Data-driven decision-making isn't new. From forecasting and staffing to finances and beyond — successful companies live and breathe data. 

The difference is, with the emergence of analytics software over the past two decades, it’s become increasingly easier and more efficient for businesses to interpret vast quantities of information.

Data is particularly valuable — critical, in fact — for customer experience management programs. This data comes from a number of sources, but for a truly outside-in approach, customer feedback data is the holy grail of insight. 

Unfortunately, customer data tends to be the most difficult to wrangle, measure and analyze. So many opinions, coming from so many platforms and each piece of feedback is its own unique data point.

Although the volume of customer data can make it difficult to wrap your head around, it’s worth the effort. 

Here’s how to take customer data and turn it into manageable insights that inform better customer experiences, marketing strategies and products:

Go Big or Go Home

Sifting through what at times feels like an endless pool of customer data can be overwhelming. 

While it's natural to feel bogged down, keep in mind that the more data you have to work with the better. Gathering real-time insights from a myriad of sources paints a more accurate picture of who your customers are, what they think of your brand and what they need and want most. 

So don’t shy away from data. 

Track a wide variety of platforms in order to gather both solicited and unsolicited feedback — there’s value in each. Surveys are the most common form of solicited feedback, in which a company seeks out customer opinions on specific products, services or experiences. Proactively seeking customer feedback allows businesses to easily obtain the insights they need most. 

However, this method often fails to capture the full picture because customers are only asked a standard set of questions, which limit the description of their experience. That’s where customer emails and call center conversations — where the customer comes to you — helps. You’ll also want to collect organic and unfiltered feedback by listening to what your customers say on social media, review sites and online forums.

Once you’ve gathered customer data, make the most of it. Don’t limit yourself by over-simplifying data as good or bad. Customers' feelings about products go far beyond simply liking or disliking a product, which means you can learn a lot more from feedback than overall satisfaction or dissatisfaction. 

Now's when you'll want to dig into data on a deeper level.

Make it Manageable

With customer feedback data at your disposal, it’s time to pull insights, track trends and get at why customers feel the way they do about your brand. Customer feedback should be analyzed with depth and specificity to the root cause of a particular area of dissatisfaction. Track the type of language that is frequently used to talk about your brand and take note of keywords or phrases.

For the richest possible analysis, analyze customer feedback data alongside of demographic data, purchase history and other information from your CRM system. Doing this will allow you to draw parallels and discover correlations. For example, you may find that a particular age group is experiencing difficulties with a product that another age group is not.

Create a dashboard for managing this information. Make sure keywords and phrases are tracked daily and that negative feedback is monitored (and responded to) in real-time. Create widgets for the metrics that are most important to your business. 

You may also want to consider using text analytics and sentiment analytics tools to automate the process — that way feedback is carefully analyzed for meaning without requiring manual review cycles.

Take Action

Many companies take the time to collect and analyze customer data, but fail to follow through. 

While it’s great to know who your customer is on a deep and meaningful level, it’s important to take that knowledge and turn it into real change — improved product offerings, better marketing campaigns, increased interaction with customers and so on. When you know what your customers are thinking and why, the sky's the limit.

Here are a few areas where your data can create tangible results:

Deliver Better Customer Service: Listening to customers carefully and in real-time will give you a solid understanding of what issues are top of mind at any given moment. Take action by communicating with customers about their concerns and answer questions as they crop up. 

For example, Verizon found that customers affected by Hurricane Sandy were concerned about overage charges during a time when their mobile phone was their only means to communicate. Verizon was quick to respond to these concerns by forgiving overage charges by those effected by the storm.

Build More Impactful Marketing Campaigns: Customer data can help you create marketing campaigns and messaging that resonates with your target audience. If you know what your customers care about, you can tailor campaigns accordingly. 

Take one large beverage brand, for example. The company found that parents and educators were concerned about the potential harmful side effects of artificial sweeteners. By digging into where these worries were coming from, the company was able to update their messaging to address these concerns.

Improve Products and Services: That same beverage company took concerns about artificial sweeteners as a cue to offer alternative products to meet the needs of all customers. For companies equipped with deep analysis of customer feedback, product updates and innovations can (and should be) driven by consumer insight. 

Take what you know about customer needs and turn it into an actionable product roadmap. Your customers will be delighted that you’re able to provide the goods and services they’ve been asking for.