Focus Groups Done Cheaply


Among the best ways to get immediate customer feedback about your products, services, customer service and other issues—as they perceive them—is through focus groups. But, at anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 per session, depending on the firm you use, the location (i.e., at their site or at a hotel) and the depth of your questioning, it can be an expensive process.

That said, if you have a do-it-yourself mentality, you may have more resources available to put together a focus group than you realize. If you look at the basics, you’re assembling a group of 10 or fewer people to discuss topics designed around specific results you’re looking for (e.g., feedback on a new product or service, the shopping experience at your firm or website, whether you offer good follow-up service, etc.). You’ll have a series of scripted questions, with a group led by a moderator.

So where can you save some money? Following are a few ideas:

  • Write your own questions and script—Because you know what you want to learn and accomplish, you’re perfectly capable of creating the questions to which you’d like answers. Try to develop questions that help participants open up and answer without being led. For example:

  • What do you like best about working with us? Least?
  • How would you want to see our business/product/service be improved?
  • Are there products or services that we should be offering but that we’re not?
  • What have you seen competitors offer that works better than what we do?
  • What about our processes or customer service?

  • Keep it in-house—Often, the greatest expense comes from working in the field with focus group companies, which provide meals, snacks and even little gratuities (read: desk toys). If you have the space or access to a conference room, bring in a good meal and do the work in your office, or you can even rent a hotel room. If you have to rent a video camera, just make sure someone can operate it. The record you keep of the meeting—so that it can be used later—is critical.
  • External or internal moderator—This can be a tough choice. It can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 for an external moderator, but the objectivity they bring to the table can be worth it. If you have a trusted friend who you think can do the job, it may be worth the savings. Under no circumstances should you moderate; you may not like everything you hear and that can kill any objectivity.
  • Recruiting—Market research firms can recruit for you and it might cost about $50 a head, plus whatever you pay for in meals, snacks and fees. But you can also speak directly with your customers or send invitations to do your own recruiting. The promise of a meal and even a free service or product (the gift has to have value—no useless trinkets here) is often enough to get people onboard. You may even want to involve former customers—provided you’re close enough—to determine why they left. The key is to assemble a diverse group of customers and get to the right size (six to 10 people). If the group is too small, people will be inhibited and may not talk; too big and someone’s views will likely be missed.

Once you’ve completed the group, watch the playback and read your notes carefully and unemotionally. Chances are, you’ll learn a lot about what works or doesn’t work for your customers—and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. And remember to follow up with those customers that have participated in the focus group, thanking them for their help and time.

Charles Y.

Charles has been working as a webmaster since 1998. Since then, he has had his hands in thousands of websites and has helped millions get online through a company he partially owns called Web Host Pro.