Does cultural bias affect your survey responses?
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Today, as many companies expand to operate globally, they must take serious measures to internationalize the organization in everything from marketing messages to product packaging and delivery. What they sometimes forget, however, is how their customer feedback program may be affected across international lines, as well.
Many companies endeavor to compare survey results across countries, but doing so presents a unique set of challenges. Differences in loyalty and satisfaction scores across geographic regions may in fact be due to differences in cultural survey response patterns.
Global companies must take cultural bias into consideration when interpreting customer feedback. Inarguably, different countries and regions will demonstrate different response patterns to surveys. The level of bias depends on various influences such as cultural norms and social factors across countries, which can strongly impact how your survey questions are perceived and answered.
There’s a good deal of debate on this subject, so rest assured, there are no cut-and-dried rules. But there are ways to reduce cultural bias in your feedback program to protect against making false conclusions and ill-advised actions based on international survey results. A deeper awareness and examination of cultural bias will help your company make better decisions that improve customer satisfaction, loyalty, and experience across the globe.
What Drives Cultural Bias the Most?
As you step back and begin to question if your feedback program shows the signs of cultural bias, the two biggest factors to consider are survey language and survey methodology:
1. Survey Language: The survey language that the recipient sees has a tremendous effect on your results. This is true even in countries that have a high percentage of multi-language residents with proficient English. So, even if your German customers generally also speak English, you’ll still see higher response rates when you deliver your surveys in German. It’s more polite, demonstrates respect, and is a confirmed best practice to deliver the survey in the native language, whenever possible.
2. Survey Methodology: The methodology (e.g. NPS, CSAT, CES, etc.) you utilize will reveal different interpretations and responses across cultures. For example, research shows that Americans tend to give more extreme ratings on 0- to-10 scales, compared to Europeans, who tend to offer more neutral scores.
Keep in mind that customer feedback is not an apples-to-apples practice. A score of 8 out of 10 does not always mean the same thing across cultures. Your British respondent may have been highly pleased with your service and gave the score as a compliment. Whereas, your American respondent sees that 8 as slightly less than satisfied.
Interestingly, there have even been discussions around developing a European NPS, where an 8 be counted as a Promoter (versus its Passive status in the current system). But this isn’t widely recommended because tweaking the scale for one country and not others can inhibit a company’s ability to make fair comparisons.
Also, keep in mind when choosing your methodology, that numerical scales are not always perceived the same way. In some countries, a 10 may be lowest and 1 highest when presented in a horizontal scale. Do your research on the countries you survey to make sure you’re using scales that make sense within those cultural norms. Even better, use worded scales instead (e.g. extremely dissatisfied; satisfied; extremely satisfied, etc.).
Many other factors beyond those relating to culture can drive response trends, of course, and you may be aware of unique ones for your business. Depending on certain demographics such as age, gender, and other individual circumstances, you may define rules for how you survey and respond to aggregate groups in different ways. The rules you set to neutralize cultural bias may be merely one set among many attempting to address the complexities of survey response styles.