Lies And The Lying — Survey Takers Who Tell Them

Ok, I couldn’t help myself here. I’m playing off the title of a great satirical book by Al Franken, a comedian who later became the Democratic Senator for the State of Minnesota. According to the experts, and Franken would agree, we’re all a bunch of liars. If you don’t believe me, google it. The only item in dispute is the number of times per day we lie. The range seems to be anywhere from twice a day to 200 times per day. That’s a lot of lying…

“Honey, do I look fat in this outfit?”

Dr. Phil (Sorry, but that’s my source) describes our lying in terms of personal relationships. He lists several reasons for this behavior, including our attempts to:

  • Escape accountability
  • Avoid punishment
  • Gain an advantage

Fortunately, many of our relationship lies are white lies. They’re told to spare the feelings of our loved ones and to keep us out of the doghouse (or off the couch).

But our personal relationship lies are only one part of our lying behavior. We lie to coworkers and strangers, too. Consider our recent presidential election. Almost all polls predicted a Hillary victory.

What happened?

Pollsters and pundits alike have been scratching their heads since Nov. 8th and there are multiple theories:

Sample Errors

The first theory suggests the pollsters did not have representative samples to begin with. It seems unlikely the major polls got this wrong – many of them have been conducting these polls for decades. It will be interesting to see if any of them change their selection methods before the mid-term elections.

Voter Turnout

There is some dispute about whether the overall voter turnout was greater in 2016 than in the 2008 or 2012 general elections (apparently the experts do not agree on the number of eligible voters in the US.) But there is no dispute about the demographics – a greater percentage of Republicans voted in 2016.

Herding Effect

This one is fascinating – pollsters cheat, too. When an organization’s polling results are vastly different from others’ results, they might skew their own numbers!

People Lie

This one could have been the main reason the pollsters got it wrong. There is a common belief that many respondents failed to admit their preference for Trump.

In all likelihood there were multiple factors contributing to the failure to accurately predict the presidential outcome. I suspect the 2016 election will become a case study for college students in the years to come.

What does this have to do with consumer surveys? Everything.

If you have a large population to choose from, the first three of the above challenges are fairly easy to control. You can increase the sample size if the response rate is low and you can ensure you aren’t skewing your own results.

But what about the lying?

Do our customers lie on customer satisfaction surveys? If we believe the psychology experts, the answer is ‘yes.’ But why? There is no reason to lie on a customer satisfaction survey. Nothing ‘bad’ will happen to you if you say you will buy a particular product or service in the future even if you have no intention of doing so; Nothing bad will happen if you ‘break up’ with a brand during a rant then continue to buy their products/services the following day either.

Some consumer behavior doesn’t make sense, or does it?

After a long, stressful day at work are you more likely to take your frustrations out on a brand that cheerfully asks you to complete yet another short survey when all you want to do is order a pair of shoes and go home?

Part of the problem with customer satisfaction surveys has to do with the shear volume.  Sometimes they feel like a bad horror flick – they’re everywhere.  This ultimately results in survey fatigue for the consumer. The reality is that today’s shoppers want personalized experiences – they assume their favorite brands should already know what they think and want.

Another problem is respondents’ attempts to ‘gain advantage’ – the lie we use in our personal relationships. Many people will provide ‘good’ feedback because they believe it will increase their chance of getting some future benefit. This is especially true when the brand offers an extremely attractive incentive for their feedback. I’m not implying the respondent should not be incentivized, but the reward should not be the key driver, especially in the case of customer sat surveys.

Finally, some customers are people pleasers – they tell us what they think we want to hear.

Select your respondents

Does this mean we shouldn’t conduct customer satisfaction surveys?

Not at all. But it means we need to be smarter about how we use them. Customer satisfaction surveys will continue to provide us with valuable information, but they need to be used in conjunction with other methods of gathering feedback.