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How Focus Groups Can Help the Customer Experience

There are two common ways that companies collect information, data, and insight before embarking on a product launch, a re-brand, or a re-fresher for an existing product. Qualitative and quantitative data provide valuable insight into the heart and mind of the customer, and rarely do companies make bold moves without first collecting data from their target audience. As companies make more effort to improve upon customer experiences, they must first gather information from actual customers, or panels that mirror their customer demographic, to get an accurate reading on what their expectations are regarding a product or service.

Are Focus Groups Worth the Effort and Expense?

Conducting focus groups is a tried-and-true way for companies to learn what consumers think about a product or brand. Rarely do companies make a decision regarding a product launch or a re-brand without first conducting a series of focus groups. Focus groups can yield a treasure-trove of qualitative data for companies, but they are time-consuming and can be expensive and it can be tempting to try and look for alternative ways to gather data and information from customers in lieu of focus groups.

Before looking for cost-cutting alternatives, let’s explore when focus groups are necessary and when other methods of data gathering can be utilized.

Testing Out a New Concept

If you’re in the product development stages, re-tooling an existing service or product, or are about to launch a new business, then focus groups are the way to go.  An experienced facilitator can ensure there is input from all participants and can guide them to delve deeper into a topic to better understand the motivating factors influencing responses. The types of topics that facilitators might explore with the group can help companies:

  • Gain insight into how consumers might use a new product or app
  • Provide insight into what consumers are looking for when considering a new concept
  • The effectiveness of your current service and what they’d like to see improved upon or changed entirely

Testing a Branding Message

Focus groups are ideal for testing out ad concepts, branding messages, and campaigns. Querying the participants on their reactions to concepts that are in the development stage, recording their reactions to a competitor’s ad, or gauging how they feel and respond to branding messages all provide important information for marketing teams as they work to create campaigns that will resonate with consumers in meaningful ways.

Further Testing of Ideas or Concepts for a Product Idea

If you are working to refine an idea before launching a focus group can help you tweak your idea and incorporate input from potential users. Further testing ideas can extend to a new website or new self-service options or a new billing system. Again, when moderators can work with a carefully selected group that matches your target demographic, they are able to connect with your customer base and get feedback that is more detailed and nuanced than a survey alone could provide.

When is a Focus Group Not the Appropriate Choice?

When trying to gather input on a service or concept that requires confidentiality, such as personal care products, financial services or HR issues, then gathering data through other means should be considered. A better way to gain the type of insight that a focus group would normally provide, while maintaining privacy or confidentiality, would be better served by in-depth interviews or anonymous surveys. In-depth interviews also make more sense if the demographic you want to target is dispersed across a large geographic area.

Other ways to garner information besides focus groups include:

  • Office or in-home ethnographies to see how people actually use or interact with a product in a specific environment
  • Mobile or online apps and discussion boards
  • A blended approach that includes in-depth interviews after an initial survey or more general questionnaire is filled out

Discovering how potential consumers feel about your product, service, or idea is best served through focus groups. Learning what motivates the consumer, understanding how they think and discovering their decision making process when selecting a product or service is crucial for companies. There is a cost benefit to focus groups. Consider the recent grumbling from doctors who are converting to electronic records. It has been reported that the companies that wrote the software for electronic record keeping failed to include the input of any medical doctors when creating their product. As a result, the software is difficult to use and negatively impacts patient care.  If you’re at all serious about improving the customer experience, you must first get to know you customer. Focus groups are a great place to start.