4 Types of Survey Bias and How to Handle Them

Luke Carlino Luke Carlino · 7 min read

Minimize survey bias from affecting your results by knowing how to create a customer survey and implementing the simple suggestions listed above.

Customer satisfaction surveys are a valuable feedback tool as they provide information on how your customer feels, help make changes in your business and reinforce strong customer relationships, as well as loyalty. However, preparing and performing surveys has its own challenges that you need to understand to get the most accurate results and avoid a common survey problem known as survey bias.

Essentially, survey bias involves swaying or encouraging your customers to respond to your questions in one way, or to lean towards one specific answer over all others that are offered. It might give you the answers you want, but not the answers you need to actually improve your customer support, as well as the rest of your organization.

Collating the right information in order to be able to implement improvements across the board requires eliminating or minimizing bias in your surveys. If you’re able to collect relevant, genuine customer feedback, you can spot performance issues in every department in your business and ensure optimal quality management.

Understanding the most common types of survey bias and knowing how to handle them can ensure your surveys’ integrity and allow you to collect various types of feedback with genuine results.

Customer experience conceptsSampling bias – it’s all about who you ask.

The sample pool you ask to participate in your survey plays a vital role in the survey outcome. If certain members of your target demographic are systematically underrepresented, your results will be skewed.

The purpose of most customer surveys is to get the collective opinion of a broad audience and to do this, you need to allow your survey to be viewed and completed by a diverse group. This helps you determine how your customers perceive your brand honestly, and how you can improve your service moving forward.

Examples of sampling bias

Every business has a unique way of processing customer support tickets and potential complaints, as well as collecting positive reviews. However, if your agents ask only the most satisfied customers to take part in your surveys, you will miss out on understanding any potential issues with your brand offers.

Unbiased sampling will also involve customers who might have had complaints and problems with your product, as well as those who haven’t given you a 5-star rating on your site. It will allow you a clear overview of how you can improve customer satisfaction over time.

How to handle sampling bias

Choose Different Communication Methods

The method the survey is conducted may alienate some demographics and attract others. If possible, it is best to complete a survey across various mediums.

Social networks such as Facebook or Twitter are a perfect source of collecting data from younger users who spend most of their time online and gladly engage with brands on social platforms. Limiting yourself to social only, on the other hand, is the perfect example of ensuring sampling bias.

That’s why you should also send out surveys or prompt your customers to fill out your surveys via email. Your subscribers already have a relationship with your business, so you can optimize your emails to deliver engaging, interactive surveys and entice your customers to fill them out. Well-crafted emails optimized for best performance are a great way to give your customers a chance to fill out your survey at their own pace.

Another way to offer surveys to your customers is via your own branded app, designed to maximize the use of personal digital data and get an in-depth understanding of the issues specific to that customer. If you implement any of the changes in how you provide your service based on the feedback provided through your app, you can notify your customers directly, to let them know how much you value their input.

Finally, if you receive customer calls regularly, your agents can evaluate a good moment during those conversations to offer the survey. Although most people today lead fast-paced lives, if you assure them the survey is simple and quick, they might be happy to accept. If you have a physical store, you can also offer survey sheets on-site.

Audience Diversity

Asking a diverse audience to participate is critical to collect survey results that are impartial to a particular group or demographic. Make sure that all your customer groups are equally represented – from their background, location, all the way to their age and general education.

Often delivering your survey to an opposing or non-targeted audience delivers the most valuable data to improve a situation.

Street and cold call surveying are traditional and trusted methods that help create audience diversity in your survey outcomes.

You might even discover a new opportunity to engage new leads and increase the interest in your brand.

Non-response bias – a survey is a participant lucky dip!

Although you may put in all the parameters for an equal and diverse audience, a survey can still be a lucky dip that you cannot fully control. You may do all the research and preparation to ensure that non-responsive bias doesn’t occur; however, you cannot always control who accepts to complete the survey.

Why? Because of pure human nature – people who are either very unhappy or exceptionally happy with your service are most likely to accept participating in your survey. If they are too busy or the service was not that memorable, they are much more likely to refuse. If a disgruntled customer calls a credit card company and gets asked to complete the survey, they are much more likely to do so than a customer who faced no particular issues.

As a result, the cross-section of customers that do end up participating might not be representative of your actual customer pool and their average views of your brand.

How to handle non-response bias

Survey Timeframe

Although some non-response bias is bound to happen, you can reduce it significantly by timing your surveys right. Remember to let your survey cycles last longer, to gauge your audience’s interest over a wider timeframe.

Repeating the survey after implementing some customer feedback can also help reduce this type of bias and provide you with additional data you can act on.

Survey Invite

Asking a specific audience to conduct your survey and using different survey tools to engage leads can balance your survey outcomes. Test your survey before you send it out, to make sure that it loads properly across all tools and devices. If the survey isn’t optimized for mobile, but works well on desktop, you may risk alienating the section of your customers that prefer using their smartphones.

Customer experience conceptsHuman response bias – the human factor is always present.

At the end of the day, people are the ones taking part in your survey, which means conscious and subconscious factors will affect their answers. Although this is inevitable, it can also cause various forms of bias. Remember, customers often choose the brands they interact with based on emotion rather than reason alone. The same goes for how they approach your survey.

Your audience may be more agreeable at the time of surveying, which could prompt them to be more lenient with sharing their thoughts, despite having issues with your business.

What’s more, social desirability and conformity also affect how people form their survey responses. For example, if it’s socially preferred to recycle, they might be more inclined to somewhat distort their answers related to your brand’s recycling product.

They might imply that they use it more than they really do, which can in turn lead you to believe that you should focus more on that segment of your business.

How to handle human response bias


Rather than asking multiple-choice questions, letting your customers self-survey can remove pressure from the situation. You can provide pen and paper surveys if you have a physical store. You can send surveys out by email or create engaging online surveys, all of which can be filled out in private and in their own time.

Survey Anonymity

A person tends to answer more honestly when they are not required to give personal details. Survey anonymity allows the freedom to respond without the worry, perceived or otherwise, of judgement or offence.

Question Bias – getting the questions and the flow right!

The survey questions and their order could be what is causing survey bias and leading participants to answer in a certain way.

Neutrality is vital for those involved in surveying, and whether writing, preparing, delivering, collecting or interpreting the survey, the individual or team mustn’t alter the given opinions or outcomes.

Being transparent and allowing customers to formulate their own opinions will help you improve customer interactions in the future, as well. Their genuine responses will be the basis for elevating the quality of your service or product, and not to mention customer satisfaction.

How to handle question bias

Short Questions

Keeping questions as short as possible to avoid confusion or display an opinion removes the likelihood of question bias. Sure, the questions must be long enough to be clear; however, not too long to lose your audience’s interest, concentration, or understanding.

Question Flow

The flow of questions is important to ensure answers do not follow a trend, causing apparent confusion and loss of interest. Grouping questions to keep topics together, minimizing the number of similar questions, and leaving personal questions later in the survey are excellent techniques to avoid question bias. It will also help you improve the response rate of your surveys, to collate as much information as possible.

Surveying with minimal bias

Some sort of survey bias will always be present and is almost impossible to avoid completely. However, you can minimize survey bias from affecting your results by knowing how to create a customer survey and implementing the simple suggestions listed above.

So, be sure to prepare your surveys adequately, leaving out misleading questions and making sure it can be understood and performed by a wide demographic. Good luck and enjoy surveying your customers with minimal bias!

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Luke Carlino Luke Carlino

Luke Carlino is based in Melbourne, Australia, and is a Copywriter, Content Creator, and Social Media Manager working in a freelance capacity for a range of clients, businesses and agencies.

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