Last week, my team and I held a focus group with a small group of Kenyan call center staff members in Nairobi. We discussed qualitative aspects about the clients they speak with, discussed whether clients were rural or urban, thought about how age may influence usage, and laughed about their experiences with some people who don't always tell the truth on the phone. My team was in New York, Seattle and Los Angeles. A few years ago, all of our field work was performed in country, but today, we are using technology to make us faster, lighter and smarter.
Selecting when to use this method is as important as knowing how. Remote focus groups are not for every population. Some people are uncomfortable with technology or speaking to someone they don't know over a computer. In some instances, wifi connections and technology may impede their effectiveness. Having a checklist of requirements and expectations for the users on the other side of the line can be useful.
We base our remote techniques on our effective and well-refined in-person focus groups techniques, adapting these to new technology. For example, smiling and indicating to someone that their opinion matters is easier when you can look at the person and make a direct connection, but is essential in building trust and ensuring full participation. Over the past 18 months, we have researched, tested and perfected techniques that can help make up for that in-person contact to improve the effectiveness and richness of the information we get through these methods. When we first tested this methodology, we found it to offer half the information in double the time of an in-person session. Today, we believe we can get as much as 85% of the information in 1.5 times the time!
The idea for remote focus groups had been a long time coming, but we sped up our research and testing when one of our consultants was expecting a baby. Being able to do more of our work from home allows us to cut costs to our clients, but also to offer a more inclusive work environment for our amazing consultants. As a small firm, we innovate because it is crucial to our DNA, to our existence. Competing with many larger companies and local firms, we need to not only offer quality in our work but we must be faster, lighter and smarter. This means retaining the smartest and most nimble minds in our field who add what I call "magic" to our work. It also means using technology to be faster and lighter for us, and our clients. Stay tuned...