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#979: Getting a Fresh Perspective Through Focus Groups

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, February 04, 2009
My consulting practice is directed at service improvement for a small consumer products manufacturer. How can I broaden my understanding of how my client's products are being viewed by the customer when this is not part of my assignment?

The value customers place on a product or service drives (or should) its design, production and sales. Every consultant should want to expand his or her perspective to include that of the customer. Greater efficiency or lower cost for an internal process used to create a product or deliver a service is insufficient to increase customer value.

One thing you should try to arrange (if your client has not already made this part of your engagement) is to observe, or even conduct, a focus group for your client's product or service. A focus group is a qualitative research process to evaluate the attractiveness, acceptability, consumer experience or reaction to a proposed idea, service or product. Although focus group designs vary, about a dozen likely consumers, carefully selected for demographic and user characteristics, are presented with a new product or idea in a 1-2 hour facilitated session. It is feedback from this session that determines acceptability of a proposed item.

Your ability to participate in the design or facilitation of a focus group, or just to observe, can provide powerful insights into where your process improvements are best targeted. In many cases, you may hear opinions or perspectives you have never heard or even thought of. For example, focus group participants may have never heard of terms or concepts you assume all consumers are aware of. It can be a humbling experience.

Tip: Early in the engagement process, ask your client if there are any planned focus groups to test the results of the work you are tasked with. Even if this is not a consumer directed product, your internal focused process may well have impact on client staff or partners. Suggest that there may be significant value in testing the hypotheses under which your consulting engagement is designed with those "consumers" of the new, improved operations.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  customer understanding  learning  market research 

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