Anonymous feedback can feel like a slap in the face

Niall Baker, associate director at Breaking Blue Research, discusses the benefits of anonymous feedback in B2B customer research

Just the other week I was speaking with a client who’s still using the report from one of our global studies to drive their strategy 3 years on from when the research was completed – that’s what I like to hear!

The report contains some very powerful quotes, many anonymous, which hit home that our client was underperforming on customer service and was at risk of losing some major accounts. Nothing says “wake up and do something about it” like this ‘smack in the face insight’, and like any good business our client was prepared to take it on the chin and move forward.

When you receive insight that tells you that you’re underperforming or that customers aren’t happy with you, it’s natural to want to point fingers, to find someone or something to blame. Every year we get many requests from clients asking us to identify ‘who said what’ in customer research so that they can take action to address specific needs. This often puts us in a tight spot where we need to abide by our ethical standards and stay firmly on the right side of data protection law, meaning we sometimes have to provide anonymous feedback to protect customers’ right to confidentiality.

It’s tempting to get bogged down in the granular detail of a study, particularly when the feedback isn’t so positive that you want to do something about it. It can be very frustrating to see a survey response that clearly suggests you need to take action when you can’t decipher which customer is telling you this. However, the paradox is that this customer would most certainly not have given this level of detailed feedback, or any at all, if their anonymity hadn’t been assured.

It’s coming up to annual appraisal time here at Breaking Blue. I want my colleagues to be blunt and up front about how they view working with me so I know where I need to improve my performance, please don’t hold back! To achieve this I know that for some it will be important to be able to give my manager anonymous feedback. If businesses want to fully appraise their performance they need a similar outlook. The right to confidentiality ensures truly open discussions and the possibility to hear how customers really feel about them.So while it’s not always possible to attribute responses to individuals or companies, the right to anonymity in research is critical to ensuring excellent response rates and enabling customers to speak freely and frankly about their experiences. Ultimately this makes research findings far more impactful and actionable – we get all of the juicy detail and more of it, allowing us to identify trends in the customer experience across segments or geographies.

Just because some survey comments are presented anonymously doesn’t mean it’s useless insight. True, you won’t be able to pin-point problems in certain specific accounts, but when combined with wider responses this feedback adds vital substance to the story behind your performance and a full appreciation of the actions you need to take as a business. As researchers we’ll try and soften the blow by warning you of impending negative feedback coming your way, but at times these anonymous responses might feel like a slap in the face, and it might just be the wake-up call your organisation needed!