Expert Interview: Megan Burns

June 18 2019 / by Mari Ryan

In this Expert Interview, AdvancingWellness CEO Mari Ryan and Megan Burns explore the relationship between employee experience and customer experience. Megan is a speaker, consultant and customer experience expert. Megan Burns

Megan Burns Interview

Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Essentials Series. I'm Mari Ryan, I'm the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It's my pleasure to welcome you to this expert interview, where we explore topics that impact employee wellbeing. My guest today is Megan Burns.

Megan is an expert on people first customer-centric cultures and how to build them. She helps companies grow faster and thrive longer by adding empathy, trust and humanity back into customer and employee experiences. For two decades, Megan has studied what the world’s most beloved, most successful companies do to earn loyalty from the people they serve. While at Forrester Research, she wrote ground-breaking research that shaped the field of experience management, which is now a multi-billion dollar industry. She has published more than 75 reports on experience management, culture change, executive engagement and balancing customer and business needs, and building strong, but flexible, governance models.

Today, Megan empowers people to transform culture and operations as a speaker, facilitator, and executive coach. Her approach is rooted in behavioral science because it’s easier to work with human nature than it is to fight it.

Megan, welcome, I’m so delighted to get to spend time with you today.

Megan Burns: Thanks for having me, Mari, I’m thrilled to be here.

Mari Ryan: Let’s explore this topic of the intersection of customer engagement and employee engagement, or customer experience and employee experience. Let’s start first by – and we’ll circle back through this in our conversation about how this all ties to employee wellbeing. Let’s start with what is the relationship between customer experience and employee experience.

Megan Burns: It’s a great question and one that probably should be simpler to answer than it is. The most basic relationship is in the traditional business model when you have customers interacting directly with employees face-to-face than they’re having a shared experience, and how the customer perceives that experience influences their loyalty to their company, and then how the employee perceives not only that part of their job, but all of the other parts of their job, their employee experience is also all the time they spend when they are not dealing with customers, that whole experience shapes their loyalty to the company.

So, customers are interacting with the company, employees are interacting with the company, and those two sets of experiences influence the two group’s respective loyalties. Sometimes they are directly connected; these days, more and more, they are indirectly connected when you have employees who don’t actually work face-to-face with customers, but there’s a couple degrees of separation.

Mari Ryan: It makes me think that happy employees make happy customers.

Megan Burns: Yes. You certainly can’t have happy customers without happy employees – let’s put it that way.

Mari Ryan: All right. When we think about what it takes to … so oftentimes I think people focus on the customer first, like if there was a prioritization, they would say the customer is always number one. In reality, it seems to me that if you focus on the employees, then the good experience and the customer experience is going to be an end product.

Megan Burns: To a certain extent, yes, and I think that part of what we have to do is get rid of this idea of one group being number one and another being number two because it is ultimately about balance. We talk about the customer and employee experiences as being part of an ecosystem, and healthy ecosystems are only healthy when they are in balance, and no one group is getting their needs met more than another. So the idea of one over another is really a false dichotomy.

In terms of employees, there are a lot of things about the customer’s experience that require employees to be able to take somebody else’s perspective. By definition, if you are an employee in a company you know more about the industry than a typical customer. The ability to be empathetic, the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is something that you can only do when you’re not super-stressed out. Stress reduces our ability to be empathetic.

From a very core biological perspective, yes, it’s true. When employees are happier, they are better able to do the kinds of things that they need to do to listen and understand and take care of customer needs. Happy employees is not the only thing you need. When you get a company big enough, you do need systems to help well-meaning people coordinate, but yes, when you have employees who are exhausted or stressed out, they are just not going to be able to do what they need to do, when if they want to.

Mari Ryan: So, let’s try to take this link one step further and make that link the connection between employee experience and wellbeing.

Megan Burns: We spend a lot of our time at work, so our employee experience is big chunk of our life. The interesting thing about employee experience these days for most people is it doesn’t stop when you leave work. Your employee experience is also if you are up late worried about something, or you’re traveling. That creeping nature of work can affect your sense of overall wellbeing, your sense that you have enough time for your family and friends, but it’s also the fact that you don’t check your emotions at the door of things that are going on in your personal life. So, your employee experience can be made worse if you’re stressed out about something at home and not able to adequately manage that stress. Little things about your co-workers or your boss might normally roll off your back, are really going to start to annoy you, increase tension – this is just how human beings work.

An employee’s wellbeing and their ability to keep a good physical and mental resilience affects their ability to do their job well and to have the kind of interactions and experiences with their colleagues and with customers that you need for the system to be working as a whole. To me, it’s inextricably linked and that’s why I think I talk a lot about the fact that companies may not think of employee wellbeing and stress management as things that would fall under the umbrella of managing customer experience, but there are actually few things that are going to impact customer experience more than your employees’ wellbeing.

Mari Ryan: Right, so well said. They probably don’t make that connection until some report about some incident with a customer and an employee appears on the front page of The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times.

Megan Burns: Even then, there is a quote from the chief marketing officer of a large bank who said, every major mistake I’ve made in my career, I’ve made because I was tired. So, not necessarily thinking about the fact that it’s not just your front line employees, it’s the people who are making decisions and trade-offs all the way up the chain, whose stress levels can absolutely matter, at least as much, if not more so, than folks who are interacting directly with customers.

Mari Ryan: Wow, it’s amazing. I’m curious, when you are working with clients to help them on their customer experience initiatives, how do you create awareness for them about the link with the employee experience and the customer experience and this impact on employee wellbeing?

Megan Burns: There are a couple of different ways we do it; one of the things that is central to most customer experience programs is a push towards more empathy and it’s usually directed around empathy towards customers, but what we end up doing in creating empathy for customers also creating empathy with all of the people who are in the chain of what’s happening to and with that customer. So, in big companies, there’s a lot of siloing and segmentation, and people just don’t know and can’t appreciate what happens before and after their piece of the puzzle. There’s a process we use called customer journey mapping where we map out all of the steps that a customer takes to accomplish their goal and then we map out all of the parts of the business that they interact with. Very often those people in one part of that have never seen what goes on in another part of that.

So, we start creating empathy and we start creating context around things like, I’m not asking you to get back to me in 24 hours because I picked a random number, the customer has an expectation of responsiveness and here’s what else needs to happen. That connection internally starts to help, but then we also in these journey maps there is always a mapping of the thoughts and feelings and the emotions, and we map both the customers and the employees, and I’ve had more than a few times where the customers were really happy and the employees were really miserable. I had someone say to me once, and it’s not a company you would think would ever have a problem, they said our customers are happy, but we deliver a great experience in spite of ourselves. They said our employees are heroes, but we force them to become heroes entirely too often because we don’t have the operational structure we need. That was an example of it was all culture until they got to the point where culture wasn’t enough. Those conversations are often another entry point into … it’s great that people are going above and beyond, but how about we give them some support so that that’s not as hard to do.

Mari Ryan: I would think that would be where the understanding the wellbeing of the workforce would certainly come into play. Let’s talk a little bit about burnout, because we hear about this a lot with different types of industries and different types of jobs, and the impact that burnout can have on an employee and then ultimately on the customer.

Megan Burns: This is an interesting Catch-22 that I’ve experienced in my own life. There are a lot of people, those heroes in that company I was talking about, who care passionately about serving customers, and as expectations have gotten higher and higher about responsiveness and working 24/7, that can lead to too much of a good thing, making employees burn out with all the right intentions, but it still ultimately leads to burnout. We have to think about this idea of burnout is not customer-centric in the long term. It may seem like you’re being customer-centric in the short term, but if you are not keeping your employees at a place where they can continue to serve customers – and that’s where we get back to that balance – especially in the knowledge worker ranks. I travel a lot, I work with a lot of people in business-to-business who travel, we’re starting to see things like business class and not necessarily having to buy the cheapest travel airfare through four connections. People are recognizing there’s a cost to the exhaustion level that comes with some of those things that they had not been factoring in. We’re starting to see different decisions in terms of how people are designing jobs and expectations and policies so that employees are less likely to burn out even when they have things that are demanding, like travel schedules.

Mari Ryan: So important and having experienced this personally, I came to this career as a result of being a burnt out road warrior, traveling 3,000 to 6,000 miles a week, often times in coach. Believe me, I completely understand why this is such an important topic.

Megan Burns: Yeah, and it’s a real change for companies to even be having the conversation about the fact that the wellbeing of their employees is a part of the product or the service that they deliver, and that there is a cost to that. I started in experience management 13 years ago, even five years ago we wouldn’t have been having those conversations in any serious way the way we are with executive teams now, which is really promising.

Mari Ryan: It’s very promising; I’m very encouraged by that. Is there anything else you’d like to add in terms of what you're seeing in the relationship between customer experience, employee experience and wellbeing?

Megan Burns: I think the number one thing that I would add is just a reminder to people that we have control over our own experiences. I work with companies to try to help them structurally think about how our processes and the way we’re set up is affecting employee experience, but a lot of the things you talk about in the wellbeing space, you as an employee or you as an individual have a lot of skills that you can use to manage your response to a really stressful situation. As people think about this, the onus isn’t just on companies, although they certainly have the lion’s share of work to do, we have some control in all of this as employees or workers. I think we need a combination of change at the corporate level, but also reminding people and empowering people to use the control they have to manage how they experience the things that are happening to them.

Mari Ryan: That’s a really good reminder, thank you for that. If our audience wants to learn more about you and the work you are doing, where can they find you?

Megan Burns: Sure. They can find me on LinkedIn. My company name is Experience Enterprises. They can also just email me, my email is, and we’d love to continue the conversation about this topic. It’s really important.

Mari Ryan: Thank you so much. It is a very important topic. I’m delighted to have you here today to share your knowledge and experience with us. Thanks again, Megan, for being here.

Megan Burns: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me, Mari.

[End of audio]

Topics: Worksite Wellness, Wellbeing, worksite wellbeing, workplace wellbeing, wellness, employee wellness, worksite well-being, mental health, hr, employee engagement, employee well-being, human resources, corporate wellness, employee burnout, customer experience

Mari Ryan

Written by Mari Ryan

Mari Ryan is the CEO/founder of AdvancingWellness and is a recognized expert in the field of workplace well-being strategy.