Focus groups can be an excellent tool for finding out what customers think of your company and the service and products it is providing. A focus group is simply a method by which a business or organization can obtain a realistic idea of how well it is satisfying its customers.
Here's how it works. Set up a time when you can invite eight to 10 customers into a room and ask them questions about how they like doing business with you. You want to find out what they see as your strong points and what they see as some of your weak links.
Ask them for suggestions on how you might be able to improve.
Carl Sewell of Dallas owns 10 highly successful automobile dealerships. He uses focus groups regularly. They give him a chance, he said, ``to know what his customers are thinking.''
When Mr. Sewell invites people to participate in a focus group, he makes sure they are representative of his customers or people he would like to have as customers.
``When you get a group of people together they are more likely to tell the truth,'' he noted. ``There really is safety in numbers.''
It's also a good idea to have some of your employees present so they can hear firsthand some of the customers' concerns.
The longer the meeting lasts the more likely it will be that you will get more specific information on how to improve your company's or organization's service. Usually, an hour to an hour and a half is plenty.
It's best to thank the focus group's participants with a small gift. This is the least you can do for someone who has provided some very valuable information that you can use to help you run your company better.
The next step, of course, is to review the information and evaluate how your company can use it. Then take action and implement the best suggestions.
My main point is that your customers want to do business with you-you just have to find out what they need and want and how they want it. Then give it to them.
Focus groups can help you learn what it is your customers and clients really want. Remember, become easy to do business with, and it will become easy to do well in business.
Mr. Borg is president of Canton, Mich.-based Tom Borg & Associates, which offers consulting and training in customer development and employee performance.