Customer Experience (CX) is quickly becoming the business battleground. 

Eighty-nine percent of companies expect customer experience to be their primary basis for competition by 2016, according to Gartner. Slick campaigns will always attract attention, but building a stellar customer experience means sweating the details — and it’s proven to create loyalty among customers. 

Look at the hospitality industry and its loyalty programs, for example. Hilton Honors began almost three decades ago in 1987. Travelers who frequent specific hotel chains have their preferences on file. They get the extra pillow, peppermint tea, a room far away from the elevator, or any other specific request.

By collecting customer data and making it accessible to their staff, Hilton is able to delight repeat customers.

Creating experiences like Hilton’s requires prioritizing gathering customer data and putting it into practice. 

With customers sharing even more of their preferences online, and smartphones putting new sensors in everyone’s pockets, companies have a variety of data sources at their disposal. And many of the most successful companies — banks, retailers, airlines, you name it — are working hard to structure that data appropriately to deliver well-timed, relevant messages and experiences. 

Hilton has excelled at using data to extend the reach of the human touch, but you don’t have to work for an international hotel chain to replicate the same practices. Here are five ways companies can use data to put their customers first: 

1. Surprise Customers with Social Listening

MasterCard is tapping into its customer’s passions with its “Priceless Surprises” campaign. The company creates once in a lifetime experiences to surprise loyal customers, like a surprise visit from Justin Timberlake. 

This is a stellar example of listening to what people are sharing on social media and using it to enhance their experience with a brand. While not everyone can bring Justin Timberlake into the picture, by collecting data that your users share, integrating that data into other systems and teams, and using those insights, you can build campaigns that delight your customers.

2. Respond to Feedback with Relevant Updates

Digital products tend to evolve quickly and sometimes they break.

Design prototyping tool InVision is using Intercom to take constructive criticism from its customers and follows up individually (and automatically) once an issue has been addressed. If someone takes the time to share feedback, it’s your responsibility to listen and let them know when the issue has been resolved. 

Ultimately this comes down to data, and operationalizing it throughout an organization. Your product and customer support teams may use different tools but they need a single data repository. This shared system enables continuous feedback, which is an essential building block for a customer-obsessed business.

3. Coach New Users on Relevant Features

As marketing becomes increasingly personal, “Right Message, Right Place, Right Time” is the mantra marketers live by. 

For software companies, user onboarding is one of the most critical times to get personalization right. How did this person discover my site? Was it via a referral, a Google display ad, an email, a Tweet? 

Companies can tailor experiences around these crucial signals. After all, some people may want to figure things out on their own and spend time reading all of your website copy, but most people want to be guided with targeted content like a behavior-based email campaign. 

PagerDuty saw a 25 percent boost in engagement after making data-driven changes to its onboarding flow. By organizing your data so that content dynamically changes based on user information — customers receive only the most relevant messages. This helps increase conversion and reduce bounces and unsubscribes from well-intentioned, but inappropriate content. Your users will love your product for its ease of use.

4. Ease the Burden of Waiting

More and more restaurants, especially in urban areas, are adopting systems that allow them to manage their waitlist digitally. SMS messages are replacing those giant buzzing coasters. 

In my hometown of San Diego, where brunch is an institution, these systems give restaurant-goers the freedom to check out neighboring shops while they wait for a table. Some of these tech-savvy restaurants are even asking me to opt-in to future promotions when they text me to say my table is ready. Free mimosas on my birthday …? Sure! 

From taking my name and number on arrival, to telling me my table is ready, to inviting me back with a special deal, these folks are considering the entire customer lifecycle. On-demand companies like Uber and Handy have taken customer experience a step further by baking it directly into their products from the start.

5. Acknowledge Their Context

Taking data too far can creep out customers. If you know someone’s name, it’s definitely OK to use it. You can also feel confident in using other first-party data like a job title to tweak your message to suit. Geolocation is another opportunity for personalizing messages. 

Don’t worry if your business doesn’t have store locations or another strong geographical component, A/B testing platform Optimizely impressed this site visitor simply by recognizing that he was working late into the night. Personalizing the customer experience requires an investment in analytics and creative use of the data collected, while remaining respectful of the creepy line. 

Every Touchpoint Matters

Collecting the data and talent necessary to understand your customer’s thoughts, feelings and activities as they engage with your brand can be immensely valuable. Customer's perceptions will change along the way as they become more familiar with your company’s products and services. 

Every single touchpoint is a chance to delight or disappoint. What data do you have to help you put a smile on your customer’s face?