Research: How To Use A Focus Group

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Focus groups are the qualitative complement to quantitative research such as mail, phone and web surveys. Driven by ideas and words rather than percentages and numbers, they are an excellent tool to gain deep insight into members' or employees' perceptions, wants and issues and other information that cannot be quantified numerically.

Focus groups are commonly used to assess members' reaction to contemplated changes in name, field of membership or product mix. When focus groups are conducted, management who are generally immersed in operations are often surprised by the members' perspective.

Here's an example. A credit union recently tested new logos with a focus group of its members who were engineers. When the group saw management's favorite "high-tech" design, a constellation of moving triangles, they pointed out that it represented radioactivity, not high-tech symbolism, thus saving the institution a great deal of embarrassment, not to mention significant dollars.

Focus groups are most effective when testing ideas rather than asking for ideas. Why? If the members of a teachers' credit union were assembled in a focus group and given 20 minutes to prepare a week's worth of lesson plans for the group's input, it might be an impossible task for most. If, on the other hand, they were presented with sets of lesson plans for evaluation, they could easily render intelligent opinions in little time.

Another rarely tapped, but powerful resource is an employee focus group.

First, it gives employees a voice that may not otherwise be heard. More importantly, employees have a unique and dual perspective, seeing the process issues that challenge members, as well as the back-office operations that may cause these problems. Often, this outlook uncovers opportunities for enhancing service.

Focus groups go beyond the numbers and provide executives with the opportunity to get the story straight from the source, rather than relying on conjecture and pre-supposed knowledge which may or may not be correct. As such, they are indispensable in making sound decisions that impact the growth of the credit union.

Neil Goldman is president of Member Research. He can be reached at (310) 643-5910 or by email at ngoldman memberresearch.com

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