For the better part of a decade, ‘customer first’ has been a buzzword. Top executives ponder how to collect customer feedback and respond quickly to customer needs.

Managers down the line spend hours trying to analyse the customer journey, and operational teams lay out strategies for everything from retention to dispute resolution – all the while missing critical warning signs and ultimately losing customers. Like any relationship failure, it’s extremely difficult to identify when the initial breakdown occurred. Actions that are unseen, and sentiment that is unheard, is simply off radar.

Research by Gartner supports this. While more two-thirds of companies say they compete on customer experience, an overwhelming number do not deploy any Voice of Customer (VoC) solutions to drive customer loyalty. They’ve fallen victim to the fire-fighting syndrome.

With this reactive mindset, problems are patched, not solved. They remerge and cascade. And they require heroic efforts to solve. Chronic firefighting does nothing but consume operational resources, and the customers are the first to notice.

Companies that do deploy VoC solutions quickly find that they are no longer behaving like large unwieldy bureaucracies. They are collecting real-time data, acting coherently and consistently and quickly leapfrogging more traditionally managed competitors with market innovations, realising capabilities and driving high-impact growth strategies – all with surprisingly rapid speed. How, you ask? Well, they’re listening to their customers – truly listening.

The introduction of VoC solutions enables a predictive management style that operates effectively the same way that a check-up at the doctor does. Using sophisticated VoC technology, businesses are able to gather information on the real-time health of customers, anticipate where service breakdowns may occur, and predict customer service failures before they erupt.

The result? Ten times the return on investment, 55% growth in customer retention rates, and a 23% reduction in service costs.

So, what’s stopping other organisations from adopting this mindset? The reasons vary but many are concerned about data quality, tight budgets, or a belief that their current operations are already so effective that they can’t be further optimised – ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

But those who are burdened by these constraints, whether natural or human-made, are the ones whose growth strategies are repeatedly interrupted because urgent fires need to be extinguished.

Think for a second about any major customer service failures that have occurred in your organisation over the past 12 months. Is there a system or process in place to capture those failures and lessen the chance of reoccurrence? Possibly.

But the fact that they occurred shows there is no system in place to predict those failures and stop them from occurring in the first place. The argument that VoC solutions is just a ‘nice to have’, dissipates quickly when a stream of customers leave with no warning. With VoC, businesses can save the cost of acquiring a new customer by simply retaining the existing one.

Using predictive analysis, VoC systems look at probabilities, anomalies and trends across the entire customer journey to predict how a customer will behave. Advanced analytics capabilities of VoC include voice biometrics, real-time speech analytics, quality assurance and knowledge management.

Armed with a holistic view of the customer journey across all channels, businesses can identify where, how and why services are underperforming, tailor effective service delivery strategies, pre-empt customer needs and drive customer loyalty.

Insights captured can also track front-line staff behaviour to determine any correlation with customer dissatisfaction, making it easier for managers to pinpoint training and upskilling needs.

But tools alone are not the answer. Technology needs to be coupled with proven experts who are well trained and committed to improving the customer experience. Never lose sight of the importance of the human touch – it is just as important.

So, when was the last time you had a discussion with your Board about VoC? Are you reaping the benefits of a predictive management style, or fighting fires?