In the age of digital screening, AI data collation and the transformation of the market research industry, is there a place for the traditional focus group? Webhelp’s Marketing and Communications Manager, Ewan McKay, looks at the value of this research staple to enhance and inform modern Customer Experience strategy.

The humble focus group has a long and chequered history, it appeared in social science literature as far back as the 1920s and, surprisingly, was used as far back as the Second World War to examine the effectiveness of propaganda. But, it was only in comparatively recent times (80s-90s) that renowned Psychologist and marketing expert Ernest Ditcher coined the familiar term “Focus Group.”

Heavily publicised by political movers and shakers throughout the Blair years, the focus group is now valued as a significant insight tool, something that Carol Anne Morgan, Director, B2B International, believes is firmly embedded in the industry research toolkit:

The focus group technique has evolved over the years within market research and has strongly influenced the business community from product design through to promotions and advertising.” Source: B2B International

However, along with the rise of focus groups, the past 20 years has seen a rapid transformation of the market research industry, which is now teeming with innovative online advances like instant surveys, digital screening, social media insight, AI data collation, and live webcam interviews.

Photo: Nik MacMillan/Unsplash

This much variation begs the question – are focus groups still relevant? And furthermore, with so many effective choices on offer, how important are they in the CX services sector?

Patricia Lotich, Management Consultant, may have part of the answer, when she explains that:

“The main purpose (of focus groups) is to provide data to enhance, change or create a product or service targeted at a key customer group.” This is key to evaluating CX, and she goes on to explain: “Customer expectations are a moving target so it is important to stay on top of understanding the customer perspective.” Source: SocialMediaToday

So, if we take on board the notion that focus groups can provide the key to understanding specific consumer viewpoints, then they also have increased their relevancy in evaluating the particular customer experiences offered at every stage of interacting with a brand.

Laura Livers, Chief Executive Officer, Focus Pointe Global agrees with this position saying:

“We utilize focus groups to gain valuable insight into the heart and mind of the consumer… As CX is the journey that impacts every aspect of the buying cycle, and one that can make or break a company’s marketing success, focus groups are an excellent way to gain valuable insights on both.” Source: GreenBook 

Furthermore, as all good marketers know, this journey includes everything from discovery, to research, to purchasing, to customer support. Laura further explains that focus groups are unique in being able to discover not only the facts but the complex motivations behind them, “not only what people are thinking but why?” She believes that:

“As more and more of the process of conducting research, is shifted to tech-based solutions to answer the ‘who, what, when, where, and how’ of business questions… researchers will be tasked with answering the ‘why and now what?’ Those are inherently human functions and should stay so.”

This connects very closely with the Webhelp goal to keep the human touch (Blog link) within our CX journeys, particularly when it comes to how we utilise customer insight. We believe that it has never been more important to understand the views of the public, especially as they are at the end of an increasingly complicated and automated campaign funnel.

Recently, in preparation for the next chapter of our Disruptor Series: Generation, our team had the opportunity to speak to a number of customer advisors in Webhelp’s Dearne Valley customer experience centre. We asked for their opinions not just as employees, but as consumers themselves, and some valuable thought-provoking points were raised, some of which will be revealed in our forthcoming Whitepaper.

At Webhelp, we are constantly improving our client’s customer journeys and transforming the CX approach to be more human facing and reassuring. As revealed in our Model Office blog (link), feedback is taken from all levels of the business to create custom-built solutions for problem-solving and forward planning, so that CX evolves with consumer needs.

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