Listen to your customers, and they’ll help improve your market success and overall business performance. At least, that’s the idea behind Voice-of-the-Customer (VOC) programs, which enable you to turn subjective customer opinions into actionable business intelligence. Unfortunately, the full promise of VOC programs isn’t often realized.

Good VOC programs start with gathering useful data, as discussed in the first part of this series. In this second post, I’ll discuss what comes next: going beyond data analysis to embed customer-driven insights into decision-making across the enterprise.

Decide and conquer

Systematically organizing and acting on customer feedback—and ensuring that it gets incorporated into your customer service, product, pricing, branding, communications, etc. decisions—is the endgame of all VOC programs. But it can be an elusive goal. In fact, according to Gartner, only 29% of companies with VOC programs systematically incorporate those insights into decision-making processes. And only one in four believes their VOC programs are effective at driving action.

So what can you do? Here are five tips for taking your VOC program from data to decisions.

1. Know your goals

Analyzing VOC data should be like zero-sum budgeting. You’ll need to specify detailed objectives for every piece of data you collect—and clarify the process it will inform. Who’s going to use this piece of research? How will it be translated into a business decision? And how will you make sure you’ve gotten all the data you need to inform that decision?

It’s also important to get the buy-in and sponsorship of each decision maker that’s involved. If your stakeholders aren’t accustomed to thinking like a researcher, help them understand exactly how your data will improve their choices about product design, branding, communications, and customer experience, and how it will fit their workflow. VOC programs are not without cost, and each VOC effort should be evaluated in the same way that any other investment would be, e.g. according to what it returns to business success.

For a recent BTG client, for example, I designed a formal system that ensured no VOC effort would be funded without a clear description of its purpose, a corporate agent responsible for implementing results, a schedule for decision-making, and metrics to measure impact. One quick fix that came out of the system: VOC data gathering and analysis are now in lockstep with the timing of specific business decisions, thus avoiding the trap of stale data (whether real or perceived) or data that comes too late in the decision making process.

2. Build a process and organize

Goals are great, but it’s hard to make things happen without committing to an actual process. Create an explicit framework for driving VOC deployment: when data collection and analysis will happen, how insights will be delivered to stakeholders, and when stakeholders will meet to drive those insights into decision-making. Otherwise, you’re likely to leave good intelligence gathering dust on the proverbial shelf.

One client I’ve worked with has created a small group of employees who are specifically trained in working with both VOC experts and business decision makers. This group helps translate VOC findings into insights to bridge the gap and drive results from VOC investments. Another client totally revamped the company’s VOC structure so that it’s better aligned and integrated with individual business units.