Are your employees and customers telling you what you need to hear or what you want to hear?

There is no question that employees are a company’s most valued resource. The challenge for management is to offer a work culture in which individuals are empowered and have the opportunity to develop and advance. When it comes to your customers, it is essential to continually meet their expectations regarding the quality and value of the products and services offered. This is key to a company’s competitive edge.

Given the enormity of what’s at stake, it is mindboggling that most companies, both small and large, do not conduct employee and customer focus groups on a regular basis.

The main purpose of focus group research is to draw upon the attitudes, feelings, beliefs, experiences and reactions of respondents in a way that would not be feasible using other methods such as observation, one-to-one interviewing or questionnaire surveys. These attitudes, feelings and beliefs may be partially independent of a group or its social setting, but are more likely to be revealed via the social gathering and the interaction that being part of a focus group entails.

Moderating a focus group is a skill set unto itself. It is important to use a professional and experienced facilitator who can foster an open honest dialogue and maximize the research outcome.

At KEA, we’ve been facilitating focus groups for over two decades. Here are a few case studies demonstrating the value and insight that focus group research can provide.

Freightliner Trucks Inc.
Freightliner manufactures, sells and services heavy duty class 8 diesel trucks. A new senior manager had placed unrealistic turnaround quotas on the service department and employees were not comfortable voicing their concerns. We conducted focus groups with many of Freightliner’s long-time customers and Freightliner staff. Though open and relaxed focus groups we were able to discover these concerns and presented our findings to management. The result was a successful conclusion for all stakeholders.

Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is Israel’s premier university. The ongoing conflict in the country had eroded government funding to the institution, and we were commissioned to increase funding support throughout the Jewish community in Canada. We conducted focus groups with alumni, parents, and staff in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal annually over a period of five years. Each year we developed a series of newspaper ads, direct mail brochures, and donor letters based on the findings. All communications focused on how the University faced increased financial demands. According to the National Director of Funding, there was an immediate and strong positive donor response every year of the five-year campaign.

Sussex Insurance
The objective of the focus group was to discover the most effective marketing message and media to successfully launch Sussex Insurance in Alberta, a very competitive market where they had no brand awareness. Participants were asked what influences them when looking for Auto, Home, Condo and Tenant insurance, as well as what they thought would be the most successful media to use for a new insurance company trying to break into the market.  Our experienced facilitator was able to gather the necessary knowledge to ensure a successful launch.

Sysco
When Sysco surpassed its competitors to become the leading supplier to "meals-prepared-away-from-home" operations in North America, they wanted to know why so that they could continue to improve. We conducted focus groups with Sysco employees and telephone interviews with clients to gain a better understanding of why Sysco was the supplier of choice. What we discovered was that Sysco had the fastest turnaround and that their sales and service staff were available 24/7. These key selling points were then integrated into all of the company’s marketing efforts.

Pomeroy Consulting Engineers Ltd.
Pomeroy is a structural and civil engineering firm. As many of their clients are large private and government firms, we conducted our research through telephone interviews with senior management. Our findings were instrumental in discovering why Pomeroy was not receiving RFPs from some of their long-time clients and revealed a few things they could do to gain new clients. With this information in hand, Pomeroy was able to get back in the good graces of some existing clients as well as land some new ones.

Tree Island Industries Ltd.
Tree Island was one of North America’s largest producers and a global supplier of premium steel wire and wire products. For over 20 years, the company had supplied more than 50% of the barbed wire used by western Canadian farmers. A US firm planned to offer the same quality barbed wire at half the price. We were commissioned to find a winning solution. Through telephone research with farmers we were able to determine there was a way to motivate them to pay twice as much for the same quality product. We placed a Canadian flag on every bale of barbed wire and created a brochure that was mailed out to every farmer. On the cover of the brochure was a photo of a farmer and a testimonial saying: “I have used Canadian-made Tree Island barbed wire for over 15 years and will continue to do so.” The brochure also contained photos and testimonials of other farmers as well as a group photo of Tree Island’s 400 employees. To say the least, the US firm had to rethink their plans.

Primus Canada Telecom
Primus has evolved into a national communications provider offering smarter affordable connectivity choices for Canadian consumers, businesses and wholesale customers. We were commissioned to discover why Canadians were paying more for services from other providers even though Primus was advertising lower rates. Our focus group research discovered that customers value certain intangible aspects more than price, such as the reputation of the company and the salesperson’s willingness to go the extra mile. Primus successfully refocused its marketing on their sales staff and customer service.

Deloitte
We were commissioned to create a national/bilingual newspaper ad campaign. We developed English concept boards showing a Deloitte partner explaining how he helped a small business grow. The response was overwhelming in all 12 English focus groups. However when the same visuals and translated message was presented to the 12 French focus groups, the response was one hundred percent negative. All felt that the small business featured was paid to be in the advertisement. This insight allowed us to adjust the concept for the French market, turning it around so that it was the small business explaining how Deloitte helped them grow. The campaign was a national success gaining over 1,500 new clients and prompting over 1,000 clients to take advantage of services they had not used in the past.

Van Tel/Safeway Credit Union
All employees of Telus and Safeway are automatically members of the Credit Union; many of them were using other financial institutions paying more for some of the same services VanTel offered. We were commissioned to discover why they were willing to pay more and create a strategy to remedy the situation. Based on the information we gained conducting focus groups at VanTel and Safeway locations, we created monthly external and in-branch informative programs that resulted in an instant 50% increase in employee use of the Credit Union.