Focus groups are a common mechanism for gathering the voice of the customer through a structured group interview. They provide an opportunity to get multiple customers together to discuss their needs, evaluate concepts, and provide feedback to developers. They are used to elicit the a range of ideas, attitudes, experiences, and opinions held by a selected sample of participants on a defined topic.
There are two basic type of focus groups. Exploratory focus groups are used to discuss customer needs, develop concepts for new products and/or evaluate new concepts/products. Experiential focus groups are used to observe customers using products (and learn from those observations) or to hear motivations for the purchase of a product.
Focus groups require an experienced facilitator to plan and organize the session, invite participants, and conduct the session. The sessions are typically one to three hours in length. The objectives need to be clearly identified. Based on this, the facilitator should develop a presentation and a discussion guide. Next, customers must be identified and recruited. There are typically 8-12 participants per session. A moderator will start with introductions, describe procedures, and often make a product presentation. Usually the session is observed by multiple people in a separate room and is also audio- and video-taped to accurately capture all of the comments and feedback from customers.
It is important to keep in mind that because of the small numbers involved, the participants cannot be expected to be thoroughly representative in a statistical sense of the target population from which they are drawn, and findings cannot reliably be generalized beyond their number. Care must be taken in selecting the participants, and, often, multiple sessions are conducted to increase the validity of the results.