Customer Experience Lab - St. Petersburg, Bridging Community and Academic Research
By Jamie Boyle
ST. PETERSBURG (April 13, 2021) -- Professor Phil Trocchia took over as the director of the USF Customer Experience Lab - St. Petersburg (formerly the Consumer Insight and Sales Lab) in the fall of 2020. Prior to then, the primary function of the lab was to run focus groups. The lab is now conducting one-on-one, in-depth interviews in addition to the focus groups.
“The goal of the lab is to serve the community and bridge the gap between academic research and business research,” said Trocchia. “I’d also like to get students involved once we are able to hold focus groups in person again, they would get a chance to observe and provide feedback to our clients.”
“It would be great, especially for marketing students to have these experiences for their resumes and job interviews.”
Although he is not able to be in the lab physically, Trocchia has been conducting focus groups virtually, most recently with The Foundation for Healthy St. Petersburg. He has worked with the Foundation to examine messaging to people of color regarding their understanding of COVID-19 vaccines. They are studying what messaging resonates with the audience and what reservations they have about the vaccine. Focus groups were comprised of community leaders, ministers and medical practitioners. He has also spoken with different age groups and ethnicities.
“It was really eye-opening because a lot of people of color do not trust the government and how the vaccine was developed,” Trocchia said, some of these reservations were similar to concerns of Whites as well. In addition to messaging, Trocchia also asked the focus groups to study images for ads to see which resonated best with the target audience. Through these focus groups they were able to “trial and error” a number of ads to see which would be most successful.
Another project Trocchia worked on was with retired CPA Alan Lee to create a retirement calculator. Lee wanted to commercialize the calculator to make it more user-friendly. Trocchia performed one-on-one, in-depth interviews with individuals who met the target market demographics on product features, advertising and pricing to that audience. Based on that feedback, he conducted a larger-scale survey to obtain additional information and ultimately confirm that that the calculator had value and was ready to be brought to the market.
Lee commented on his experience with the lab, “You have provided me with everything I could have asked for and done so in a way that was tailored precisely to my needs and abilities. Moreover, the marketing research and recommendations were critical to my business' success, so the stakes couldn't have been higher.”
Trocchia is also working with Neptune flood insurance to perform surveys to collect people’s beliefs about flood risk and opinions of whether or not flood insurance is necessary. Through these surveys, Trocchia was able to collect useful information on what people understand, and what confuses many people about flood insurance. Neptune Flood Insurance plans to continue its studies with the lab to more fully understand its audience and related topics. Future surveys will explore homeowner’s thoughts on how likely they are to experience a flood, their belief in climate change, and will also explore these thoughts from the point of view of a business.
In March 2021, Neptune Flood released this statement from Jim Albert, chairman and co-founder of Neptune Flood: “The survey results indicate that consumers want the flood insurance purchase process to be easy, online, with transparency about risk and cost. We are thankful to Dr. Trocchia and his team at University of South Florida for their continued interest in this topic. Though the 2021 results indicate a greater level understanding than the previous year, as an industry we still have a long way to go towards achieving broad consumer understanding of flood risk and related insurance options.”
The lab is also working on a $30,000 USF grant, with Principle Investigator Professor Matt Mullarkey and deans Sri Sundaram and Brenda Walker, which comprises interviewing black microbusiness owners in St. Petersburg to see how they handled the COVID-19 pandemic, and make recommendations on what policy makers and other institutions can learn from this experience when future emergencies arise.
“It’s amazing the number of non-profit organizations that are willing and able to help,” said Trocchia.
They plan to present these findings to the city of St. Petersburg as well as submit to related academic journals.