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Bernard Marr

Bernard Marr is a world-renowned futurist, influencer and thought leader in the fields of business and technology, with a passion for using technology for the good of humanity. He is a best-selling author of 20 books, writes a regular column for Forbes and advises and coaches many of the world’s best-known organisations. He has over 2 million social media followers, 1 million newsletter subscribers and was ranked by LinkedIn as one of the top 5 business influencers in the world and the No 1 influencer in the UK.

Bernard’s latest book is ‘Business Trends in Practice: The 25+ Trends That Are Redefining Organisations’

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How to Run a Successful Customer Focus Group Even in Lockdown

2 July 2021

The post-coronavirus world will be different. The companies who spend time now to solicit feedback from their target market and adapt their products and services to the changing needs of their customers will thrive after COVID-19. In order to be ready, businesses need to solicit input from their target audience. Even under lockdown effective focus groups can be conducted. 

The coronavirus pandemic has caused us to pivot in many ways. In business, we’ve been challenged to find new ways of doing our normal activities virtually. Since getting customer insights and feedback is more important than ever to help adapt products and services to a post-coronavirus world, one thing we need to re-think is how we gather this customer intel while we’re in lockdown.  

Focus Groups Provide Valuable Insights into the Needs of Your Target Audience

For decades, companies have relied on focus groups to get qualitative or emotional input about how customers view its products, services or organization. While historically focus groups have been in-person events, even before the pandemic some focus groups were being done online including on Facebook, Google Hangouts, Zoom and more. With the current reality of stay-at-home orders, online focus groups are the only option. Companies that are successful after the coronavirus lockdown will be those that adjust service and product offers to respond to the changing needs of their customers. Now is the time to invest in getting this customer feedback.

A focus group provides the opportunity for the facilitator to ask questions that aren’t easy to solicit in a written survey. Participants can also build on each other’s comments making the feedback you receive potentially very robust.

Online focus groups, also called live-chat focus groups, are most cost-effective and don’t require travel for either the participants or facilitators and are otherwise very convenient for both. As a result, they can represent a much more geographically diverse group. Just like in-person focus groups, online focus groups have real-time conversation and give the facilitator quick feedback.

Tips to Conduct an Effective Focus Group

Regardless if your focus group is in person or online, it’s important that you are prepared. Here are some tips to make it productive:

  1.     Establish a clear purpose and objective for the focus group

Effective focus groups are those that are focused on a clear purpose. While your instinct might be to get more “bang for your buck” by bombarding the participants with an overwhelming amount of questions because you have them captive, it’s actually more desirable to focus your efforts and determine what you need to know and why.

  1.     Identify the right people to participate

Consider the type of people you wish to talk to and understand the characteristics they share. On the flip side, think about what characteristics would not make a good participant. An important aspect of this is to develop an effective screening questionnaire that can be used during recruitment for participants. The wrong participants could skew your results. Keep in mind the ideal size for an only focus group is 8-10 participants.

  1.     Prepare your questions

Develop a focus group script that can flow naturally but that is congruent with the goals and objectives of the focus group. Questions should be open-ended and each should be followed up with a probe intended to elicit even more information. Each question should be clear and ask about only one thing. Be sure to have your most important questions in the middle of the session. If your group runs away with a topic, you don’t want to have your most important questions at the end and run out of time to cover them.

  1.     Moderation

Moderators play a key role in the success or failure of a focus group. They must be skilled to keep control of the conversation, encourage participation of any introverts in the group as well as curb the conversation from any participant who tries to commandeer the entire group. Here are some specifics to consider:

  •       As the moderator, give verbal cues so that participants know when you are moving from one topic to another.
  •       Never ask leading questions.
  •       It’s important to preserve “share of voice” so every participant can make their contribution.
  •       Don’t assume that you know what a participant means. Ask clarifying questions such as “When you say X, what does that mean?” to verify what you heard was how they intended it.
  •       Keep the atmosphere relaxed, friendly, positive and upbeat.
  1.     Use multimedia stimuli (photos, videos and audios)

Online focus groups have the ability to deliver a variety of stimuli directly to participants’ computers in a way that allows them to watch or listen at their own pace and even revisit content. Past tasks, smartboards and polls are also very effective in an online environment.

  1.     Record the session

Focus group sessions should be recorded so that you can refer back to it after the session is complete.

Focus Group Obstacles

If you follow the tips outlined above you can avoid many of the focus group obstacles that others experience. However, realize that proper preparation and planning is needed to conduct a successful focus group. If you don’t spend enough time on the discussion guide or developing adequate stimuli for the session, you will likely not have an effective focus group. Additionally, you must recruit an experienced focus group moderator who is armed with a set of techniques to promote successful group dynamics for the best results. Stakeholders should not be allowed to send the moderator notes while the focus group is in session. Doing so will disrupt the discussion, challenge the authority of the moderators and be a distraction.


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