Data is your customer

The answer to how to reach and connect with our customers is lying right in front of us.

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If you're in business today, you've likely figured out the hardest part: engaging your customers. After overcoming that initial hurdle, it's tempting to see customer engagement as a fixed milestone.

The hard truth is that you won't survive long term if you aren't constantly trying to make the customer experience better. Today, your data is your customer and the most valuable asset in delivering an exceptional experience. If you don't curate it and value it as an iterative process, you're going to lose it.

But look at how companies treat their data: blank fields, data scattered across systems and outdated, duplicate or incorrect information. Data is how companies know their customers -- their interests, intentions, buying habits -- and customer experience is only going to be as good as your data.

As artificial intelligence and cognitive, prescriptive and predictive data take center stage in the coming year, don't blindly implement technology as the savior of your customer approach. Use these data-driven insights to achieve the business outcomes you want, nurture customers across their entire journey and set your company's brand experience apart.

Cognitive will be the standard to anticipate and respond to customers' needs, at scale.

By 2019, 40% of digital transformation initiatives will be supported by A.I. capabilities. A.I. will be the driver of business intelligence, but cognitive computing will become the differentiator for your customers, as it has the ability to learn, reason, empathize and tackle immense issues just like a human being -- at scale. This will be the standard to strive for on the path to A.I. and becoming more predictive, homing in on customers' needs, and helping employees have the right conversations with customers at the right time.

Companies are only beginning to adopt intelligent applications that help automate the next-best action by consuming data, transforming it into insights and then transmitting those insights across a company's enterprise. But Bluewolf's recent report shows that companies that have increased their investments in analytics in the past 12 months are three times more likely to see their data as a competitive advantage than companies that have not increased their analytics investments.

Data as a currency will rise and rapidly escalate in value.

If customers are data, they are being more careful about how they share this increasingly private commodity. It's a balance of trade, and we now live in an unsubscribe world. Research shows that fully engaged customers represent a "23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue and relationship growth over the average customer."

To nurture engagement, brands need to establish trust with their customers. When customers trust a brand and the brand experience, they'll share more of their data. But customers need to know what they are getting in return: a great customer experience versus spam or their data shared or sold. And because customer interests extend beyond a moment in time, companies need to diligently pick them up and nurture them along the entire journey. If trust breaks down at any point during the relationship, you're going to lose it or pay more for it.

Business priority will shift from products and services to brand experience and customer moments.

Don't try to align the customer around your products and services, because people don't care. Customers are perceptive -- they know when brands release new products with selfish intent rather than to serve their customers. They will abandon that sinking ship. The brand experience is what counts to your customers.

To get to a state where you can manage every customer moment, you have to put the customer at the center and use digital technologies to help determine where customers are in their journey. This customer-centric approach arms companies with meaningful insights to better align offerings, products and services across the journey and more accurately address the needs of the customer.

In the race to digital, we've lost something in the transformation process. We have forgotten to treat customers as human beings. Numbers don't drive real engagement and loyalty; people do. Leverage data to understand the specific moments that customers have with your brand to provide an authentic and positive experience.

And remember that all moments matter. Don't just focus on the moments that fall in the red zone, but the ones that peak.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

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