Avoiding Confirmation Bias in Customer Surveys

Yesterday I read an article that instantly reminded me of my days as a student when I was involved at Christmas time with an archaeological dig near my home town, and this got me thinking.

Over one hundred years ago the world was stunned by the discovery of ‘Piltdown Man,’ later revealed as the most famous hoax in British archaeology.

The find was a prehistoric skull believed to be the earliest evidence yet known of human life. At the time this human skull originally found in Sussex was regarded as presenting a hitherto unknown species of ‘homo’.

Until the 1950’s when it was discovered to be the biggest archaeological hoax in history, all previous scientific research appears to have aimed to confirm this belief rather than disprove it.

It was not until 1953 that this skull was produced and re-examined by scientists. The evidence of fake could be seen immediately. And so the years of belief was challenged.

The fact that it took more than four decades for the hoax to be exposed is a bit of an embarrassment for science, but understandable given the limited technology and techniques available at the time of Piltdown Man’s discovery. The case also serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of ‘confirmation bias’

Confirmation bias is a phenomenon wherein decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or under weigh evidence that could dis-confirm their hypothesis. Many of these biases are often studied for how they affect business and economic decisions.

So, with this in mind what does confirmation bias mean to customer feedback?

We need to ensure that when seeking customer feedback and especially when it involves verbatim comments, that we seek an open and honest evaluation, and not seek to influence it towards our own views. Otherwise we risk undermining strategic and tactical initiatives.

Confirmation biases contribute to overconfidence in personal beliefs and can maintain or strengthen beliefs in the face of contrary evidence. So often poor decisions in business can be due to these biases, and these have been found in military, political, and organizational contexts everywhere.

So the next time you set about gathering customer feedback either on line through surveys, via social media, or face to face forums, double check that you are not being influenced by ‘confirmation bias.’

For further information on voice of the customer strategies and how to develop loyalty building experiences contact measureup@thecutomersshoes.com

Author: Cheryl Gregory is Managing Director of niche customer experience consultancy firm The Customer’s Shoes Ltd. Cheryl and her team help organisations pave their way to delivering great customer experiences. Clients are typically SME’s and blue chip organisations that have the desire to become famous for delighting their customers across all channels. If you believe your customers deserve better then take the first step towards true customer loyalty and put yourself in The Customer’s Shoes. Tel: 0845 5480228 or email measureup@thecustomersshoes.com and visit www.thecustomersshoes.com

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