If you’re looking to gain insight from your client base on a particular issue—satisfaction with your services or maybe tips on getting their referrals—there are several ways to go about it. You can send out a survey, asking for their answers to particular questions. While effective, this can feel a bit impersonal. Another option, which may allow participants to feel more engaged in the process—is to conduct a client focus group.
But how do you go about it? The following best practices can help you provide a positive focus group experience for your clients—and ensure that you get the feedback you need to enhance your business.
Goals and Techniques
What do you want to learn? The whole point of holding a focus group is to get feedback on specific issues relative to your firm. So you need to decide up front what your objective is. For example, you might want your clients to offer:
- Feedback on existing services
- Suggestions regarding additional value-added services your firm might provide
- Ideas relative to your marketing or business plan
- Suggestions for getting referrals
- Reaction to office space and/or location
- Views on proposed strategic changes (e.g., moving an office)
Who will participate? Focus groups typically have six to twelve participants, so you might consider inviting a cross-section of your A and B clients, as they are the ones most likely to support the future growth of your business.
How will it work? The focus group facilitator—often a trained third party not associated with your firm—writes questions on a flip chart and then solicits the input of the group. The facilitator then writes down the exact words participants use, which helps participants know they’re being heard. The facilitator should use neutral words, tone of voice, and body language to avoid influencing participants’ opinions.
There are additional techniques that can help promote participation. For example, you can:
- Use a secret ballot for certain questions
- Develop questions that invite only those who want to participate to respond
- Develop questions that encourage participation by everyone in the group
- “Force” participation by asking each participant to respond individually and requiring the participant to say “pass” if he or she does not wish to comment
Asking the Right Questions
The questions you have the facilitator ask the group will depend on your objectives. Be sure to take care in developing your questions to ensure that you don’t introduce bias.
For example, if you know you will grow out of your office space in a year or two, you could ask questions like:
- On a scale from 1 to 10 (high), how important is the physical space where the firm is located?
- What characteristics regarding the firm’s space are most important to you? Which are least important?
- What area of the city or surrounding area do you think would be the most ideal office location?
- Assume you have 100 voting points. How would you distribute your points among the following options for the type of building the firm might choose for our future office? (If you have no preference, give equal points to each option.)
o A suite in an office building in an office park
o A suite in an office building in a nonoffice park
o An office in a converted house
o An office in my home
- If the firm were to relocate downtown where parking is at a premium, would you pay for valet service if available? Would you use valet service if the firm paid for it?
- What other issues regarding the firm’s physical location are important to you that we haven’t asked about?
If your goal is to assess client satisfaction with your firm, the following questions could be a good starting point:
- (Secret ballot) On a scale from 1 to 10 (high), how delighted are you with the firm?
- What are the most important characteristics you look for from a financial advisory firm?
- Using low, medium, or high, rate the firm on each of those characteristics.
- (Based on response to previous question) The firm rates low/medium on characteristic X. What can the firm do that would make you rate it high on this characteristic?
- If someone you know is looking for referrals to an advisory firm and asked you to describe this firm and its services, how would you respond? (Ask focus group participants to write down their responses and then go around the table to collect them, writing them on the flip chart one at a time.)
- How long have you worked with this firm? How has your perception of the firm changed over time?
- What suggestion(s) would you make to help this firm improve?
Wrapping It Up
It may be helpful for you to present for the introduction and the conclusion but exit the room during the focus group. Doing so will demonstrate how seriously you want participants to share their honest opinions. Be sure, though, to conclude the session by thanking the group for participating.
Afterwards, look closely at the information provided to you. Were there patterns in the responses? Common themes? Did new questions arise? What conclusions can you draw? A best practice is to share your gleanings with the participants and explain how you plan to use what you’ve learned to enhance your business in the future. After all, you had a reason for conducting a focus group in the first place. You have a responsibility to follow through on the results.
Kristen Terpstra is an associate consultant, practice management, at Commonwealth Financial Network®, member FINRA/SIPC, an independent broker/dealer–RIA.