In order to run a successful business, you need to learn to be a great listener. One voice you can't ignore? The voice of your customer.

Listening to your customers' feedback, of course, is a must for any business. But in recent years, many companies (mine included) have put more structure around this effort to ensure we're always delivering the best possible customer experience. If you haven't already made this a focus, it may be time to start.

The Voice of the Customer, or VOC, is a term commonly used for this type of process. VOC involves capturing information about your customers' needs and desires through formal methods such as surveys, interviews, and reviews, as well as informal feedback, your own observations, and more.

Listening to and recording feedback by itself isn't enough. You also need to make sure that the feedback reaches the right stakeholders and is analyzed regularly.

This might sound complex, but it doesn't have to be. At my company, Funding Circle, we set up a dedicated VOC Slack channel, where people from product, sales, marketing, and other teams share and discuss feedback.

This means, for example, that a comment a business owner makes while she's on the phone with her account manager can instantly reach the relevant engineer, marketing manager, or other staffers who need to hear it. Since we do this digitally, we can then search for specific feedback in the channel at a later date, or track how often certain keywords show up.

Customer voice has always been an important guidepost for us. My co-founders and I started our company because we experienced firsthand how difficult it was to access financing as entrepreneurs, and wanted to help other small business owners get fast and fair loans.

If you receive a lot of feedback, it can be hard to distill what's important and what's not. Here are three things, in particular, to listen for when you're tuning in to the Voice of the Customer:

1. Problems

While it can be tough to hear about customer issues and complaints, this can be some of the most valuable feedback that you can get. After all, your customer could have just walked away, but instead is taking the time to point out a problem that is potentially affecting others as well. Make sure to listen to both solicited and unsolicited feedback, and share it promptly with the relevant people (and thank your customer for volunteering it!).

You can even take this a step further: At Funding Circle, we kicked off a borrower experience optimization project last year that involved making a broad range of changes -- from addressing technical issues down to adjusting the language we use in forms for clarity -- based in large part on feedback collected through VOC.

2. Praise

Positive feedback is always nice to hear, but its value goes much further than that. Just like a complaint can help identify what you're doing wrong, a compliment spotlights what you're doing right.

This can help you understand your impact and prioritize your efforts. McDonald's did this a few years ago when they made beloved items from their breakfast menu available all day, leading to a surge in overall sales.

We've also noticed that this information can be valuable from a staff performance perspective. An employee who is consistently recognized positively in VOC feedback is probably somebody worth keeping around.

3. Opportunities

Something else to keep an ear out for is any customer wants and needs that you don't currently offer. This can help you identify new opportunities to grow and expand.

For example, if a customer at your shop mentions he drove an hour to get there, ask him where he came from and make a note. This might be a good indicator of where you should open your second location. At our company, we even use VOC to help guide our marketing and communications efforts -- if people consistently have the same questions, it's a sign that there is a perception gap we have the opportunity to address.

If you care about your customers' experiences, you need to ensure their voices are heard. While you're probably already keeping an ear open to customer feedback, VOC can help make sure you're giving it the attention it deserves.

Published on: Jan 24, 2018