mile in my shoes or, you know, any sort of allegory that you want to use to exemplify that, how are they supposed to have empathy if they don’t have the capacity to see and feel what I see and feel.
So taking a new perspective is perhaps essential to even having empathy to begin with. So I really like that.
Megan Burns: Yeah, well, thank you. And this is actually where we’re sort of living in the jackpot era because the ability – people post videos about how they’re feeling and experiencing, we can go watch people.
Customers are much, especially in B2B, are much more open to having observational studies and diary studies. So a lot of the tools that we would have relied on to get that perspective, they’re so much easier now than they were 20 years ago when I started, and people are much more able and willing to talk about those things.
I’m with you, I don’t think there should ever be any swallowing sounds on any commercial on the radio or television, that’s just my big pet peeve. But clearly there are people in the advertising industry who don’t have that sensitivity.
Mary Drumond: I mean, do you take issue to all ASMR or is it specifically with like chewing or like saliva induced sounds?
Megan Burns: ASMR?
Mary Drumond: Yeah. Like when you know that, do you watch TikTok? So ASMR is my child’s nose. I don’t, I didn’t even know what it stands for, but it’s essentially like a really, like it magnifies the sounds. So people will place a really high caliber microphone on something that may not necessarily normally be recorded. So for instance, I’m taking a knife to a bar of soap and cutting it up, dicing it up and slicing through it, like, like that. And the whole point of it is like, oh my God, that’s so soothing, that’s so grounding, et cetera, et cetera. So for example, I love watching this one guy on TikTok called the moody foody.
And what he does is he cooks, but while he’s cooking, he’s got this really strong microphone on every single – like he’s peeling shallots, and you’re hearing those layers come off and he’s slicing through and you hear the blade, touch the knife and we are so intensely off topic. But anyway, all that to say –
Megan Burns: We’re actually not because this is the kind of thing, that from a human experience perspective, we don’t think about, right. We only notice one of the things about, I talk about emotion a lot, and we know from the data, that emotion is a really powerful – the emotional experience is a powerful driver of loyalty and future decisions. When I first saw that data, one of the first things I thought was, well, why, you know, what’s going on?
And it turns out that the emotional circuits of our brain influence what we notice about an experience. They influence the meaning that we assign to that and they influence what and how we remember that, right. So understanding the range of possibilities that there are people who notice things that you don’t notice or remember things that you don’t remember.
You know, there’s something to be said for recognizing that there’s a broader swath of how people experience the world than you do. And I will say just personally, it’s mostly the chewing and swallowing stuff. That’s a thing I’ve looked it up. I’m not the only one who has that weirdness.
Mary Drumond: It is. It is. It’s a thing. Yeah. My sister has it too. There’s a name for it, I don’t know what it is.
Megan Burns: There is, I don’t remember what it is, but you know, with the pandemic, I’ll give you a great example. I’m an introvert. My mother is about as extreme of an extrovert as you can get. And I was trying to understand why lockdown was so hard and so painful for her.
I believed that it was, but I couldn’t quite, you know, brock it. And I said, okay, what if somebody asked me to go to a party and stay there for three months? Like, I just want to crawl into my shell. The way I feel if I’m in a big crowd with a party for too long, that energy drain is what my mother was feeling.
And many other extroverts were feeling during the lockdown period. So comparisons like that, right? Yeah. It’s just the more we can understand that it’s different experiences of the same events. I think the better we get at the customer, the business side of customer experience, as well as just being tolerant humans.
Mary Drumond: So, let me ask you something, what’s the best way for companies to go about seeing things from their customers’ perspectives, especially if you consider large organizations that have thousands or even millions, depending of customers, how can they – how do you make perspective or, you know, like we like to say at Worthix, how do you make empathy at scale?
How do you make perspective at scale?
Megan Burns: Yeah. That’s a great question. You know, one thing I think is just practice. And I think the more you practice, the more you see patterns, you know, you and I were talking about the fact that on some level human needs don’t ever change, right. There’s sort of this intrinsic human need, different people get it. Met different ways and prefer to meet at different ways. But you start to be able to group people. That’s where you know, design personas come in, you start to be able to group people by the way, they like to meet certain functional or emotional needs. And when you can give people categories like that it helps them.
I’m a really big fan of documentaries. And I know this is going to sound really weird, but like one of my favorite shows is Finding Your Roots on PBS, which is a genealogy show. And it teaches you about history through the stories of individual people and it – so it takes these big world events that you’ve heard about and says what was going on in this particular family as that was happening.
And that ability to sort of project from a big picture thing down to a human experience. That’s also part of what we need to do to have that empathy at scale, but then bring it down to a human. There’s a phenomenon the, I-it versus I-you phenomenon. So I-you, I see you Mary, as a person that is a different feeling than talking about a professional woman living in Atlanta.
She is an it, you are a who, and so drawing people back from thinking of customers as it. Which is we have to, right. We can’t absorb all the little nuances of every single person. But continually drawing people back from out of that it mindset, into that you mindset and thinking of customers as humans.
Mary Drumond: There you go back to human experience, went full circle there, look at you. But so I have one more question regarding that, in that whole thing. When – it is possible, let’s hypothesize here that an organization is able to perform that kind of exercise and see the world or see the experiences from their customers’ perspectives.
And then they realize that there is a large variety of perspectives and in most cases they’ll have to pick and they’ll probably end up picking what fits the majority, right. What is the danger of alienating? So many other customers that may not fit into that majority because you take on the perspective of a larger group.
I went far there, I know I went far but –
Megan Burns: No, that’s okay. I’m actually having this conversation with a client right now, which is that you can’t have a customer experience strategy without a customer strategy and a customer strategy is who are we for? And if the answer is everybody, you’re never going to be able to come up with that.
Mary Drumond: You’re in trouble.
Megan Burns: Yea so some of it is being willing to accept, you know, that you are not for some people. And that makes saying, you know, we’re going to prioritize these folks over those folks easier. But the other thing, and there’s a risk by the way, there’s a risk of not prioritizing. If you try to be everything, take that – I had a client once that risk mitigated themselves out of $2.4 million worth of business, because they put hoops into the customer experience just to make sure that something bad didn’t happen. That people were saying, you know what, forget this, I’m not going to buy this thing. And they lost more business from that than they would have lost if they had actually been sued.
So there is a risk for that. I think you can also think about it from a threshold perspective or range perspective. You know, it’s not like people want it this way or that way. It’s like, it has to be at least this, in addition to being that. And so any too, you know, it has to be inexpensive, but it also has to be easy.
It has to be – you want it to feel personal and high touch, but it can’t break the bank, right. Personal and high tech –
Mary Drumond: It can’t be creepy.
Megan Burns: And it can’t be creepy. Yeah. Personal and high touch is there’s the creepy version, then there’s the expensive version.
Mary Drumond: Right.
Megan Burns: So thinking about thresholds within those and saying, you know, we don’t want it to go below here, but we’re not going to try to fit this other group that’s totally in some other realm.
Mary Drumond: So it’s knowing where you stand as a business and who you cater to, and not being afraid of making that decision to serve the certain type of persona, really, really well. Even at the risk of alienating other people that don’t fit in there.
Megan Burns: Yeah. I mean, if you think about something as simple as getting dinner on the table, you can go to a farmer’s market, you can go to a traditional grocery store. You can have a meal kit delivered, you can have your groceries delivered, right. There’s a huge range. Neither of those experiences is right or wrong. They’re more preferable to certain people. You can’t do all of them well.
Mary Drumond: Right. And even though they all, like you said, they’re a solution to the exact same need, which is the need for dinner, but you have all of these different individual types and lifestyles and preferences that put people into one bucket or another.
So, yeah. Great, very wise words here. About to taking a stance on what is it that you’re going to do and do it properly. Now, one thing that you and I also talked a lot about was going back to that idea of the need, right. And how the need doesn’t change. Let’s get into that a little bit for people who weren’t listening into the conversation that you and I had the other day and provide them with a little bit of context here.
So start from the beginning with the need thing, and then I’ll chime in.
Megan Burns: Yeah. So, my favorite framework, there’s lots of frameworks for talking about what people need. My favorite one was actually developed by a friend of mine, James McQuivey, and it basically looks at human needs on to like an X, Y axis.
And on one axis is a spectrum between I want to feel comfortable and secure, but I also want variety. I don’t want to be bored, right. And we move between that. I think most of us are on the board side of that right now. You know, the other access is, I want to feel like an individual. I want to be recognized and seen as unique, but I also want to feel like I belong, right. And you want to feel like you belong. Until you feel like you’re invisible and then you want to stand out more. And I have yet to find an organization where I can’t take their service and what they do and put it somewhere on, you know, how does it meet those needs? How does the experience they deliver, meet those needs beyond the functional needs that they’re looking for. And it’s a pretty broad framework, but I like broad frameworks because it reminds us that, you know, in the end, this isn’t rocket science.
Mary Drumond: No, it’s human science.
Megan Burns: It’s human science.
Mary Drumond: And human science is full of but’s and and’s and exceptions. And it’s constantly changing and constantly updating.
And even though some things remain true that have been mapped out years ago. Like if you take Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, essentially it can all come back to that. And that’s been around for a hot second. And at the same time, when you look into the nuances of human behaviors and the intricacies of the needs and the digital world that we live in, it can get so granular.
So it can get so macro and so micro at the same time. And that’s what fascinates me about human behavior is all these different tiers in which you can observe it. And then somehow use that to improve what it is that you’re offering as a business. So that, what was it called? Behavior economics, right?
The how people interact with economics on their day to day. You know, I’m a huge fan of a Freakonomics podcast and series where you look into all of these seem like trivial ideas. And when you actually understand how big huge concepts can be applied to so many different areas of human existence, it’s fascinating. It’s fascinating.
Megan Burns: It is, and for people like you and me, we love to dig into those details, for most customer experience practitioners that is completely overwhelming. So moving them up to, there are some principles that are fairly tried and true that when you’re overwhelmed by the complexity, and you’re not sure about what to do, you know, bring it back to these basic concepts and most business people I know were not psychology major. I wasn’t either. So a lot of this stuff that behavioral science geeks like us love and know and take for granted, it’s been around for 50 years, but people have never heard it. And so the –
Mary Drumond: So what are those, what are those initial basic principles you think?
Megan Burns: The biases, the thought – thinking traps or cognitive biases, right? Something like when we’re in a heightened state of stress or anxiety, we perceive negative things as more negative. Neutral things as more negative and positive things as more neutral, which the practical application of that is stuff that doesn’t bother your customers on a normal day is going to freak them out right now because they’re already on edge, right. And what does that mean for a principal? If you’re talking about culture change inside an organization, the confirmation bias, the fact that we tend to look at data that contradicts our view of how the world works and say, nope, the data must be wrong. Right? There’s a really good reason we do that.
It keeps us from getting hoodwinked in a lot of situations. But if your goal is to drive change, or get people to recognize that your customers have changed, you have to understand that happens, here’s why it happens. And here’s why – how we gradually move people to altering their understanding of the world to more accurately fit the data. I always tell people if they get data that seems wrong, ask themselves what would have to be true about the world in order for this data to be accurate, right.
So let’s just assume it’s accurate. Something in our sense of how the world works is wrong. If that’s the case, what would be different, in that particular situation. That’s another perspective taking strategy.
Mary Drumond: That’s really interesting. So I imagine that somehow, like cognitive bias, what is it conscious – unconscious bias also takes a really strong role when it comes to culture inside of organizations. Does that play a part as well?
Megan Burns: It does. And you know, unconscious bias has been in the news a lot around gender and race and things like that. There are unconscious biases around many different things, and it comes from the fact that basically our brains, you know, you talked about, whether or not things change. I refer to the human brain as the ultimate legacy technology, right. You have millions of installations of it. You can’t change it. You’re not really sure how it works. So you got to deal with it. It’s – I completely forgot where I was going with that. I’m sorry. Oh my god.
Mary Drumond: I am imagining that you’re going to say something about how our DNA is hardwired by prehistoric times and we can’t get it out of our system.
Megan Burns: It’s not that, it’s not that, it’s that our brains are giant pattern matching machines. So from the minute we’re born, we’re taking in empirical evidence and we’re going okay, if A then B and you know, little kids don’t know certain consequences, so they do things that seem silly. And eventually we build up these ways of predicting. Everybody’s rules or heuristics about how the world works is based on what they’ve seen and what they’ve experienced.
And so, you know, are dogs scary? It depends on who you ask. Is traveling fun or exhausting? Depends on who you ask. And so understanding that way, that past experiences shape how we think about what’s happening in the moment. That’s actually a really central piece of what intentional customer experience design for the purpose of business success.
That’s probably one of the most foundational concepts you could possibly need to understand.
Mary Drumond: You know, going back to something that you and I have already discussed, but I want to share with people listening at home, let’s say. I remember bringing up to you the question about if it’s possible that there are issues in customer experience where certain things don’t get done, certain decisions aren’t made because there are cultural habits ingrained in an organization that actually stop innovation or they prevent change. Because either people are afraid of standing up to their superiors in some way or challenging the status quo or because people are comfortable with the way things are and they can’t really be bothered to embark on the journey of making change happen.
So I wanted to discuss that as our final topic, not only of this episode, but of the season. And have you dig into that a little bit and share your point of view.
Megan Burns: Yeah. I mean, that’s the essence of what culture is, and we know that culture has a huge impact on the success of a customer experience program.
If we peel back the onion of why. It’s partly because delivering a great customer experience sometimes requires you to make decisions that are successful by a different set of rules, right? And culture is the set of assumptions a group of people share about how the world works and the best way to succeed in it.
So if you imagine someone sitting in a contact center and they’re talking to a customer and they know what the customer wants, and they know what the customer needs, and in theory, they could do it, but they’re afraid if they do it, they’re going to lose their job, right. That’s a sense of this is the right thing to do, but it could cost me my job, and so if I have to choose between those two things, I’m going to take the discomfort of knowing I’m making a customer unhappy in order to keep my job. And the trade-off, aren’t always that black and white, but you know, every decision that we make is ultimately about balancing competing needs and trade-offs, and culture is what tells you which side of that balance to lead toward on certain things.
And so if you need to, you know – if there’s a tie, the customer always wins, right? That’s a great example. That’s not the belief about what makes a business successful in a lot of organizations. So having to move that mental model of the world and show people with, yeah, actually, if there’s a tie, the customer wins is a way to be successful long-term, you’ve got to move people over to that belief. Even though the old belief is probably not something they’re either conscious of, or if they are conscious of willing to admit out loud. And that’s part of what makes this hard, but, I always tell people with customer experience and especially with change related customer experience, you can’t change people and you shouldn’t try. What you should do is engineer the opportunity for them to have their own epiphany, right. I’m not gonna tell you what’s right or wrong. I’m going to expose you to a situation that makes you realize that the world is different than you thought it was and do so in a socially safe way, because I’m not looking to humiliate anybody. That’s one of the reasons that watching customer videos and things like that are so powerful is because people suddenly see in their own personal experience, okay wow, this is different than I thought it was. And that’s really the human behavior and human experience side applied to organizational change that you have to make in order for that organization to create the right experiences for customers. It’s kind of a you can’t have one without the other.
Mary Drumond: That’s awesome. And that’s a great way for us to wrap up this conversation because Megan definitely left a lot of you with the feeling of, I need to learn more. So Megan, how do people learn more from you?
Megan Burns: A couple of different ways. I probably put out the most things on LinkedIn. So if you’re on LinkedIn, you can find me, you can follow me.
My Twitter handle is, excuse me, my Instagram handle is @MeganBurnsCX and what I do there is I share examples of positive customer experiences because the world has plenty of horror stories, but I’m like, Hey, look at this, this is a good idea and here’s why it’s a good idea. Or you can go to my website, which is megan-burns.com and, you know, I’m sharing more and more content there, but it’s a fun conversation to have.
And so I hope people jump in and we all have a lot to learn.
Mary Drumond: Yeah, I for one, I’m extremely happy that I’m able to wrap up the season talking about my favorite topic, which is behavior and psychology and how that overlaps with experience. I trust that our listeners are enjoying it as much as I am. And well this is it for season seven, but I will invite everybody to come back, when we return in the fall for season eight. And thank you, Megan, for coming on. Thanks for wrapping up the season with me, and I hope that we have you on the show again in the upcoming seasons. And I hope that the world will open up soon enough so that you and I can have this conversation in person over a cup of coffee.
Megan Burns: You know, I hope that too. And thank you for having me, and I would love to come back both in-person and digitally. So thank you.
Mary Drumond: Awesome.
That’s our show. Thanks for joining us. We hope we’ve brought you one step closer to leading through empathy. It’s our way of making the world a better place. One business at a time.
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