Ethics in Market Research, Chipped Away One Small Favor at a Time

 In my role as a researcher, I am constantly bombarded by the small requests that seem innocent enough on the surface, but aren’t really when you dive deeper. For those of you who aren’t market researchers, you probably haven’t heard of an organization called CASRO (Council of American Survey Research Organizations). CASRO is the main organization that sets the guidelines for ethical behavior in survey research. All CASRO members must adhere to the CASRO Code of Standards and Ethics, the enforceable standard for research businesses for more than 30 years. While I have never been a member of CASRO, I have worked for organizations that were and have always made it a point to follow their standards and guidelines (to the best of my knowledge and ability).

For example, yesterday someone asked me to identify the sales region for some comments from one of our customer satisfaction surveys. Since this request could not identify the respondent, I had no issue having my market research supplier look up the information for my internal client. Okay, so no ethics issue there. My day progressed and the ethics issue reemerged. The same client came back and said would it be too much of a breach of confidentiality of you could tell me which agency (company) said each of these 10 comments? This agency clearly has an issue that we need to clear up. Bing, Bing, Bing the ethics/confidentiality meter goes off. Since I know this internal client very well, I know that her only intent with her request is to fix a potential problem she sees from the comment the agent made. This fix would help both us and the agent. But, here’s the rub, we don’t ask on the survey if we can share their individual results or allow callbacks from our company related to their responses (I have since added this question by the way). Would the agent making the comment really want us to call them back about the issue? Probably. Should we call them back? Probably. Can we call them back? No, we didn’t get permission to do so.

So what do you tell your internal client when they ask for these small favors? Here’s what I do. First, I tell them no. Then, I ask the internal client a couple of questions that hopefully gets them on the path to fixing the problem without breaching confidentiality. Here’s a few of my favorites: Can you make the change (systemically) they are requesting and communicate the change out to everyone (e-communications are great for that), can you just contact the “X” number of customers you think might have this problem and touch base to see how it’s going? My guess is others have this problem too, we just didn’t survey them. For more information about CASRO, visit their website

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