Response Bias: What Is It & How to Avoid It? (incl. Examples)

Victoria Prokopets Victoria Prokopets · 10 min read

Response bias can cloud our view of genuine feedback. To make informed decisions, we must look beyond the distortion and truly hear our customers.

One of the main challenges in creating effective surveys is identifying and eliminating potential response bias questions and ensuring genuine and candid responses from participants. Understanding response bias psychology is crucial for marketers, as it highlights the underlying motivations and cognitive processes that can skew survey data. 

Today, we will discuss response bias in customer surveys and provide tips on how to prevent it. With our guidance, your surveys will be free from biases and will produce accurate results for you. While many marketers are aware of the general concept, a deeper dive into the different types of response bias can be enlightening, revealing nuances that might have been previously overlooked.

What is response bias in customer surveys?

Response bias in customer surveys is a phenomenon where survey participants, knowingly or unknowingly, provide answers that do not genuinely mirror their true sentiments or perceptions. A classic response bias example is when customers rate a service more favorably simply because they don’t want to appear negative or critical. Instead of a crystal-clear window into their thoughts, you might be peering through a distorted lens. Just as aspiring medical students may second-guess their answers due to response bias MCAT pressures, customers too can face similar uncertainties when providing feedback in surveys.

This can result in misleading data, which in turn can lead to incorrect business decisions. Recognizing and minimizing these biases is crucial for organizations that want to accurately understand their customers’ thoughts and feelings.

Why is response bias an issue when planning a customer survey?

In the fast-paced realm of marketing, understanding your customer’s journey, experiences, and feedback is paramount to success. When companies deploy customer surveys, their objective is to tap into a goldmine of user insights, enabling them to refine their offerings, improve user experience, and ultimately grow their business. To craft effective and unbiased surveys, one must consider response bias psychology and its role in shaping the perceptions and answers of participants.

Understanding and addressing these biases is crucial for any business or marketer looking to gain accurate insights from their customer surveys. Without taking them into account, companies might make decisions based on flawed data, potentially harming their relationship with customers or misallocating resources. After all, in a competitive services landscape, the ability to accurately tune into customer voices can be the defining factor between market leadership and obsolescence.

What are the different types of response bias?

When analyzing customer feedback, it’s not just about looking at the answers, it’s equally important to account for the types of response bias that might have influenced those responses. Just as educators seek to minimize response bias MCAT questions may introduce, businesses must be vigilant to avoid unintentionally leading their customers to a particular answer in feedback surveys. Here are some common types of response biases in customer surveys:

  • Acquiescence bias (or ‘yes-saying’ bias). This occurs when respondents tend to agree with all, or most, of the survey statements, regardless of their true feelings. It can be due to the respondent not wanting to appear disagreeable or because they are not paying full attention.
  • Example: In a survey regarding a new product feature, if most questions are phrased positively (e.g., ‘Do you like the new design?’), respondents might just agree with every statement, leading to an overly positive feedback loop.


  • Anchoring bias. Respondents might rely heavily on the first piece of information they see (the ‘anchor’) when answering subsequent questions.


  • Social desirability bias. Respondents might answer in a way they believe is viewed favorably by others rather than giving their honest opinion. For example, they might underreport behaviors seen as negative or overreport behaviors seen as positive.
  • Example: Some might overreport their environmentally friendly behaviors when asking customers about their eco-friendly habits related to a product (e.g., ‘Do you always recycle our packaging?’).


  • Recency bias. One intriguing response bias example is the recency effect. Respondents may provide feedback based predominantly on their latest experience, overshadowing any previous encounters with a product or service. For example, a customer might have had a year of positive experiences with a service, but a single recent negative encounter could dominate their survey responses. 


  • Central tendency bias. Some respondents avoid using extreme response options (e.g., ‘strongly agree’ or ‘strongly disagree’) and instead opt for middle-of-the-road answers, such as ‘neutral’ or ‘neither agree nor disagree’.
  • Example: In a survey that asks customers to rate various features of the software on a scale of 1 to 10, many might consistently choose 5, regardless of their true feelings.


  • Non-response bias. If those who choose to respond to a survey are systematically different from those who choose not to respond, then the survey results can be skewed. For instance, extremely satisfied or dissatisfied customers might be more likely to complete a survey, whereas neutral customers might skip it.


  • Order bias. The order in which questions or response options are presented can influence answers. For instance, items presented earlier might be remembered or chosen more frequently than those presented later.
  • Example: If a survey lists product features in a sequence and asks customers which ones they remember or prefer, those listed at the beginning and end might be chosen more frequently.


  • Courtesy bias. Often referred to as the ‘politeness bias’, occurs when survey respondents provide positive feedback or overly agreeable responses primarily out of a desire to be polite or avoid conflict, rather than conveying their true feelings or opinions. For instance, customer rates a product or service more favorably than they genuinely believe, simply to avoid potential negative consequences or because they don’t want to hurt the feelings of the business or its employees.


  • Leading questions. Poorly phrased questions can lead respondents toward a particular answer. For instance, ‘Don’t you think our new product is amazing?’ is a leading question that encourages a positive response. The principles of avoiding response bias AP stats courses teach are directly applicable to the design of customer surveys, emphasizing the need for neutral and clear question phrasing.
  • Example: A question like ‘How satisfied were you with our world-class service today?’ presumes the service is ‘world-class’ and can lead respondents towards a positive answer.

Why might clients not answer truthfully?

Delving into response bias psychology reveals that human tendencies and behaviors significantly influence how people answer survey questions, often in ways they aren’t consciously aware of. It’s not just about asking the right questions but also about avoiding response bias questions that can compromise the integrity of the entire feedback process. In essence, various psychological, social, and contextual factors can influence how respondents engage with surveys, leading to biased responses. 

  1. Fear of repercussions. Especially in B2B contexts, clients might worry about jeopardizing their relationship with the provider or facing other negative outcomes if they give unfavorable feedback.
  2. Desire to be helpful or nice. Some people might provide positive feedback because they don’t want to be the cause of any potential negative consequences for the business or its employees.
  3. Lack of anonymity. If respondents feel their responses can be traced back to them, they might be less candid, especially with criticisms.
  4. Misunderstanding the questions. Complex or jargon-filled questions can confuse respondents, leading them to give answers they believe the surveyor is seeking rather than their true feelings.
  5. Lack of motivation or engagement. If respondents don’t believe their feedback will lead to any actionable change, they might not invest the effort to answer truthfully.

For marketing specialists, understanding and mitigating these biases is crucial to drawing accurate and valuable insights from survey data.


How to avoid response bias in customer surveys?

Avoiding response bias in surveys is essential to ensuring that the data collected is accurate and genuinely reflective of respondents’ opinions and experiences. Understanding the types of response bias, ranging from acquiescence to extreme responding, is crucial for any organization aiming to glean accurate insights from their surveys. Here are some strategies to avoid response bias:

  • Randomize question order

For multiple-choice questions, randomizing the order of the options can help mitigate order bias.

  • Pilot testing

Before distributing the survey widely, test it on a small group of people. Their feedback can help identify and correct any potential biases.

  • Use balanced scales

When using Likert scales, ensure there are an equal number of positive and negative response options. Avoid scales that lean towards the positive or negative side.

  • Anonymous responses

If respondents know their answers are anonymous, they may feel more comfortable being honest. Clearly state at the beginning of the survey that the responses are confidential.

  • Clear and neutral wording

Avoid leading or loaded questions that may suggest a particular answer. Ensure that the language is straightforward and free from jargon. 

To emphasize the importance of neutral phrasing in questions, consider this response bias example: asking ‘Don’t you think our latest product is groundbreaking?’ can easily lead respondents towards a positive affirmation.

  • Avoid absolute or extreme phrasing

Questions with words like ‘always’ or ‘never’ can push respondents towards extreme answers.

  • Offer a neutral or ‘don’t know’ option

This allows respondents an out if they genuinely don’t have an opinion on a question, rather than forcing them to pick a side.

  • Keep surveys short and focused

Long surveys can lead to respondent fatigue, where individuals rush through answers without much thought. Clearly set expectations for how long the survey will take at the beginning.

  • Provide clear Instructions

Clearly explain how to answer each type of question to avoid confusion.

  • Be cautious with required questions

Making too many questions mandatory can lead respondents to give any answer just to move forward. Assess the trade-off between the importance of the data and the potential for bias.

Examples of answers to avoid response bias in customer surveys

Survey questions should be crafted in a way that they are easily understandable by all respondents and do not push them towards a particular answer. 

Unclear, non-neutral, and jargon-filled questions can significantly skew survey results. A subtle response bias example can be seen in the use of industry jargon in surveys. Unfamiliar terms can confuse respondents, leading them to select answers they believe to be correct rather than those that reflect their true feelings.

Here are a few other examples:

Leading question:

  • Unclear: ‘Do you also love our new interface as much as everyone else?’
  • Improved Version: ‘How would you rate our new interface?”

Loaded question:

  • Unclear: ‘How would you rate our award-winning customer service?’
  • Improved: ‘How would you rate your experience with our customer service?’

Jargon-filled question:

  • Unclear: ‘How satisfied are you with our new multi-tenant SaaS architecture and its auto-scaling capabilities?’
  • Improved: ‘How satisfied are you with the performance and speed of our updated software?’

Double-barreled question (asks about two things at once):

  • Unclear: ‘How satisfied are you with our product quality and customer service?’
  • Improved: Break it into two questions:
    • ‘How satisfied are you with our product quality?’
    • ‘How satisfied are you with our customer service?’

Presumptuous question:

  • Unclear: ‘How often do you use our premium features since upgrading?’
  • Improved: ‘Have you used our premium features? If so, how often?’

Complex or wordy question:

  • Unclear: ‘Given the myriad of features we’ve introduced in our latest software iteration, how would you assess the ease of navigation in juxtaposition to our previous versions?’
  • Improved: ‘Compared to our previous versions, how easy is it to navigate our latest software?’

Absolute or extreme wording:

  • Unclear: ‘Do you always find our platform reliable?’
  • Improved: ‘How often do you find our platform reliable?’

Extreme and absolute phrasing in survey questions can lead respondents to feel cornered into a specific answer, leading to potential response bias in surveys.

Here are some examples of questions with extreme and absolute phrasing:

Absolute phrasing:

  • Absolute: ‘Do you always use our mobile app every day?’
  • Improved: ‘How often do you use our mobile app?’

Demanding unlikely absolutes:

  • Absolute: ‘Have you never experienced a delay with our service?’
  • Improved: ‘How often have you experienced delays with our service?’

Imposing absolute opinions:

  • Absolute: ‘Would you say our product is the best on the market?’
  • Improved: ‘How would you rate our product compared to others on the market?’

Extreme choice limitation:

  • Absolute: ‘Would you describe our customer support as either perfect or terrible?’
  • Improved: ‘How would you rate our customer support?’

Overemphasis on consistency:

  • Absolute: ‘Do you always recommend our brand to everyone you know?’
  • Improved: ‘How likely are you to recommend our brand to someone?’

Assuming constant behavior:

  • Absolute: ‘Do you always read our emails as soon as they arrive?’
  • Improved: ‘How promptly do you usually read our emails after receiving them?’

Pushing for unwavering agreement:

  • Absolute: ‘Do you agree with every update we’ve made in the last year?’
  • Improved: ‘How do you feel about the updates we’ve made in the last year?’

How response bias affects business practices

For SaaS enterprises, where iterative development and customer-centricity are key, the ramifications of response bias can be profound. Much like the exploration of response bias AP stats students undertake, businesses must be diligent in crafting unbiased survey questions to ensure genuine feedback from customers. Here’s why:

Skewed data leads to misguided strategies. Businesses rely on surveys to obtain feedback that shapes their strategies. If the data is skewed due to response bias, the resulting strategies might be misguided, potentially causing resources to be wasted on unimportant areas or issues to be overlooked.

Misrepresentation of customer satisfaction. If customers provide overly positive feedback due to courtesy bias, businesses might falsely believe that their product or service meets or exceeds expectations. This might lead to complacency, causing them to overlook necessary improvements.

Product development issues. Companies often use customer feedback to iterate and improve products. Response bias in surveys can result in product features being added, removed, or modified based on inaccurate feedback, potentially alienating actual user needs.

Ineffective marketing campaigns. Marketing decisions, such as positioning and targeting, are influenced by survey data. Biased responses can lead to marketing campaigns that don’t resonate with the target audience or address the wrong pain points.

Financial implications. Businesses allocate budgets based on perceived needs and customer feedback. Misguided allocations due to response bias can lead to financial inefficiencies or missed opportunities.

Difference between businesses that consider response bias in surveys vs. those that don’t

The presence of response bias questions in a survey can undermine the authenticity of the feedback, leading businesses down a misguided path. By integrating lessons from response bias psychology, businesses can design surveys that mitigate common pitfalls and gather more accurate and actionable feedback from customers.

Informed decision-making vs. Misguided choices

Companies that are aware of and correct for response bias make decisions based on a clearer understanding of their customers’ actual opinions and needs. In contrast, those that don’t account for bias may make choices based on flawed information. 

Active improvement vs. Stagnation

Businesses that understand bias will continuously refine their feedback mechanisms, leading to more actionable insights and proactive improvements. Those unaware of biases might stagnate, believing they’re meeting customer needs when they might not be.

Resource efficiency vs. Wastage

By acknowledging biases, companies can allocate resources more efficiently, channeling them where they’re genuinely needed. Businesses that don’t might waste resources on less important areas based on misleading feedback.

Stronger customer relationships vs. Disconnect

Addressing biases ensures that businesses are truly listening to their customers and addressing genuine concerns, fostering trust and loyalty. Ignoring biases might lead to a growing disconnect between a company and its customers.

Competitive edge vs. Falling behind

A business that continually refines its feedback process and accounts for biases will have a clearer understanding of market needs and can innovate more effectively. Companies that don’t might find themselves outpaced by competitors who better understand the market.

Start your day 
with great 

In summary, understanding and accounting for response biases in customer surveys is not just a matter of research accuracy. It’s about ensuring that businesses remain aligned with customer needs, make informed decisions, and allocate resources efficiently. Businesses that overlook the crucial nature of biases risk making decisions based on a distorted reality, which can have wide-reaching implications for growth, profitability, and customer relationships.

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Victoria Prokopets Victoria Prokopets

Support Specialist with 5+ years of experience. I enjoy developing my skills in daily life, such as sharing knowledge, learning from others, and taking on new challenges that would help me grow personally and professionally.

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