I’m a 75-year-old man with 17 kids – Jane Bradley

I was born on the moon, I never eat pizza, my favourite colour is magenta, I always recycle, I was born in the year 1900, I exercise regularly, I always eat pizza. Sometimes you just can't trust surveys
I was born on the moon, I never eat pizza, my favourite colour is magenta, I always recycle, I was born in the year 1900, I exercise regularly, I always eat pizza. Sometimes you just can't trust surveys
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According to a recent survey, 92 per cent of people – if they are to be believed – give false information to surveys, writes Jane Bradley.

I was recently sent a press release which made me laugh. I wasn’t actually sure if it was meant to be a joke, then I realised it had been dispatched from the BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo – and Norwegians don’t make jokes. Or do they?

“Research finds that 92 per cent of customers give false feedback in customer surveys,” it proclaimed.

My brain struggled to process this information. If 92 per cent of people admitted that they lie when answering a survey, then surely 92 per cent of the people answering this particular survey must also have been lying. In which case, only eight per cent of the 92 per cent of people who say they lied, must have actually been telling the truth. Therefore, by my calculations, only 7.36 per cent of people overall actually must lie when answering surveys.

Or perhaps not. That presumably wasn’t what they were getting at, anyway.

Their point was that a large percentage of people embellish the truth when quizzed by pollsters. According to the Norwegian Business School survey – if we are to believe such a thing – this is because they want to gain some reward, present themselves in a more flattering way or, most importantly, avoid awkward interactions with the people who are asking them.

They are probably right. How many times, when faced with a “you must answer this question before accessing this website” pop-up do you frantically click anything – everything – to be able to access the content you wanted without hassle? If a bot analysed my responses to these questions, they would probably find that I’m a man in the 75-plus age category with 17 children under the age of five who has never heard of the Amazon Alexa and eats takeaway pizza for dinner seven nights a week.

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Obviously, the reason businesses want you to tell the truth is because they want your data – the bonafide, real, consumer data. Nothing else is of any use to them. And one of the reasons that you don’t want to give it is because you want to mess with them. Tricking The Man is a satisfaction like no other.

However, the research also found that people are equally likely to tell white lies when dealing with staff in a face-to-face consumer setting, presumably for a similar reason.

Fibs admitted in response to the survey included someone stating that they were satisfied with their meal when in fact, they were not; changing the reason they were late to their driving lesson in a bid to save face (I’m still intrigued as to what the actual reason was); someone exaggerating to the salesperson how often they run when buying new running shoes; fabricating the reason they were returning a product; and lying about their age to get a cheaper ticket to a concert.

The latter two are done from a somewhat non-altruistic perspective, aiming solely to save cash. Yet, equally, human guilt and natural politeness make us feel bad about telling the truth in some circumstances. When that Uber review pops up on your phone, you don’t usually feel like you can mark down the driver for failing to utter a word for the entirety of the 15-minute journey while taking you on an out-of-the-way trip around the city bypass. Instead, you just blithely give the taciturn chap a full complement of five stars.

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Why? Because his picture is on the screen in front of you and he’s probably got three kids at home and if you give him a low rating he might not get enough business to be able to buy them any Christmas presents and it would be all your fault. Oh and (even though Uber says ratings are anonymous) because if you rate him badly, he might do the same to you. Perhaps you didn’t have a friendly enough face for him to feel that he could make conversation. And if he does, the next time you find yourself stranded outside of a random pub in a strange suburb, no-one will come to pick you up. The horror.

The research claimed that while teling even the most polite of white lies may seem to be the easy way out at the time, they are actually not beneficial to business. It may seem most polite to tell a waitress that, yes, everything is lovely, you just weren’t that hungry today when she takes away your untouched plate. Yet long term, perhaps the chef needs to know if he is turning out inedible meals. Failing to give that feedback contributes to a glut of customers who visit once, say nothing and never come back – resulting in the eventual failure of the business.

From your own perspective, telling a salesperson that you are a regular marathon runner when you actually only ever jog as far as the bus stop could see her trying to force on you a pair of £100 trainers which she actually believes you need to protect your poor, over-exercised feet from long-term damage. You, on the other hand, see it as her giving you the hard sell and walk out without buying anything at all.

Being polite is obviously important, but it’s equally vital to remember that honest feedback is equally so, for both you and the business involved. And fibbing about fibbing in surveys? Just don’t do it – it’s too mathematically confusing.