Cognitive bias in handling customer feedback: How to be more objective?

We all take mental shortcuts when making decisions. These are called heuristics, and they serve an important purpose: they free up time and mental space while providing relatively good outcomes.

Heuristics can help us make decisions in a time crunch. For example, we’ll order a dish we’ve tried before at a restaurant to avoid awkwardness; that’s the familiarity heuristic. If there’s no time to do research, we’ll try solving problems by guessing solutions at random — trial and error is a heuristic too.

But taking mental shortcuts leads to biases and errors. In the case of customer feedback, we’re already working with subjective information. Our customers have their own share of biases that impact their responses. We can work to decrease these, but it’s even more important to be careful about how we interpret the data.

Biases that arise in customer feedback interpretation

👓 Confirmation Bias (the Echo Chamber effect)

This bias inclines us to seek and interpret information that confirms our existing beliefs or opinions. In feedback analysis, this leads to emphasizing feedback that aligns with our preconceived notions while disregarding contradictory input. For example, if we’re very excited about a new feature, and we deploy a survey about it, we’ll look at the responses with rose-colored glasses and ignore constructive feedback.

⏳ Recency Bias

We give undue weight to recently received feedback over older or historical data. This bias means we might overlook long-term trends or persistent issues. In effect, it means putting out fires all the time instead of looking at the bigger picture.

😒 Negativity Bias

This is the tendency to focus more on negative feedback than on positive responses. It results in a lost opportunity: instead of building a relationship with happy customers, we take them for granted. In the long term, this has a negative impact on customer retention.

⚓ Anchoring Bias

The initial piece of feedback we receive heavily influences our evaluation of subsequent feedback. This bias anchors perceptions, making it harder to view subsequent feedback objectively. This can lock organizations into a fixed perspective, hindering adaptability and innovative problem-solving.

🤷‍♀️ Availability Heuristic

Relying on the most readily available (or easy-to-recall) feedback skews our view of the data. This might mean sticking to only one type of survey instead of deploying a variety of approaches; but also, our perception of customer sentiment can be influenced by a particular piece of vivid, emotionally charged feedback.

Why is it important?

Biases in feedback interpretation can profoundly influence decision-making within an organization. They may lead to reactive measures based on singular or biased feedback.

As a result, the overall customer experience worsens.

In essence, the impact of cognitive biases on feedback handling isn’t confined to internal processes. It ripples outward, affecting customer satisfaction, retention, and the overall trajectory of your business.

It can also rebound and impact morale. Biases may start on an individual level but they end up shared among team members. Negativity bias in particular has a way of creating dissatisfaction among employees.

Strategies for overcoming biases

Recognizing biases begins with vigilance.

By encouraging your team to actively identify signs of biases in feedback interpretation, you lay the groundwork for more objective analysis.

How do you cultivate a culture of awareness?

  • Education: You can conduct workshops or training sessions on cognitive biases, specifically tailored to feedback analysis. Everyone working with customer feedback needs to understand how these heuristics can shape their perspective; it is also useful to have a basic understanding of data science. Encourage questioning assumptions underlying feedback interpretations.
  • Consult multiple perspectives: By several team members working independently on the same feedback, you can identify and counteract individual biases. Cross-departmental cooperation is crucial here, and it’s important to foster an environment where perspectives are shared openly.
  • Audit your processes: Continuously seek feedback on your feedback-handling processes. Encourage both your customers and your team members to provide insights on how feedback is collected, interpreted, and acted upon, ensuring a loop of improvement.
  • Use software tools: Objectivity is easier to achieve with feedback tools that aggregate and present the data in an organized, unbiased manner. For example, you can combat recency bias by studying a chart that shows how your CSAT average changed across the years.

The truth is your most valuable ally!

Nobody ever intends to misinterpret data. It happens because it’s easier and quicker than delving into the truth.

But you owe it to your customers and your team to seek an unbiased understanding of feedback. With accurate data interpretation, you can be more responsive to customer needs. And you can enact your vision more authentically if you have a clear idea of how you’re being perceived.

Work towards achieving objectivity, and use every tool available to you. The numbers never lie, we just have to battle our tendency to misuse them.

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