What can history teach us about modern advertising and customer experience? From Edison’s first light bulb to Woodstock, The Often Imitated Podcast series examines history’s most unique experiences that often are imitated but never duplicated. Each episode digs into the origins of a famous historical event to understand what it can teach us about advertising and CX.
In this episode, host Ian Faison speaks with PepTalkHer Founder and CEO, Meggie Palmer, about how to provide a little nudge to your CX customers—much like the idea of skydiving.
Listen to “The leap and the nudge with Meggie Palmer, CEO at PepTalkHer” episode or read the full transcript below. If you enjoy this episode, be sure to check out the full series: The Often Imitated Podcast series presented by Oracle.
Ian Faison, Host: There were eight of us in line. I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t the person who had to go first. See, if you are the person who has to go first, you have to stand in the doorway. I was going second, and that was terrifying enough. After spending the last 10 hours waiting for this moment, it would be over in 8 seconds.
I was a skinny 20-year-old West Point cadet currently going through the United States Army’s Airborne training in Ft. Benning Georgia. It was 100 degrees, 80% humidity, and I had been waiting for 10 hours in a hangar with no air conditioning, waiting for my turn to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Jumping out of an Army airplane is a lot different than skydiving. At Airborne school, you use what is called a static line. Basically, it’s a giant rope that is attached to your back, and when you jump out of the plane, it automatically pulls your parachute.
The plane only flies at 800 feet, so it is a very, very short drop. The plan is that you have all the people in the line jump one after another, and then you quickly land to the ground. After you jump out of the plane, you count 4 seconds, and if your chute malfunctions, you pull your reserve parachute. If that one doesn’t work, you go splat on the 8th second.
Really fun stuff. Did I mention that I am afraid of heights?
So, there I am, standing second in line. Watching the drop zone whiz by below me. I am guessing that I looked less than thrilled in that moment, and the sergeant airborne walked over to me and said:
“Hey Charlie, once you get to that doorway, you better jump. If you pause for a second, my boot will do the rest.”
His words were just the nudge I needed. Moments later, off I jumped.
My parachute opened fine, and a few moments later, I crashed to the ground on the hot Georgia dirt. I couldn’t believe people actually did this for fun. So, who the heck thought of doing this in the first place?
Turns out, it was a man named André-Jacques Garnerin.
On today’s episode, we will learn about André-Jacques and the origins of skydiving. And we’re going to talk about nudges. Like the nudge I got from my sergeant airborne, and how you can give your customers the nudge they need to accomplish what they might be afraid of.
We will hear from Meggie Palmer, founder and CEO of PepTalkHer, who has paved the way for thousands of others to take a different type of leap. One that might be scary—but is ultimately very rewarding.
Meggie Palmer: Honestly, I started PepTalkHer because I was really frustrated. I was so annoyed. I had an experience in my career where I found out that my pay and conditions were very different from that of my comparable male colleagues at the same level.
Ian: Get ready to take a leap of faith. Because today, we’re talking about how to give your customers a little nudge.
Narrator: Welcome to Often Imitated, a podcast about remarkable experiences from the past and how they inspire people to create great customer experiences today.
This episode is all about giving your customers the nudge they need to succeed. How skydiving has done that for 300 years, and how cx leaders can implement the same ideas today. In this episode, we talk to Meggie Palmer, Founder and CEO of PepTalkHer, about how her company is working tirelessly to end the wage gap and arming their customers to close it for themselves. But first, a word from our sponsors.
Often Imitated is brought to you by the generous support of our friends at Oracle. Creating data-powered, seamless marketing experiences that delight your customers. To learn more, go to Oracle.com/cx.
Ian: André-Jacques Garnerin was most likely an adrenaline junky. Unfortunately for him, the 18th century was not known for its extreme sports. It was more Mozart than Motocross. So, he had to invent his own way.
Base jumping was linked to China as early as the 1100s, and obviously, Leonardo DaVinci had sketched blueprints of a parachute. But it was André-Jacques who actually made the first skydiving jump from a hot air balloon.
In 1797, André-Jacques stepped into the basket of a hot air balloon and began to ascend. When he was high enough, he disconnected the balloon and began to fall. He used a canvas canopy that extended out like a giant umbrella. His basket rocked back and forth violently, but he didn’t quite tip over, and he crashed to the ground. Slowly, André-Jacques emerged from the basket, shaken but unharmed.
And over time, others built upon what he did.
The first free-fall jump with a ripcord to release the parachute wasn’t made until Leslie Irvin invented it in 1919. The next great leap (pun intended) for skydiving didn’t occur until after World War 2.
During the war, thousands of men were jumping from airplanes as paratroopers. Those men, coincidentally, learned to jump out of planes on the same towers that I used over 60 years later. Though they were jumping out of necessity, some found that they enjoyed the thrill, and so in 1947, the National Parachute Jumpers and Riggers was created.
These thrill-seekers wanted to share their newfound passion. As time went on, they invited friends and started businesses to open the sport of skydiving to the casual consumer. Unfortunately, they had found out the hard way that many inexperienced jumpers got cold feet when it came time to jump.
These people wanted to jump, and they’ve gone through all the trouble to gear up, but they just needed a little push.
With that in mind, we wanted to find another example of a place where a CX leader is giving others that little push that they need in order to achieve something they’ve always wanted to.
We found such a story with Meggie Palmer, founder and CEO of PepTalkHer.
Meggie: There are three major issues. The first one is that typically, we see that women are going into roles that maybe don’t pay as much as roles where men maybe go into in higher numbers. For example, there are more women in nursing, teaching, and childcare, which are lower-paying jobs, for example, than finance or rocket science and that kind of thing.
That’s because of the way that we’re socialized as kids. There’s an example that I like to use. My mother’s a teacher, and she tells the story of the playground, where she sees a little girl on the monkey bars on the playground hanging upside down, with her knees and a skirt over her head. Teachers will go over to that little girl and say, “Darling, hop down. Hop down, darling. Your underwear is showing, and it’s a bit embarrassing”.
Whereas, if a little boy did that, that’s not the response that we would have because they’re not wearing a skirt. So, their undies aren’t showing and whatever.
This is a really small example, but you can see how at a really young age, the way that we’re treated, and it’s not on purpose, it’s unconscious, but the way that we’re treated is quite different. And so, what happens is, throughout the course of our life, the way we’re perceived and the way we perceive ourselves and our choices are quite different.
We see that women are going into roles that often aren’t paid as well. That’s one of the reasons for the gap. The other reason for the pay gap is that we see that women typically take more time out of the workforce. They might have children and take some time off, or maybe they have caring responsibilities for elderly parents and things like that.
So that contributes to the pay gap, those two issues. And then the third thing that is the other contributing factor to the pay gap is unconscious bias and discrimination. And that is that behavior that is not intentional necessarily. It is systemic, and it is magnified every year that gap isn’t closed.
Ian: Unlike skydiving, this nudge isn’t just for adults. Research has demonstrated something called the “dream gap.” It shows that starting at age five, a lot of girls start to think that they aren’t as smart and capable as boys. So, they start to develop self-limiting beliefs. Some companies, like Mattel, are working to fix that in little girls, while PepTalkHer is working to fix that in women.
Meggie: I started PepTalkHer because I was really frustrated. I was so annoyed. I had an experience in my career where I found out that my paying conditions were very different from that of my comparable male colleagues at the same level. I’m a child of the ’80s, and I was raised to think that girls can do anything, and I naively bought this notion that equality was a thing. When I realized that in my situation, it wasn’t equal, I was so shocked that I asked the question. I asked about it because I just assumed it was a mistake. Turns out, that didn’t go down so well, which, again, was a bit of a shock to me.
I suppose it was at that point in my career that the blinkers came off, and I was like, “Oh, Okay. There is, in my case, a large bit of bias against women in the workplace.”
And I started researching it and, of course, came to realize that the gender pay gap sits at around 20 percent, which is offensive.
Then there are other issues as well, right? We see and hear from a lot of women in the PepTalkHer community who were sacked while they were pregnant. Or they haven’t had a raise in six or seven years. And as you know, with inflation, that means they’re literally going backward. When I came to realize the data and the trends that were happening, the fact that it’s going to take a couple of hundred years for equality to come into play, I just wasn’t really willing to accept that.
So, I was really pissed off, and I wanted to do something about it and help create some change.
I think a lot of people that start companies, it comes from their own frustration or their own experience, and they kind of want to change it. In my case, inequality always annoyed me. I can even remember being a kid and getting in trouble for something that I didn’t do, and that annoyed me then. Five years old, and it still annoys me now to this day.
When I had that experience when I was discriminated against, I actually found it quite a stressful situation. On reflection, there are things that I could have done that would have been better. There are tips and tricks that would have really helped me to handle the situation better and certainly would have made it less stressful.
After I went through that experience, people would come to me for advice. They would ask me for help with how to negotiate for themselves and how to raise the issue of unequal pay in their workforce. So, I found myself giving advice to people. And a lot of this advice is not necessarily rocket science. It’s simple stuff, but sometimes we forget to do it. And when we’re in a heightened sense of emotion, and it’s about our pay and our conditions, we get very emotionally attached. And sometimes, you just need someone to take the emotion out of it for you and give you a script and say, “you need to do a, B and C.”
And so, I found that I was doing that, but that’s sort of only as scalable as my time is. Right. And I thought to myself, I was like, “the advice that I give is relatively rinse and repeat.”
And I used to be a journalist, and I knew that there were all these Aussies in Silicon Valley doing cool things with rinse and repeat in technology, and I was like, maybe I could use tech to scale a way to solve this problem.
I started ruminating on the idea, and fast forward a couple of years, and here we are, we’ve, we’ve launched the app and had an event with Vogue, and we’re now building out the second iteration, which is really a corporate version of our product to help support employees within large corporations as well.
Ian: What Meggie saw was thousands of women who wanted to take control of their careers and thousands of allies who wanted to help. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite know where to start or what to do. And even if they did, they sometimes lacked the courage and self-belief to act on it.
With PepTalkHer, Meggie is giving people the little push they need to get started and become stronger, more assertive, and more confident.
Meggie: I interviewed dozens and dozens of mid-career professional women because that’s really the audience that we target, 25 to 50-year-old professional women.
That was our initial target market, and so I spoke to them. I said, “Listen, what do you do at the moment when you have a great win at work or when you get some good feedback from your boss? What do you do?”
About 20% of people that we interviewed said to me, “I have an email folder where I drag and drop all my positive email feedback into this one folder. And when I go in for my performance review, I print them out, and I take them with me”.
So that’s what some people did. Maybe 10% of people had a notepad. They kicked it old school, and they wrote things down. And then there was 70% of people that we interviewed, and they did nothing. They didn’t track their success.
They didn’t keep a note of the data points where they added value at work. They didn’t take photos of the thank you cards from clients or screenshot emails from their bosses congratulating them. They did nothing. And they would sort of prepare for a performance review in a mad panic, five minutes beforehand.
So, what happens when there is no preparation? Of course, we know that the results are not as great. This 70% of people that we interviewed who had no dossier of achievements, no tracking throughout the year, were very stressed. When it came to a performance review, they didn’t feel comfortable or confident asking for raises and promotions.
And they were quite stressed about that, and they kind of didn’t know what to do. So, they did nothing. So, when I think about it from a customer journey perspective, it’s hard, right? Because we’re trying to change the behavior. People are doing nothing right now, so we’re trying to change that behavior.
So that’s quite challenging. Where we started from was trying to help support the 30% of people who already tracked things because they already had that behavior and mindset baked in. We just became the place where they could track it all in one place. They could do it from their phone on the subway while they’re waiting for a doctor’s appointment. It was very easy to enter it into an app and keep track of it, you know? So, we started with those people, and now, obviously, we want everyone to be using the app. We encourage everyone to reflect at least weekly on the successes that you’ve had because if you do that every weekend, what happens is at the end of the year, you’ve got 30, 40, 50, or 60 achievements in the one place.
Part of the product is you can basically press a button, and it will email it to you in a format that you can then print out and take with you so that you’ve got that tangible evidence there to kind of draw on when you’re having those conversations and when you have to justify why you deserve the raise, why you’ve added value to the team and why you should be promoted.
Ian: With all these little nudges that PepTalkHer gives its customers, it’s no wonder why their clients succeed so much. It’s a risk worth taking, and their customers prove it.
But with each different nudge comes a new world of possibilities.
(8:41) I think founders often don’t think about “how do I want someone to feel when they interact with my product?” But actually, if we all started from that premise, I think it would really change the way that we designed products. And for me, at PepTalkHer, when we were building the product, my first question was, “how is this going to align with our values?” And our core value is really about making an impact. And we want everyone who interacts with pep talker, with the app, with our corporate training, with anyone on my team, without an Instagram account. We want everyone to leave that interaction better than when they walked into it.
So that’s, that’s the frame with which we make all of our decisions. When we think about that from a customer experience perspective, it’s really important to me that people, when they engage with PepTalkHer, that they feel supported, that they feel uplifted, that they feel empowered, that they feel that there’s a path forward, that there’s a formula they can follow that will help them. They feel like they’ve got a cheer squad on their side and that they frankly start to feel and really know and understand that value. Because what we found from our research with our thousands of customers was that people didn’t believe that they had the value, and so they weren’t asking for the money or for the promotion.
Until you can solve for that initial mindset, it’s very hard to change the behavior around negotiation or to put your hand up for promotions and stuff like that, which by the way, is only going to solve a part of the problem. So, we are a part of the way that the gender pay gap will be solved.
We need the support of governments and companies as well, but we certainly want to help at that grassroots level. So, when people use the product, we want them to feel like they’ve got someone who’s got their back. Like they’ve got a cheer squad cheering them on and like they can see the light at the end of the tunnel and that they can do it and that it is possible.
What we see is when we work with fortune 500 companies, they often have really great ideas of things that they want to do and how they want to support their staff, but they don’t know where to start.
In terms of the customer experience, when they work with us, we like to think that we provide them with a roadmap, a very clear set of directions that we’re going from a to B. And along the way, you can make a couple of stops. You can choose which stop you want to make, but we’re going to make this journey very easy for you.
It’s going to be a very easy ride. We’re going to bring a picnic. We’re going to fill the car up. We’ll do it all for you, and you just get on board and come along for the journey. So often, when we’re working with, say, for example, we work with a lot of global women’s networks, and often it’s volunteer-led within the organization.
And they’re expected to come up with content that’s research-backed. They’re expected to run multiple events a month on top of doing their day job. And so, they’ll come to us, and we’ll basically take that stress off their plate. We’ll give them a menu. They’ll tick the programs that they want us to run, and we’ll organize them, facilitate them, execute them, and provide pre and post-surveys, events, and follow-up resources so that it’s easy.
Our mission when we’re working with our corporate clients is that we take the stress away and that we make a real impact. And such that their employees leave our training programs more confident, more empowered, and with a better skill set than when we started working with them.
We’ve got an NPS of more than nine out of 10, and we’re really proud of that. And we’re yet to turn any clients over the last couple of years. So, we work with companies on a long-term basis, and we think it’s because we set out very clear expectations of how we can help, we follow through on that, and also we actually care, and we have a really great relationship personally, with all of our clients.
And I think when you think about customer experience, it has to start with relationships. And I know that when you scale and you have millions of users, it’s harder to keep that sort of personal touch.
But we really, we work very hard at that because I think that that makes us stand out from the crowd. People are not just a client for us. We’re really invested in their success and the success of their business and their employees. And we try and let them know. We do little things. Like, we send them handwritten notes, and we’ll try and send birthday cards. It’s a bit old school, but it’s what we try and do to stand out and really just create those really strong relationships.
Ian: As you can tell, I served Airborne school. I made my five mandatory jumps, and two of them were even at night.
And I haven’t jumped out of a plane since.
But I faced my fears and did it. And one of the things that helped me along were all my sisters and brothers that were going through it with me. My battle buddies.
The people that ran around in the hot Georgia sun with me, that jumped endlessly into the gravel pits, that gave me encouragement.
When you are doing something really hard, it’s important to have allies. To have people that you can count on.
Meggie: One of the things that is so powerful is when allies are really open and up for the challenge of having hard conversations and who really believe in equality. It’s one thing to believe in equality, and I think it’s another thing to sort of take action.
And there’s a wonderful example that I love, and that is Chadwick, Boseman of Black Panther. A couple of years ago, he was in a film with Sienna Miller, and he took a pay cut so that she could be paid equally to him. To me, that is such an amazing show of allyship from someone who believes that to create change, you know, we have to be the leaders of that. I mean, firstly, it’s outrageous that there wasn’t going to be equal pay in the first place, but that aside he took the initiative to say, you know what, this is the right thing to do, and I’m willing to do that.
There are examples in my career, certainly when people have been allies like that in the sense of sponsoring me or putting me forward for opportunities. And I think increasingly, the role of allies, particularly in the corporate world, is really important. Because it’s one thing for me to ask companies to have a conversation around equal pay and around equality of pay between people from different cultural backgrounds, but it’s another thing altogether for an executive to raise that. It’s another thing altogether for male executives to raise that, or male or female juniors within companies for that matter. Right.
People expect now that companies live their values. And I think most companies, particularly in the United States, would say that they value equality and that they want their people to feel that they work for a company that values treating people equally, and pay is certainly one of those examples of how a company can really lead by example.
Ian: In a big surprise for his time, André-Jacques Garnerin was quite the ally as well. Once he completed that first jump in 1797, he publicly vowed that his second jump would include a woman as a passenger.
The press and the public were excited by the idea, but the police thought they should get involved. André-Jacques was forced to appear in front of them and make his case for why a woman should be allowed to take on the same risks as a man.
The police argued that the reduced air pressure of that height would have a negative effect on the “delicate female body” and that she might faint at that height. They also thought that there would be negative moral implications of a man standing so close to a woman. Although André-Jacques argued that a woman would be fine for every obvious reason, the police issued an injunction against him and forbade the whole event.
The injunction was eventually overturned because they figured standing close in the basket was close to being equivalent to a man and a woman sharing a carriage. And so, André-Jacques found his partner, Citoyenne Henri. On the 8th of July, 1798, the two of them made a jump similar to the one he had made before, and neither was injured.
André-Jacques would go on to marry Jeanne Geneviève, who, in 1799, became the first woman to ascend solo and make a parachute descent from 3,000 feet. And it turns out that her “delicate female body” was just fine.
But the Citoyennes and the Jeannes of the world—as qualified as they are—don’t always have an André-Jacque to advocate for them and help them make a leap of their own. And that’s where PepTalkHer comes in.
Meggie: if we think about what companies are looking for, they’re looking for you to achieve what’s in your job description. So, you can have a look at your job description, and then you can create templates in PepTalkHer and match up your achievements to that.
That’s the first thing, but then what else do companies want? They want you to go above and beyond. So, do you do thought leadership for the company over and above what’s expected of you? Do you contribute to the culture? Do you negotiate on behalf of the company? And this is one of the things I always say to our clients.
If your team can negotiate, sure. They might negotiate a bigger salary from you, that’s absolutely right. But they’re also going to negotiate a better deal on any mergers and acquisitions that they’re working on, they’re going to negotiate a better deal for the bar where you’re having a holiday party, and even your administrative staff are going to negotiate better with staples when they’re buying paper in bulk. There are so many ways that you can be contributing and adding value to your company that is sort of tangential to maybe the day-to-day of your job. So, thinking about that and getting really creative.
So, for example, one of the users of our app who got a $15,000 raise recently, she had developed an intern program for her team that wasn’t in her job description, but she did that. And as a result of that, they hired one of the interns, so they didn’t need to use a recruiter. So, she’s essentially saved the company $30,000.
That’s a lot of value that she’s contributed over and above her day-to-day job. So, thinking really creatively and just being really disciplined and recording it on a weekly basis. The other part of your question is why should companies engage in this conversation in this day and age?
The PepTalkHer app is free. It’s intentionally free because that is aligned with our value of creating an impact. And the way that we monetize is through our work with fortune 500 companies and high-growth tech companies. And they bring us in to run professional development training programs for their teams because they know if their staff are happy and if their staff is fulfilled, and if their staff is learning, they’ll stay.
They work with us. And what they manage to do is they improve the culture, they improve their retention, and they reduce their churn. So, they are, in effect, saving money through their recruiting costs and through the fact that they’re not losing that institutional knowledge. So, I think the best practice that the top-performing companies realize is that culture and people are so important. Even in this current economic climate, there is still a war for the best talent.
What we see is that fortune 100 and fortune 200 company clients are fighting to create the best possible culture such that people want to stay. And they want to work really hard. There’s a statistic that says that millennial employees actually value professional development more than bonuses, which is quite interesting. I think that companies are realizing that and saying, “Well, let’s plow that investment into upskilling our team so that they perform better for us, but also so that they’re happier.”
Ian: We learned in our In-N-Out episode how important investing in your employees is and how that translates into how they interact with your customers. As we empower our female employees, they can continue to excel.
The first step to that empowerment comes from a nudge that’s pretty straightforward.
(14:44) Listen, pay transparency is one of the biggest contributing factors to the ongoing perpetuation of the gender pay gap because if it’s not out in the open, we can’t talk about it. And We’ve seen this happen, for example, in London. The BBC, where I actually used to work years ago, they released the salaries of people earning over a certain amount of money.
I think it was around 200 or 300,000 US dollars per year. They released those salaries because it was government money and all of a sudden, what that did was make it very clear and apparent to a lot of the female talents working at the BBC that they were massively underpaid. In some cases, they were paid half of their male counterparts.
And so, it’s actually very, very powerful because information is power. When we have that information, we can ask questions, we can advocate for change, and we can say, “Hey, listen. If I’m not being paid, that tells me what I need to do so that I can be, how can I improve so that I can get there”.
So, I actually think pay that is not transparent serves the employer because it allows them to not have a lot of hard conversations.
And it’s one of those things. Some people are quite uncomfortable with pay transparency. And I think that’s because, as a society, we’ve been conditioned to be uncomfortable talking about money. It’s not polite. It wasn’t good manners when I was growing up to talk about money.
And I think that has to change. I’d love to challenge you. After you’ve heard this podcast, ask the question. You know, jump on a text, jump on a WhatsApp or whatever, to someone who you trust and respect and say, “Hey, I’ve just been listening to this podcast about pay transparency.
I was wondering, do you want to, should we be open with each other about our pay bands so that we can hold each other accountable and kind of push to get to the salaries that we’d love to?”.
And what I always say to people is if you feel uncomfortable talking about pay, there are ways that you can frame it in a way that’s a little easier. Asking about ranges can be a great way to start the conversation. For our community, we have a course that we run to help people on their pathway to promotion. And one of the things that they do as part of that course is to reach out to some salary assistants.
They have to have three people that they connect with multiple times a year where they talk about money and pay because we need to really take the stigma away from talking about money if we want to get serious about closing the gap from a gender perspective. And certainly, the pay gap is worse for people of color.
I think that it’s really important that we all start talking about money, so there is more of a conversation around it so that we can hopefully get some change a little sooner.
Ian: As we nudge our customers to take action, we give them the ability to succeed. It’s easy to think of a customer experience as a show. We perform, and the customer observes. But as Meggie’s example goes to show, the best customer experiences go far beyond that.
We can empower our customers to take their own action. We can challenge them to dream bigger, and we can give them the tools they need to succeed.
It might be scary, like jumping out of a plane or reading a story with French names when you can’t speak French—but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Everyone is ready to be the hero of their own story, but sometimes, they just need a little nudge.
This is your host, Ian Faison. Thank you for listening to another episode of Often Imitated. This podcast was narrated by me, Ian Faison, and produced by Mackey Wilson, Ezra Bakker Trupiano, and Ben Wilson.
This podcast is brought to you by the generous support of our friends at Oracle, creating data-powered, seamless marketing experiences that delight your customers. To learn more, go to Oracle.com/cx.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.