Focus groups are expensive, time consuming, and often raise more questions than answers. However, that's a big part of their purpose - not to answer questions but rather to raise and explore dimensions of the issues that need to be further measured. So, in spite of the cost and time involved, they are sometimes necessary.
Still, they represent an inexact science at best. Add that to the fact that the moderator and client are almost always focused on learning one particular thing, and the risk increases for biasing the discussion and channeling it into groupthink. Maybe more significant is the fact that a singular focus on the research objectives means all the other insights the group has to share are left behind. That's necessary when you need to explore a certain issue, but what about the rest of it? Are you leaving great customer insights on the table? Probably.
Since talking to your customers face to face can almost never be a bad thing, why not schedule some "unfocused focus groups" a couple of times a year. With no specific research objective in mind, allow your moderator to let the conversation among customers develop and determine what's important to them; what's top of mind; and what they like and don't like about your products and services. The interesting thing about focus groups is you never know what's going to come out of your customers' mouths.
Geo Strategy Partners
The leading b2b/industrial market research and strategy firm.