If you’re a business owner and it isn’t clear to you that the customer’s voice is the most important voice to hear, you’ve been living under a rock.

Now, more than ever, customers expect their needs to be met, and they expect their feedback to be addressed right here, right now. Now that social media has made it easier than ever to spread “word of mouth” commentary about a business’s performance, business leaders need to be acutely aware of what their customers are saying about their brands, while also being able to act upon that feedback in a timely, efficient and satisfactory manner.

While businesses across many industries are adopting voice of the customer (VoC) programs, they’re falling short when it comes to actually taking action in response to what their customers are saying. In fact, in a 2016 CMO.com column, customer experience expert Michael Hinshaw shared Gartner research showing that “only 29 percent of firms with VoC in place systematically incorporate insights about customer needs into their decision-making processes. And nearly three-fourths don’t think that their VoC programs are effective at driving actions.”

It seems that businesses are doing only half the job — that they only care about keeping up an appearance of caring about their customers. But without action, a VoC program is simply lip service.

So, what factors go into creating an effective VoC program? How can you prove to your customers that you’re taking their feedback seriously?

Here are tips that I can share based on my experience: Listen actively, take action, analyze customers’ comments for insights about how you can improve your business, and adopt an escalation plan for situations where call-center reps really can’t help customers with their problems. Those steps should be at the core of your VoC program.

Voice of the Customer Requires Active Listening

In the rush of day-to-day businesses, when you’re just trying to anticipate and avert the next problem, addressing customer feedback can get pushed to the bottom of the to-do list.

Think about it: When was the last time you took a step back and actually listened to what customers were saying — and addressed their feedback in broader terms with your leadership team, customer service manager or marketing manager?

In order for companies to listen to the voice of the customer, they must first know how to listen — without getting defensive.

While it sounds simple, there’s an art to active listening, and it involves a good deal of psychology. Think about times when you were excited or frustrated about something and really wanted to get a point across. When you’re sharing your thoughts on occasions like that, you probably don’t feel like you’re making yourself heard if the people you’re addressing are sitting there with blank expressions, checking their phones or multitasking in some other way. Isn’t it better when they engage in the conversation, have understanding facial expressions and otherwise give cues (like nodding their heads) that they are really listening? The latter is known as active listening, and it’s a skill that all employees need to be taught.

Having just three or four active listening skills helps employees connect with customers and will leave customers feeling satisfied and understood. Being heard is priceless. Active listening could well be the key to averting upcoming problems.

One crucial active listening skill is restating what the customer has said. Repeating a phrase in your own words helps you take in what the customer is saying while showing the customer that you’re following along. Restating is a way of validating customers. Acknowledging their problems, concerns or feelings validates their initial thoughts and proves to them that what they’re saying is credible and that you understand them are are eager to help.

Remember, listening does not mean offering a solution right there, right then, every time. Often, people just want to feel heard and validated and understood. Resist the urge to problem-solve. And whatever you do, do not get defensive. After all, if one customer is complaining about a particular aspect of your product or service, it’s likely others are experiencing a similar challenges.

Related Article: The Customer Is Always Right, Right?

When You Hear About Problems, Take Action

While some customers just want to be heard, there are others who want you to fix their problems immediately.

In fact, customer service software vendor Infusionsoft reports that a survey by social media research project The Social Habit found that “42 percent of customers expect one-hour response time on social media.” Of course, most problems can’t be solved that quickly, but businesses can still make an effort to address customer concerns in a timely fashion. Setting up an automatic response system is also a good alternative for companies that need some time to process requests and prepare their responses.

But don’t just rely on the automatic response: Make sure an actual person addresses the issue as soon as possible. Turning the matter over to a chatbot that poses a series of decision-tree questions will only add to a customer’s frustration — and that frustrated customer will send angry tweets, write nasty social posts and otherwise spread bad news about your brand by any means possible.

In situations where customers expect immediate action, it’s important to give your call center agents the authority to solve the bulk of customer issues. Training employees to be service-minded allows them to take the initiative in solving problems, and that approach leads to a faster response times.

Call centers can benefit from real-time analytics, which, according to a Forbes column, enable companies “to combine these customer and agent attributes to make individualized decisions based on the highest probability of success.” Training your employees to listen and take action internally will empower them to solve problems rather than having to send the problem to someone else.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Put Voice of the Customer Feedback Into Action With the Usability Approach

Analyze Customer Feedback

While taking action is one of the most important steps in showing customers that you are listening and care about what they say, analyzing the concerns they raise is most important in growing and strengthening your business.

Every issue that a customer faces stems from some aspect of your company’s operations. In his CMO.com column, Michael Hinshaw wrote, “If you don’t understand customer and market perceptions or how interactions with your firm are being experienced by your customers, it’s nearly impossible to regularly meet, much less exceed, customer expectations or to improve your organization’s performance.” Analyzing each comment individually reveals your strong points and your weak points, and shows where the root of a problem lies.

Build a list of the concerns that customer raise most often, and tap into internal resources to think big-picture about solving those problems.

If there’s a suggestion that customers are making over and over again, involve people in product development and R&D to ensure that your product or service is keeping up with customer needs.

This feedback is vital to ensuring that what you’re offering stays relevant. If you fail to heed customers’ requests for products, features and services, you’ll soon not have any problems to worry about — other than finding a new place to land professionally.

Related Article: Mastering the Art of Emotional Customer Experience

Adopt an Escalation Plan

There are a few so-called “death phrases” when it comes to customer service.

Phrases like “I can’t help you with that,” or “That’s not my department” are the last thing customers want to hear when they have problems.

But what do you do if a customer has a problem that you really can’t help with? That’s where an escalation plan comes in. When an unexpected strain or an increased level of stress is placed upon the call center, the organization needs to have an escalation plan in place so that employees know the procedures to follow in dealing with the problem.

Each company is going to have a different plan of action, but here are a few best practices to keep in mind:

  1. Document the escalation process down to the finest point possible in writing.
  2. Offer the escalation in as many channels as appropriate, such as email, text message, social media and phone.
  3. Always follow up after the event to ensure that the customer is satisfied with the outcome.

Learn From Disgruntled Customers

Every company is going to face disgruntled customers at some point in time, but it’s important to recognize they are the people you can learn the most from. Creating and deploying an effective VoC strategy will take more than just a few people from your customer service team — finding a way to take action based on what you’re hearing is an effort that should involve the entire company working together toward customer success.

Learn how you can join our contributor community.