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Why overcoming confirmation bias is crucial to CX

13th Oct 2020
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We do research called an Emotional Signature® that examines the Customer Experience from a subconscious psychological perspective. Therefore, by definition, you get a different viewpoint after you undertake it for your organization.

However, in our global Customer Experience consultancy, whenever we present our findings to an organization, you usually get at least one person that tries to bend the results to meet their agenda. If the results are opposite to what they believe, then these individuals attack the methodology.

This situation is an example of Confirmation Bias, a psychological concept that is deeply rooted in all of us. As we discussed on a recent podcast. Confirmation Bias describes how, when we have an opinion about something, we seek out information that confirms what we believe. Furthermore, we screen out or ignore information inconsistent with what we believe. We also interpret evidence in a way that is consistent with what we already think. In other words, we form a belief and then doggedly hold onto it!

Confirmation Bias is a human tendency that manifests everywhere. It happens in sports. If your team loses, it wasn’t the team’s fault. Instead, it was biased officials that threw the game in the other team’s favor.

It also happens in politics, which manifests in news outlet choices. One side watches one news channel’s coverage of politics, and the other one watches the other channel.

Confirmation Bias also leads to bad decision making. Hearing different opinions strengthens your position, but Confirmation Bias does not allow for differing views. In the TV news example I gave, you can see that we form echo chambers where we mostly read, listen to, or watch the information that agrees with us already. It reinforces these beliefs, and we get farther and farther apart from the “other” side. We fail to see the other sides’ perspective and what points they might have.

How Confirmation Bias Works in Customer Experience

Confirmation Bias exists in all of us, from customers to employees to our bosses. So, can we find some silver lining in it?

One upside of Confirmation Bias is that part of loyalty is reinforced by it. Confirmation Bias indicates that a loyal customer should be especially attuned to information that reinforces their belief that this brand is excellent. For example, as an Apple Superfan, I may be especially attuned to the positive aspects of my experience that reinforces my belief that Apple is fantastic and buying from them is the right decision.

However, it also works in the negative. My opinion of broadband providers is so poor that even if mine showed up with a gift basket and $100, Confirmation Bias would influence me to be angry about it. “Did you hear how they knocked at the door to give me this stuff? The nerve!”

Overcoming Confirmation Bias is Difficult But Essential

The strength of a Confirmation Bias affects our ability to be persuaded, also. We are challenged as human beings to stop and reassess with a very clear-eyed perspective any strong opinion we have. We tend to dig in and defend rather than listen and acquiesce.

A notoriously difficult group to reach are conspiracy theorists called the Flat Earthers, people who reject the idea of global earth. This group can hold onto their opinions in the face of overwhelming evidence against them. Even when experiments that they designed fail and point to the truth about global earth, Flat Earthers find explanations for why those results were false, and they do not trust them. Flat Earthers are willing to reject compelling information, even results they generate, to hold onto these beliefs.

It is not just fringe Internet groups that do this, however. I had a terrible presentation to a C-suite for a retail client once. These managers challenged everything I said and advocated a continuation for what they were already doing. It reminded me of the Blockbusters and the Circuit Cities of this world who had similar situations — a senior team with a strong Confirmation Bias that looked at the world from an old perspective. I don’t think that the retailer I presented to will be in existence in five years.

Hanging on to something because of a Confirmation Bias could even contribute to losing your job. When you work somewhere, it is normal to believe that you have the best way of doing things. If you don’t think it’s the best way, it at least becomes the way you are used to doing things or business, as usual, you might say.

Let’s say your company is taken over. One of the first things new management does is attack business from a different perspective. In other words, they change business as usual. If you do not want to change, new management will sack you because you are not coming around to the new way of thinking.

It can also contribute to losing an election. Have you ever talked to somebody who’s working on a political campaign for somebody who has no shot at winning an election? You wouldn’t know it from their side. They have convinced themselves that it could happen with the most obscure poll results that tilt even slightly in their direction.

So, What Can You Do About It?

Confirmation Bias is challenging to overcome and can lead to bad decisions. However, there are a few things you can do to combat its effects, as long as you aren’t trying to convince a Flat Earther that Australia exists!

At an individual level, to ensure you make better decisions, you should seek out diverse information, something that does not agree with your world view. Consider the other side’s arguments. Watch the other channel. Read different opinions. However, please be forewarned: it’s exhausting. Also, it can feel threatening and emotionally draining. So, it’s a solution to making bad decisions caused by your Confirmation Bias, but it is not easy.

Another way to try to overcome Confirmation Bias at an individual level is to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. If you experience the world from their perspective, it can show you the “truth” of the other world view. From a Customer Experience perspective, this exercise is the foundation of our Customer Mirrors research. It shows you how your experience feels from the outside-in, the customer side, rather than inside out, which is your side of the experience.

Also, you need to be open to hearing new things. You need a diversity of opinion, and you also need a culture that allows for that disagreement.

I used to be in Roundtable, which is a bit like a Rotary Club. We used to do debates, more for amusement than anything else. However, we were given a topic, and you had to be for or against it. The assignment was random, meaning you didn’t choose a side based on your beliefs. The funny thing was when you looked into the issue from either perspective, you started to see the good points of that side.

There is a phrase that I love that we use a lot in Beyond Philosophy, which is, “None of us are as clever as all of us.” For example, I may have a view that says, “This is what we should do.” However, some of the team could have different opinions, so they argue against my idea. Sometimes, they convince me, and sometimes they don’t, but there are no hard feelings or repercussions afterward because I pay them to have an opinion and want to hear what they say.

However, in an organization where the leadership is not open, and leadership is too despotic, that would not happen. We’ve all been in those meetings where there’s a lot of disagreement, but the boss is so overbearing that nobody dares to say it. Or, if someone does voice that opinion, it’s immediately slapped down. In those cases, it doesn’t do any good to have a different view because there’s only one way things are going to go. Everybody knows which side their bread is buttered on, and that is the end of the discussion for good or ill.

Confirmation Bias is a robust psychological concept that influences our behavior in many situations. While there are a couple of times where it helps your Customer Experience, it is also one of the reasons why you have problems with it. Seeking out differing views, walking in another person’s shoes, and keeping an open mind are different ways you can make better decisions that improve your Customer Experience, your Employee Experience, or your Leadership Experience. Best of all, overcoming Confirmation Bias is one of the best ways to ensure you make the best possible decision.

To hear more about Confirmation Bias in more detail, listen to the complete podcast here.

What customers say they want and what they really want are often different things. It is vital to know what drives value for your organization. Our Emotional Signature research can tell you where you are compared to other organizations and what to focus on to drive value for your customers. To learn more, please click here.

Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX

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