When to use focus groups vs surveys

Customer feedback is essential when making any product or marketing decision. You need to understand what your customers think to develop the best product or campaign.

Focus groups and surveys are two of the most popular methods of obtaining feedback. Both are excellent ways of hearing directly from customers, but each has its place.

In this post, we’ll compare and contrast focus groups vs surveys to help you decide which feedback collection method is best for you.

Focus group vs surveys: The distinctions

A focus group involves a small number of people and a trained moderator talking about your product, service, or campaign. “The individuals who make up the focus group should be a mix of current customers and people who’ve never made a purchase but might in the future,” writes AJ Beltis, a senior content strategist at HubSpot.

“The ideal outcome is a stronger understanding of how the subject of the focus group would be received by a wider audience, and what changes (if any) should be made before the formal roll-out,” he explains.

Focus groups traditionally involved face-to-face discussions in neutral, private settings, but it’s now common for them to take place online via a video conference. Typically, participants don’t know which company they’re talking about, which allows them to speak about the topic openly and without bias.

In a survey, you gather data by asking individuals to answer a series of questions. Surveys can give you more quantitative feedback — meaning you can analyze and quantify responses in numerical values, like percentages. Respondents usually fill out a survey online, but you can also conduct them in person, by phone, or by sending them via mail.

Not all surveys are in a question and answer format. Online customer reviews, for example, are a form of survey.

Focus groups vs surveys: The pros and cons

There’s a lot to like about surveys. They can be more cost-effective than focus groups, especially if you want to collect a lot of data at scale. They also deliver other benefits:

  • You can get feedback quickly.
  • They can provide you with honest feedback, especially if they’re anonymous.
  • You can collect both quantitative and qualitative data.
  • It’s easier to analyze the data they collect.

However, one of the biggest problems with using surveys to collect data is how they impact the customer experience, says Utpal Dholakia, a professor of marketing at Rice University in Houston. If surveys are poorly designed or sent too frequently, they can be frustrating to customers.

For example, sending a feedback survey after every transaction, writes Dholakia, can “shut down responses from the most loyal and engaged customers and hurt the survey’s response rates. At worst, these customers may cut off the relationship entirely and defect to a competitor.”

Focus groups also have a lot of benefits. You’ll be able to have in-depth discussions, hear from your customers in their own words, and possibly discover views and ideas you haven’t thought of.

But there are a couple of things you need to watch out for with focus groups, says Gina Boedeker, founder and CEO at market research and insights company The Boedeker Group. The first, she says, is “group-think, where participants subconsciously strive for conformity and may not give responses that compete with the majority of the group.”

You also need to make sure you hear from everyone and not just the most vocal participants, Boedeker advises.

Focus groups vs surveys: The best option

So, when you’re considering focus groups vs surveys, which method is best for collecting feedback?

The best way to answer that is to think about what you want to understand or which questions you want answers for. A focus group is probably best if you want to understand why your customers think a certain way or how they perceive a particular product. A survey is probably better if you have short and well-defined questions.

Better feedback gathering with Jotform

Hopefully, you now have a better idea of which feedback option will work best for you when it comes to focus groups vs surveys.

In either case, Jotform can help you collect the feedback you need to succeed. Use our templates for focus group application forms and questionnaires to find the best participants. Or create an online survey using one of our 800-plus survey templates.

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