Customer Satisfaction Surveys: The 5 Most Common Biases

How to avoid the 5 most common survey biases.

How you ask your customer satisfaction survey questions impacts your customer feedback results more than you might think. Here are the major ways you could be unconsciously biasing your survey and a few tips for improvement.

Customer Satisfaction Survey Bias #1: Leading Questions and Phrases

Leading questions and phrases are the words you (sometimes unconsciously) use that tell the customer what responses you want to hear. Frequent examples of this include disclaimers at the beginning of customer satisfaction surveys like:

  • “We pride ourselves on our excellent customer service”
  • “We want you to be 100% satisfied”
  • “We’re calling because we want to make sure we are doing great!”

Solution: Instead of telling customers that you want to provide excellent customer service, tell them that you are interested in hearing everything they have to say.

Customer Satisfaction Survey Bias #2: Loaded and Double-Barreled Questions

Loaded questions force the customer to buy into your presupposition before they even answer your question. For instance, “How easy was it to find what you were looking for today?” presumes that the customer found what they were looking for.

The double-barreled question asks two questions in one, e.g., “Would you like more investment options and high-interest accounts?” Perhaps the customer doesn’t want more investment options, but does want high-interest accounts. Both loaded and double-barreled questions force customers into approximations and generalizations that lead to inaccurate conclusions, not an improved customer experience.

Solution: Use impartial phrasing and separate questions into bite-size chunks.

Customer Satisfaction Survey Bias #3: Multiple Choice Questions

Questions that force the customer to choose from a prescribed set of answers lead to results that, while easy to analyze, can mask the truth. The basic problem with multiple choice questions is that the set of answers is predefined and conceivably, these ready-made answers are not the ones that truly describe customers’ situations.

Solution: Incorporate open-ended questions into your survey and develop a way to comb narrative responses for valuable insights. Also, be sure to provide customers with a ‘Not Applicable’ option so that when questions aren't relevant, your customers don’t resort to “eenie, meenie, miny, moe.”

Customer Satisfaction Survey Bias #4: Corporate Language

We all get caught up in our own jargon and priorities. But when it comes to preparing a survey, check your Corporatese at the door.

For example, a Radisson Hotels survey asked guests to rate hotel staff on their “Yes I Can!® spirit.” While the “Yes I Can!® spirit” is a founding principle of Radisson’s customer service program, the phrase means nothing to their customers. As a result, customers answer in a way that has no bearing on the actual “Yes I Can”-ness of the Radisson employees.

Solution: Get to know your customers and incorporate the ways they actually speak into the wording of your customer satisfaction surveys. In addition, use an outsider to check for any departmental or organizational verbiage that has crept into your survey.

Customer Satisfaction Survey Bias #5: Tone

This is a special consideration for surveys conducted over the phone or in person. Tone refers to how your surveyor asks the questions. When surveyors emphasize words with their pacing or volume, they show customers which responses they desire. In turn, customers often aim to please and in so doing, misrepresent their actual feelings.

Solution: One of the best controls is to record your surveys and listen for changes in tone. Then, rehearse question delivery with staff until all parts of each question are presented neutrally.


Learn more: find out how to avoid the 2 biggest survey sampling errors.

For free, find out if your sample has biases with a Satisfaction Survey Evaluation from Interaction Metrics. We’ll analyze your survey for biases and flaws. If we find problems, we’ll make recommendations.

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