Customer SatisfactionIn a prior blog post titled How to Understand Your Customers Better using Focus Groups, I reviewed the reasons for an organization to want to run a focus group and what the elements were of customer satisfaction research using this technique. This article reviews the preparation steps to run a successful focus group.


Seven Preparation Steps

1. Use an outside moderator

Do not attempt to do a focus group with a member of your own staff.  Running a focus group is a specialized skill.  Examples of important competencies:

a. Keeping the participants moving forward.

b. Maintaining control andnot permitting a single participant to take over the ‘floor’.

c. Time keeping: maintaining the schedule so the time doesn’t pass without covering the intended subjects.

2. Brief your Moderator

a. What is the marketing environment of your product or service?

b. What you expect to get out of the focus group (strategic expectations or short term/ tactical expectations)?

c. What subjects or issues you want to cover and which are the main line topics and which are marginal?

d. Who is the target audience and what do you know about them?

e. Provide any display materials or samples, if any.

3. Set Expectations on Scope with Management

In many organizations, a research project may expand beyond its original intention. This may be caused by too large a team creating the ‘issues’ to be discussed. The volume of issues may grow exponentially with the number of people asked to submit. Someone needs to vet the key issues out and develop a short list. Agree on which issues are critical to be addressed and which are ‘nice to have’. Control management expectations.

4. Pick the location of the Focus group

a. If you do not want the customer to know who is sponsoring the focus group, then an off site location is mandatory.

b. Normally, a focus group location is rented at a specific facility that provides a boardroom with a one way mirror. The participants sit in the boardroom around a rectangular table. The moderator sits at one end of the table and the participants can all see each other. The sponsors site in a special sound proof room on the other side of the one way mirror.

c. Microphones are placed around the boardroom table so the sponsors can hear the conversation of the focus group, in real time.

d. Try to find a focus room facility that would be convenient for your target audience, and provide parking if appropriate.

e. A receptionist normally greets the participants as they arrive and ushers them into the boardroom.

f. Refreshments are customarily provided, as are nearby washrooms.

g. If a suitable location cannot be found with a one way mirror and observer room, discourage having management ‘sit in’ on the focus group.

5. Tape of the Focus Group

a. It is often desirable to tape the focus group interaction, either audio only, or audio and video. This helps the moderator and the researchers recall the interaction and the words used by the customers. This is also useful if a location cannot be found that allows for a one way mirror and observer room.

b. In some jurisdictions, it is necessary to obtain approval, maybe even written approval to record or tape the meeting. Check with your legal advisers.

c. You may want a transcription of the audio, in order to share selected portions with the management team who did not sit through the actual focus group session.

6. Finding the Right Attendees

It is of no value to have a focus group without the right contributors. Don’t take this requirement lightly.

a. Gather prospective names from the sales force, customer service and social media.

b. Prepare an invitation

c. Evaluate the need for an incentive to encourage participation

d. Assume there will be no shows. 40% is not unusual. Overbook.

e. Confirm who will be attending. Don’t leave it to chance.

f. Provide a friendly reminder to those who agreed to attend as the date approaches.

7. Who should listen in as an Observer?

a. Limit the number of observers in the room behind the one way mirror. Often these rooms are small.

b. The smaller the number, the less dialogue will go on in the observer’s room.

c. Remember the objective is to really listen to the customers / prospects and what they are saying rather than discussing things between observers. That can come later.

d. Don’t interrupt the proceedings. Prepare the discussion guide (including the issues and flow of the meeting)  in advance and let the moderator stick to it.


A successful focus group research project doesn’t just happen. There is significant planning required in advance.

Have you led a focus group project? Share your experiences in the comments section below.


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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

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