Don’t ask your customers
similar to each other – all white males, aged between 55 and 65, earning an income below R250 000. Not too surprising, really. Mary told us that we needed to break our customer base down into distinct segments, “so that we can get a true ref lection of what your customers think”. Of course, this meant that we needed to do another seven focus groups to make sure that we covered the whole customer base. At R15 000 a pop, this was going to be a very expensive exercise.
“This feels very weird,” I said to Mary as the group sat down and looked directly at me through the window. “Don’t worry,” she reassured me. “It’s a one-way mirror. They don’t even know you’re there. Just relax.” Still, I felt very uncomfortable. It was almost voyeuristic, like a lab experiment where I was a mad scientist observing test subjects in a glass box. “And anyway,” continued Mary, “they’ll each get a nice gift voucher at the end so it’ll be worth their while.”
The next three hours went by very quickly. Steven really knew what he was doing, and kept t he conversation going continuously. Mary scribbled furiously throughout the session. “Whew, that was great,” she said, once t he participants had received t heir rewards and were on their way home. “Let’s debrief.” For the next hour, we analysed the group discussion in painstaking detail, twisting and turning the words to tease out all the nuances and insights hidden beneath them.
“That old guy at the back, he said R50 a month was too expensive. I saw one or t wo of the others nodding as well. You definitely need to drop the fee.” The old guy at the back thought everything was too expensive – including his daily beer at the local pub. “I have a drinking problem,” he said to the others, “it’s too darn expensive!” The others thought this was hilarious.
I was feeling a little uncomfortable with the conclusions Mary had reached after listening to the conversations. “Are you not reading too much into what they said?” I asked her. “Are you kidding?!” she replied, “This stuff is gold!” AN EMBARRASSING CONFESSION I have a confession to make. While I was completing my PhD, I used to lecture a course on Sampling Theory to secondyear Mathematical Statistics students at one of South Africa’s top universities. In other words, I taught students how to scientifically conduct market research. Now what I’m a bit embarrassed about is that I had never once talked about a focus group in a lecture. In fact, I had never