When it comes to business, there is perhaps no greater riddle to solve than "What do customers really want?" After all, there are entire industries built on researching consumer tastes, trends and buying habits. And yet, customers remain a complete mystery to many business owners. Solving the puzzle gets a little easier, however, when you seek answers from the puzzle pieces themselves: your customers. Consider organizing customer focus groups — they can help you:
- Identify your community's specific needs.
- Generate rich customer data, in customers' own words.
- Build customer loyalty.
- Help create more effective marketing campaigns.
- Fine-tune concepts for new products and services.
- Expose — and help solve — problems within your business.
Stay focused on one objectiveEstablish a single purpose for your focus group. Is it to generate new product concepts, to determine if your customer service is satisfactory or to understand how your customers are using your existing products? Keep all your questions and the group discussion focused on that objective.
Write a scriptThe best focus groups follow a scripted agenda that includes a series of predetermined questions - phrased clearly and in a manner that will encourage discussion. Add an element of entertainment to keep participants interested and engaged.
Choose a moderatorSelect someone, whether recruited internally or hired externally, to run your session; someone approachable, comfortable with public speaking and able to follow a script. As the business owner, you should not moderate, but should feel free to observe.
Select a siteWherever you decide to host your focus group, make sure the setting is comfortable, quiet and well lit. Conference rooms and lounges are good choices.
Recruit participantsFocus groups typically include up to a dozen participants. Select yours carefully according to predetermined qualifications, such as age, location or interests; the idea is to get information from your target customers, not random strangers.
Monitor your sessionsIt might be useful to monitor focus groups with a camera or tape recorder. Make sure participants know they are being taped, and that they consent to being recorded.
Evaluate feedbackFollowing a session, review the discussion and track participants' responses. Don't expect hard, statistical data, however, as focus groups are qualitative - not quantitative - by design.
- Most sessions should last between one and three hours, including time for a short break; several sessions will be required in order to collect worthwhile information.
- Beware of group dynamics and participants who dominate the conversation; both can skew your results.
- To reap the most from your focus group, encourage maximum participation; invite each participant to speak in turn and use differences in opinion to stimulate discussion.
- Phrase questions in terms that participants will understand; the best questions to ask within a focus group are open-ended and neutral.