Focus group discussions (FGDs) are mostly used by private corporations to determine how they are doing with the publics that they serve. They can also serve as feedback mechanisms to improve their service.
I have been a participant of an FGD a grand total of once. This was decades ago when a known designer—whom I didn’t know—had me invited to take part in a discussion on a non-design matter. It was about a product that was new in the market, if memory serves. All I recall is that it was held at a Makati restaurant and the discussions got pretty animated.
When I worked as Editor-in-Chief of a tabloid owned by the Inquirer group, we conducted several FGDs and I no longer participated but rather observed what representatives of our target market had to say about our newspaper.
That newspaper was Bandera, by the way, and it was originally put up by The Manila Times, but which was later bought by the Inquirer.
We did not want to be a typical tabloid, but wanted to be a “decent” one. No sex and violence, but rather a smaller paper for a separate market from the big broadsheet. From those FGDs, we learned that our readers wanted more showbiz and sports stories, and less of the “serious” stuff. They must have worked because Bandera is still very much around, and not too different from the paper that I put out for three years.
I learned that of late, Meralco has also been conducting FGDs in order to be of better service to its clientele, which means just about everybody in Metro Manila.
Like Bandera, Meralco serves a pretty broad market. But unlike the Inquirer tabloid, the service company has had more problems in conveying its messages to the public.
Meralco’s new strategy involves talking to its customers directly, and using a softer, gentler approach to explain its complicated pricing adjustments.
The Philippines supposedly has one of the highest power rates in Asia. This means not only Meralco, but all other power suppliers throughout the archipelago. Our rates are reportedly higher than Japan, which is hard to fathom.
To the surprise of no one, Meralco found out that its customers generally do not understand their bills, pricing structure, and are pretty clueless on how to best manage their monthly consumption.
This month, their rates went up again.
As long as the company can explain to the satisfaction of the public why this is necessary, they will not have too many problems.
We all know that the country is not self-sufficient in power. Almost all of what we consume is imported. And since this means the peso-dollar exchange rate is a huge factor, as well as the global price of crude oil, we have little choice but to cut down our bills, both electricity and gasoline. Water, too.
Those infomercials of Meralco starring veteran spokesman Joe Zaldarriaga are helpful. I am hoping to lower my bill this month, despite the rate increase. Now if only the oil firms would do the same. Perhaps the Big Three oil firms should conduct their own FGDs.