Bain & Company’s Rob Markey says “no” to customer anonymity. But it’s not so clear.

Clients often ask: do we need to allow for customer anonymity in our surveys?

Market researchers generally provide the option for customer anonymity so that respondents who might otherwise feel embarrassed or fear reprisal can answer honestly. In the context of sensitive employee feedback like DEI surveys and engagement surveys, most researchers consider the option for anonymity to be essential.

But in our recent CXPA workshop roundtable on NPS for B2B companies, Bain’s Rob Markey disputed that premise.

A Bain & Company veteran of more than 30 years, Markey is the co-inventor of NPS and created Bain’s approach to customer centricity. He recently wrote Are You Undervaluing Your Customers? and founded Bain’s Customer Strategy and Marketing practice.

Rob Markey shared his insights last month during a wide-ranging CXPA roundtable conversation where we discussed how to meet decision-makers’ needs and weigh feedback from various groups.

Market researchers generally provide the option for customer anonymity so that respondents who might otherwise feel embarrassed or fear reprisal can answer honestly.

Our next B2B Customer Experience roundtable on June 27 will cover an AI Case Study with special guests Leslie Pagel and Lynn Dumas. If it’s anything like my conversation with Rob, it’s sure to be a lively discussion. Register here!

Back to Rob Markey: Building the Customer Relationship

Our conversation was fascinating, but Rob’s argument against customer anonymity was a highlight.

One of Markey’s core CX objectives is that the main goal of soliciting customer feedback should be to enhance a company’s relationship with its customers. Further, he recommends that the Net Promoter Survey should be the jumping-off point for additional conversations.

Of course, those conversations are impossible if the customer chooses to give feedback anonymously — hence Markey’s position that anonymity is counterproductive.

It’s important to note here the difference between anonymity and confidentiality in the context of customer surveys.

  • Anonymity means that no one can associate your answers with any of your identifying information.
  • Confidentiality means that your answers can be associated with your identifying information, but that information will not be disseminated and will be stored in a secure manner.
Offering the option for survey takers to choose anonymity if they wish is a sound business practice and leads to higher quality, more factual customer survey data.

I’ve often said that follow-up conversations with survey participants is a huge advantage, mainly because customers can let their hair down and expand on topics in a way they simply can’t within the confines of a survey.

And yet, offering the option for survey takers to choose anonymity if they wish is a sound business practice and leads to higher quality, more factual customer survey data.

The Need for Customer Anonymity

When provided the option, roughly half of all survey participants will choose to give anonymous feedback. Therefore, excluding this option impacts the sample size and skews the data itself.

In smaller surveys, losing half of the participants for the sake of insisting customers identify themselves means the response rate can become statistically invalid.

While Rob argues that the quality of feedback between the anonymous and non-anonymous respondents is nearly identical, our data from many years of surveys finds anonymous respondents consistently give lower scores than those who choose to be named.

And if survey respondents are required to identify themselves, it can lead to social desirability bias. This is the tendency to answer based on how others view you rather than the truth.

Furthermore, some clients will only agree to participate in a survey if they can give anonymous feedback. For instance, large corporations may have legal and PR policies preventing them from participating in customer experience surveys unless they are guaranteed strict anonymity.

When provided the option, roughly half of all survey participants will choose to give anonymous feedback. Therefore, excluding this option impacts the sample size and skews the data itself.

Promote Honest Dialogue

Markey views customer experience surveys through the lens of promoting honest and open dialogue in a B2B partnership.

Other market researchers see the decision to offer customer anonymity as the right thing to do for respondents. In research, it’s the norm.

So, should customer surveys be anonymous?

At the end of the day, the decision whether or not to allow anonymous feedback comes down to what’s right for the client and their business.

If you’d like to participate in more interesting CX conversations like this one with the always brilliant Rob Markey, get notified of our B2B Customer Experience Roundtable events here.

In Sum: Should Customer Surveys be Anonymous?

Bain & Company’s Rob Markey says “no” to customer anonymity. But it’s not so clear.

 

Categories: Customer Satisfaction Surveys
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