Voice of the customer (VoC) data is alluring. Once you start to collect customer feedback, there's always something more you could be gathering. You think: What else can I learn? What else are customers saying and thinking? Where else are they saying it? You want to know more.

But collecting the data — listening — isn't enough.

At Forrester, we describe the continuous cycle of activities that make up VoC programs as: listen, interpret, react, and monitor. "Listen" is all the customer feedback you're collecting via listening posts like surveys, emails, calls, and comment cards. "Interpret" is the analysis you do on that feedback (and other related data) to understand what it all means. "React" is what you do to fix the experience based on the analysis you've done, and "monitor" is how you make sure that whatever you did to react is actually working.

It's critical to go through the full cycle with whatever data you're already collecting. Because here's the hard truth: You get no ROI from listening or interpreting. None. Zero. Zip. You only get business results from actually improving the experience.

So how do you make sure your organization is improving the experience? Taking action on the data is by far the hardest part of a VoC program, and it's what we see clients struggle with the most. Here's why: Much of taking action is convincing other people in the organization to take the action. VoC teams don't control the things that need to get fixed and, therefore, can't implement the fixes themselves. (They more often control the listening posts, which is why it's so tempting to do more listening.)

Convincing other people to take action requires a mixture of art and science, a balance of emotion and logic.

You will probably have to start by appealing to emotion. The VoC team at one company equates the surveys it does to the start of conversations with customers. To drive this point home, team members will literally turn their backs on a stakeholder in the middle of a conversation to simulate what it feels like to customers who take the effort to fill out a survey and never get a response. Other companies use storytelling techniques, immersion programs, or customer verbatims to bring the experience to life. For example, Barclaycard US instituted a daily listening program that delivers randomly selected real customer calls and emails to non-customer-facing employees at the start of every day, a practice that has led to cross-functional dialogue and swift changes to policies.

Other companies have taken a more scientific approach. One technology company maintains a prioritized "Top 10 List" of the biggest problems identified through all of its sources of customer feedback. You better believe that the groups responsible for those problems are highly motivated to make improvements that get them off the (highly visible!) list.

Sometimes open dialogue can be the best way to finding a mutually beneficial system for supplying the right data and taking action on it. One B2B technology company's VoC team initiated meetings with sales to understand what would help them take more action on the data. The result: They're moving to account profiles rather than individual profiles so that sales folks know whom to target within specific accounts and what the feedback looks like across the account.

Dashboards and reports have to be actionable, too, which is easier said than done, of course. Think about using the data to tell a story and test hypotheses. The recipient should be able to look at your analysis of the data and know exactly what to do about it. For example, provide context where you can to explain what the data means, such as how a metric compares with a target rather than just the metric itself. A score of 60 means two totally different things if your target is 55 or if it's 90.

If you're struggling with how to take action based on your VoC data, know that you're not alone. But devise a plan for how you can appeal to your organization with a combination of emotion and logic, and open up the dialogue, just as you are with your customers.

And most of all, resist the temptation to just do more and more listening.

Does your VoC program fuel a kick-butt customer experience measurement program or customer understanding program? Nominate your program for Forrester's new Outside In Awards for customer experience excellence! Learn about all six award categories and find all the details at www.forrester.com/outsideinawards. Nominations are due May 3rd. Good luck!