Why Your Mobile Customers are the New Focus Group

Posted by EmilyCarrion

What if you didn’t have to wait months to find out how a new feature is resonating with your audience? What if you could hear from 25 percent of your audience on a regular basis — not just the vocal minority?

I’m going to show you how you can leverage your mobile app audience for rapid feedback loops and why traditional focus groups are dead.

The problem with focus groups

Yes, focus groups are a great way to learn about how a potential demographic will respond to a yet-to-be released product. They can give you a sense of how your brand resonates in the market as a whole. They often provide insight into usability, overall experience, and more. They’re also a great way to learn about what’s going well and what can be improved with your online experience.

But there are a few common issues with focus groups that are tough to avoid, especially when you work in software:

Small, localized groups typically aren’t generalized.

A rule of thumb in inferential statistics: To confidently apply the findings from your focus group, your sample group needs to reflect the makeup of your larger customer base.

The sample group may not be a good representation of your actual customers, whereas a random sampling of your engaged mobile customers has a much higher chance of being less biased.

There’s a gap between what focus group participants say and what they do.

When observing people in a controlled environment, it’s likely their behavior will be a bit different than what they would typically do without being observed.

Take the cautionary tale of the yellow Walkman, for example. Sony conducted a focus group for a new yellow, sporty version of the Walkman. All of the participants in their focus group said they loved the yellow Walkman and that they wish they owned one. To thank the participants for their time, Sony offered them their choice of a black Walkman or a yellow Walkman at the end of the session. Based on the positive feedback they received during the focus group, you can imagine Sony’s surprise when all of the participants chose the black Walkman.

The “vividness effect” can impact both the focus group participants and the observers.

People’s perception of an event is affected when they witness highly graphic or dramatic images, or, in the case of a focus group, witness something in person. Visually witnessing something affects the way people process situations.

When research is observed in person, the vividness effect causes observers to automatically be drawn toward sensational, vivid, and extreme examples. If a particular person in the focus group is animated and dominates the discussion (common with dominant, extroverted group members), what they say is more likely to dominate the conversation and be remembered.

You can avoid the pain of using focus groups by leveraging mobile customers as a built-in focus group for your business.

Why mobile customers are the new focus group

1. Your mobile users are already customers.

Let’s start with the obvious — your mobile users are already customers. Since they’re already your customers, you can safely infer that your findings represent your larger customer base. And based on usage data, you already know how often they use your app, what features they use, etc. This means you can infer their level of loyalty. For this reason, it’s less likely your results will be biased and your findings will be easier to segment.

2. Mobile provides implicit data about the consumer.

On mobile, you have a lot of implicit data about each consumer. You know what device they use, how long they’ve had your app, and you may even have demographic data if that’s associated with their login. This means you can ask your audience for the exact explicit data you need and expand the customer profile data you already have. Gradually, you can ask them for more data and combine that with their behavior and actions they take in the app to create a comprehensive customer profile.

3. Mobile customers are more engaged than desktop-only users.

On top of having a more robust customer profile, mobile customers are more engaged. Time spent on mobile has surpassed time on desktop; 51% of total digital time is spent on mobile as compared to 42% on desktop. Our customers (across industries) have reported that even though they have more web-based customers by volume, their mobile customers are way more engaged than their desktop web-only customers.

This means that even if you haven’t seen web-survey success, if done correctly, you can expect a higher volume and higher-quality feedback from your mobile audience. In a survey we conducted in conjunction with SurveyMonkey, we found 51% of consumers expect companies to ask them for feedback directly, whether it be in the app, on the phone, or in-store. Moreover, 98% of consumers who prefer to leave feedback in the app are likely to do so when asked for it directly.

4. Segment your audience by Net Promoter Score.

Not only can you increase the volume and quality of your feedback from actual customers, you can segment your audience by promoters, passives, and detractors. An easy way to do this is by including sentiment prompts in your customer journey flow, (e.g. ask your customers “do they love [insert name of your company]). Think about how powerful this is!

Combine this sentiment data with usage data and you can get really precise around who you want to learn from — effectively filtering out the noise to clearly hear your customers’ voices. You can get feedback directly from your promoters who are in your app daily or weekly. When you’re looking to roll out a new rewards program or test a new feature, this is a great group to target as your beta testers.

5. Dramatically increase the speed for collecting feedback.

Depending on how you set up the targeting for your in-app survey, you could see hundreds of responses within hours of launching a survey. This is particularly helpful if you have someone up the chain with a “great idea.” You can quickly test out how your audience will actually feel about this idea and have customer data to backup your decision to kill or move forward with the idea.

An Apptentive customer shares her success with in-app surveys.

By replacing focus groups with your mobile customers, you’re able to come in with an understanding of the groups’ backgrounds, experience with your product, and their loyalty. You can segment users to target specific groups depending on what you’re testing. And you’re able to get more higher-quality feedback really quickly. So how do you replace focus groups with mobile customers?

Best practices for collecting feedback from mobile customers

If you’re sold on the benefits of getting feedback from your actual customers by leveraging in-app customer feedback, let’s walk through some best practices.

  1. Decide what questions you’re trying to answer.
  2. Hypothesize your outcomes before you begin and adjust for bias.
  3. Select data points to support your hypotheses.
  4. Select a group that reflects users you want to look at, but be careful to adjust for demographic data that might bias your findings.
  5. Ask your questions at the right time. For example, if you want feedback on a new feature, ask them for feedback right after they use the feature, not two days afterwards. This way, the feedback you receive will be more accurate because the experience is still fresh in their mind.
  6. Plan how you’ll distribute your findings and how they may affect future projects.
  7. Follow up with your audience and let them know how you used their feedback; it will help you increase loyalty. 97% of customers are at least somewhat likely to become more loyal patrons if they know their feedback has been implemented.

The methodology you use when asking for feedback from your mobile customers is similar to how you’ve run focus groups. Its unique advantages in speed to collection, learning from actual customers, and advanced targeting are game-changers that you cannot ignore.

In conclusion

While focus groups can sometimes be useful, they’re antiquated and present more problems than they’re worth. Issues with generalization, a gap between what people say they’ll do and what they actually do, the vividness effect, and group think are just a few of the issues that can arise during focus groups. Luckily, mobile technology enables us to avoid the pitfalls of focus groups.

That’s why mobile customers are the new focus group. By using your mobile customers to conduct research, you’re able to get collect feedback that you can trust reflects your customer base on a whole.

On top of that, you’re able to get really precise in which customer segments you target depending on your needs.

Lastly, with mobile surveys, you’re able to quickly gather feedback from a much larger group than you’d be able to with a traditional focus group — speeding up your entire process.

To get started, make sure to review the best practices above. For more advice on how to set up mobile surveys correctly, check out our 7-Step Checklist to Creating Mobile Surveys.

Questions? Comments? Additional advice? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

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