Courtesy bias is the tendency that some individuals have of not fully stating their unhappiness with a service or product because of a desire not to offend the person or organisation that they are responding to.
It is a tendency for a person to respond in a socially acceptable, polite, or positive way regardless of what they actually feel. Whether or not this strategy works depends on the nature of the problem and the attitude and presentation of the parties involved.
For instance, you go to a store and have a horrible experience. The courtesy bias would occur if, when asked by the manager how your experience was, you didn't want to cause the staff any trouble with their boss and responded that everything was wonderful. In order to be positive and polite your true feelings about the experience are not expressed.
When it comes to shopper and consumer research, it is a well-known fact that what shoppers say and what they do are different things, so you should take steps to validate shopper responses
- Reality based - Study what real shoppers actually behave in-store instead of asking them after the event.
- Go beyond words – Introduce research methods that go beyond what shoppers say and that get to what they really mean: Study emotional engagement and non-verbal communication for example.
- Short term memory – Shoppers can remember much of their day to day shopping behaviour for no more than 18 seconds. So, you need to understand what you can ask shoppers that they will actually be able to give a meaningful response to.
The courtesy bias is never more prevalent than when shoppers and consumers are talking to researchers and answering their questions. Recognise this human trait and make sure that your research agency does too.