The idea of the customer experience is always evolving. There have been countless technological advances over the course of human history that have changed the way businesses interact with and serve their customers. Whether it’s the creation of the telegraph, the invention of the switchboard or the rise of the Internet, new technologies have shaped not only the way consumers interact with companies, but their expectations of those interactions.

For a long time, the idea of a personal relationship with the customer was the Holy Grail, and to an extent that’s still the case. But recently, the idea of convenience has crept into the discussion. The convenience and user experience delivered by smart, customer-focused consumer technology companies have given rise to greater expectations for convenience and personalization from traditional businesses.

The most recent technological development changing the customer experience is the dawn of the Big Data era in conjunction with advancements in mobile, personalization and real-time analytics and artificial intelligence. These changes and the digital transformations they enable are helping companies catch up and finally deliver on that powerful combination of personal touch, convenience and added value.

Never before have companies had the access and ability to analyze and draw insights from the massive amounts of data generated by their relationships with consumers. Put simply, it’s time to embrace the future of customer engagement. To be successful in today’s data-driven world, organizations need a customer-centric approach in order to build their business around the needs, preferences and intents of customers on an ongoing basis. But what actions can organizations take to achieve this customer-centric approach, and to ensure that the interactions they do have are smart and informed?

So many organizations have collected massive amounts of data related to their customers, and most of those organizations can glean meaningful insights from that data. But where we often see a huge disconnect is in the ability to create impactful experiences for the customer in the form of recommendations. It’s that gap between insight and impact that’s preventing organizations from nurturing and improving customer relationships. Data is only as valuable as the insights you can glean from it, and that insight is only as valuable as the benefits you apply on behalf of your customers. Ultimately, the ability to collect data and infer insights is meaningless without the ability to translate it into meaningful actions.

In order to leverage data to create a customer interactions that exceed customer expectations, there are several steps that organizations must take, including:

  • Clearly Define Your Business Objectives: Before you can make your data work for you, you need to fully understand exactly what it is you want it to do. You’d be shocked how often very smart people are unable to clearly articulate the business objectives behind customer-related projects, even if it’s as simple as “win new customers” or “increase customer lifetime value.” Understanding what you want to accomplish before you start is critical.
  • Incorporate ALL Data About Your Customer: Bringing together disparate data sources is an enormous challenge for organizations, it is perhaps the most essential element to develop an accurate and comprehensive understanding of your customers’ preferences and needs now and into the future. It is also necessary in order to connect the dots from all of the touchpoints between you and your customer to ensure that your interactions are relevant.
  • Close the Gap between Data and Action: Now that you’ve got the right data and you know what you want to accomplish, the next step is to operationalize. Forrester calls this step the “Insights to Action gap” and the way to bridge that gap is to connect data to actions. That means actionable, proactive, prescriptive recommendations generated from your data being used to ensure the customer experience meets their needs.

These brief steps only scratch the surface of what is needed to translate data into actionable intelligence and create truly smart customer interactions. For more information, I highly recommend a recent Webinar between NGDATA and Forrester, which you can find here.