Why Confidentiality is no Longer King in Surveys

A few years ago I received a call from my mortgage broker just days after we purchased our first home. Previously, I submitted a customer satisfaction survey to the company online after we had finalized all of our paperwork for the purchase. Although the brokerage firm was helpful during the process in many ways, the company switched my primary broker halfway through the closing process, and as a result the ball was dropped with regards to locking in an interest rate on my loan.

In the survey, I expressed my dissatisfaction and rated their services as a “5” on the 0 to 10 scale of likelihood to recommend for NPS. Assuming confidentiality in survey responses, I was shocked to receive a call from the corporate office 2 days following stating they would like to review my survey responses with me, particularly my comments around my broker’s name and the transition.

No questions were asked in the survey about requesting nor approving a follow-up call.


Why Confidentiality is no Longer King in Surveys | Marketing Consultant in Syracuse, NY

Confidentiality was assumed.

Remembering back to my marketing and market research classes in school, one thing was always clear: “make sure your survey results are confidential so respondents can remain anonymous.” It was driven home time and time again in classes. It was such a focus even before you were done writing the introductory paragraph of your survey, the words confidential and anonymous would undoubtedly appear.

It seemed and still seems like common sense, a lesson in Market Research 101 per se. But as the market research industry has evolved and firms are continually being pressured to prove the ROI of their research efforts. As a result, confidentiality may not be king anyone. Let me explain why.

Ensuring confidentiality and anonymity in a survey provides several benefits.

First and foremost, it conveys integrity from the survey vendor, your responses will not be used against you (good or bad) and will only be used to improve products or services on an aggregate level. As a respondent, if you had a really poor experience with your sales rep and “tell-all” in your survey response as I did in my broker survey, the promise of confidentiality creates a fictionalized barrier from your sales rep being able to single out you as a respondent (which, if it did not exist, could severely impact future dealings).

With ROI coming to the forefront of strategic direction for many companies, business leaders are looking for actionable improvements from research so ROI can be proven. Although fancy reports with key metrics, impactful findings, and recommendations are extremely useful, it can be argued this type of output is not as valuable as sitting down with a customer service rep and correcting issues brought to light by survey responses.


The case management of survey responses could look something like this:

Manager to CSR: “We’ve had 3 separate experiences over the past week from customer A, customer B, and customer C, all of whom said you provided incorrect account information to them. Here are the dates and here are their comments as to why they rated those experiences poorly. As a result, we are going to schedule retraining sessions on our account management software and track your scores more closely over the next 3 months.”

Because of these actionable improvements from survey data, the CSR's scores went up significantly, and customers were more satisfied. In addition to improving the customer service offered by the rep, key account managers also received the cases of the poor survey responses and were able to immediately get in touch with each of the 3 customers so they could better understand their bad experiences with the CSR. It offered the company another touchpoint to show how valuable they view them as a customer and what is being done to fix their issues. These types of case management calls can prevent customer churn, and ensure the business stays with the company.

It is really hard to argue ground-level customer and case management improvements like these are less valuable than aggregate findings. Both have separate values and impacts on an organization, but as in the case explained above, the singling out of specific incidents can and does create more attainable action items.

Using surveys for the dual purpose of case management and for analytics is becoming more commonplace across all industries and as a result, the confidentiality of your survey responses cannot be presumed anymore.

The negatives of not promising confidentiality can range from poorer response rates (some customers not willing to share feedback), inauthentic data (customers not telling the truth fearing a follow-up), to potentially harming the customer relationship further (e.g., the customer assuming confidentiality in responses and being surprised to receive a follow-up call).

All of these variables will need to be considered by your business before opting to go one way or the other.

Maybe the best solution of all is to use the final question in the survey which asks the respondent if he or she would be willing to further discuss the responses.


Drive Research is an online survey firm in Syracuse, NY. Our team specializes in Voice of Customer (VoC) and Customer Experience (CX) custom research. Contact us through this form available on our website.

Market Research Analysis