Have you ever received a phone call; “Hello, can I just take 5 minutes of your time to answer a few questions, and you will be entered into our monthly prize draw when we are done?”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Response_bias

The natural first reaction is “No thanks”, because who really likes to complete surveys and questionnaires. But if we can get passed that initial reaction and we get into the survey, the answers to the questions could have an element of bias that you are not even aware of.

The way that you, and your customers answer questions needs to be considered, especially if you will be using the information within to guide marketing spend or product expansion.

If someone asks you “How often do you drink alcohol?” for example, you might have a glass of wine every night with your meal and be a very sensible drinker. Do you want someone else knowing that you drink alcohol every day?

“How much do you spend on entertainment?”. Well, you might have a good job, and earn a lot of money, and be able to spend £1,000 a month on entertainment, but that is a luxury that others can’t afford, so do you want them knowing? These might be extremes, but they are examples of Response Bias that needs to be considered during surveys.

Some of the different forms of Response Bias are:

  1. Social Desirability Bias

Here people think “Why am I being asked this question and what is the best answer to give?” They may think that they are helping you, or they are giving a false impression of who they are so that they fit into the mould of your perfect customer.

Matching the language, body language or phrases used from the person asking the questions can influence the answers given, so there is a need to remain professional and neutral when asking or writing the questions.

People generally want to be seen in a good light, as a good person, who fits into character or into the personality that matches the brand.  People give false answers because they don’t want other people to think badly of them.

  • Demand Bias

These answers come from the purpose of the study. If the study is about animals, the respondent could think that they have to be seen as caring for animals. Yeah, I have 2 dogs and 3 cats…… but in reality, they might have had a pet rabbit when they were younger!

If the survey is about your product and website people might say that they visit it regularly, or they might start offering graphic design tips and hints.  Some people might start to consider themselves as an expert in the areas included in the survey.  This can give false answers or wrong data.

  • Extreme Bias

When given a range of 1 means that you never experience this thing, and 5 means that you experience it every day, some people like to choose 1 or 5, when the answer might be a 2 or 3 or 4. Moving from the Neutral to the extreme.

It has been proven that there ae cultural, educational and age-related impacts on these types of responses. If someone has an extreme view they might give extreme answers.  If the topic of the survey happened to someone just that day, the issue is in their mind, and could lead to extreme views.

  • Neutral Bias

This is the opposite of Extreme Bias.  When presented with an option of 1 to 5, people who are neutral just choose number 3 for everything. They have no opinion on anything, and just want to hide behind neutrality.

Everyone has an opinion on something, but here people hide that opinion behind the safety of “Number 3”.

  • Agreement Bias or Acquiescence Bias

Finding the most agreeable answer to the question being presented and choosing it, so the survey is finished faster can mean that people contradict themselves during surveys. If the survey has a question like “Are you out-going or introverted?” and later they have a question like “Do you prefer to party, or stay at home?” and if the respondents choose opposite answers, it is clear that they are not partaking in the survey and giving accurate answers.

So if Bias is such a problem how can you work around it and remove it from your surveys to get the best and most useful results?

To give a high level summary might help:

  1. Avoid leading questions.
  2. Know who your audience is and who you are asking to complete your questions and adapt it accordingly
  3. Use a range of types of questions from yes, no questions to scoring out of 10, to open ended questions and questions with options.  Keeping the respondent engaged helps to generate well thought out answers.  Just presenting a tick box exercise, people will run down it as quickly as possible.
  4. Remaining neutral and not putting your own emotions or thoughts into the questions. If the respondents feel like they have to please you, their answers will be wrong, and the data gathered will not be useful.

There are several tools on the internet for generating surveys, and if you are calling people to ask them the questions, get your phone script right before you start. Bias can mean a lot of wasted time and energy. Bias can ruin a well planned survey and can give data that your company can not use.  

Be organized and focused with your planning, your questions and the reasons for doing the survey, so that you can guide your company or marketing strategy to success.

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