Customer Focus Groups Best Practices

It’s a popular cop out to skirt around the topic of customer focus groups when talking about improving customer service, or usability or a number of other fields where customer feedback and social analysis are needed. Focus groups are far from something new, being a source of social research since written language existed, though it’s become a far more refined tool in the industrial age, adhering pretty faithfully to scientific method overall.

Still, it’s an endeavor to use customer focus groups, for a few reasons. Usually, a third party facilitator handles the focus groups and performing the “tests” as it were, and reporting the data back to the company. This of course costs money, including overhead to pay the customers who participate (expecting free participation is not wise).

But, in some cases, you haven’t the time to engage one of these facilities, or you haven’t the scope to justify using them, and you must conduct your own focus group tests. Well, crap.

Ok, it’s actually not so bad. Really, it’s not. It’s all about understanding your demographic, and being able to first, look through all the subsets of people within it (genders, regional origins, ages), and map them all out. Your focus group needs to evenly distribute specimens from all of the bigger subsets you’ve identified, thus allowing for an even look at the demographic.

Following this, you will need to plan out your group tests, and this depends entirely on what your product or service really is. But, in general, they experience the product or service, or whatever element is being tested by the group. Following this, they fill out a simple, but informative survey that tells of their experience. Choosing the questions for this type of survey wisely is important, and we’ve actually talked about that topic before, if you want to go look.

Now, here’s the kicker. It has to be a pleasant experience overall, for a customer to not give false negatives, but not such a lark that they’re forgiving of anything negative they conclude about what they experience. So, a balance of congeniality and compensation, as well as a not-painful survey and pleasant environment are all important, in a balance. We’ll probably talk about the focus group environment in the future, most likely.

Now, the problem overall, is that you have to contend with Heisenberg with this kind of thing, meaning that what you study, you also influence. The only way to abate this is to present the guise of not being an in home focus group, and to do this on a scale large enough.

So, you might eliminate the cost of a company, but you can’t eliminate the overhead of a location, compensation and pure cost to do this to a large degree. So, coming away from this, just expect this to be a fact of life expense in business, so you can have the best customer experience and customer service that you possibly could manage.

Customer focus groups are a costly task, but if you want to handle it yourself, this is a good starting point for you. In the future, we might flesh out some more about this. Everyone else dodges this topic, but we’re not scared.

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Stefanie Amini
is Specialist in Customer Success and chief writer and editor of I Want It Now, a blog for Customer Service Experts. Follow her @StefWalkMe