It used to be a given that human contact was part of making any purchase. Before digital technology became mainstream, consumers made purchases from a community of people who likely knew them and their preferences and were more than willing provide information and guidance on everything from buying toothpaste to taking out a mortgage, booking a hair appointment or arranging a vacation.

Today, we still expect a personal touch despite the emergence of digital channels. Even if their purchases don’t require any in-person interaction, consumers want the experience of buying from a sales clerk who knows them, offers that extra bit of information and maybe throws in a freebie for ongoing loyalty.

Digital Is the New Non-Digital

Essentially, the best digital experiences strive to emulate non-digital customer experiences. Personalizing content and interactions has become the new objective of digital transformation in a bid to capture the interest of today’s customers with their eight-second attention spans.

The competition for those eight seconds of attention is becoming more intense than ever as Amazon, Uber, Netflix and others continue to set the personalization bar high. And the reality is, consumers are getting used to interacting online with brands that know them and their preferences.

Know Thy Customer

What’s more, 2014 research from my company, SDL, shows that rather than being persnickety about privacy, today’s customers expect to be known. They willingly relinquish vast amounts of their data to brands they trust and in exchange, they expect value.

That means that every touchpoint on every channel should use customer data to create relevant experiences such as dynamic content delivery offering personalized discounts based on past behavior, time-zone or location-based marketing.

B2C and Beyond

Personalization is typically associated with the playing field of B2C businesses, particularly retail. For B2C organizations, a certain level of personalization is expected, includes customized homepages, purchase suggestions and promotions.

And B2C merchandizing and search are increasingly slick and geared toward customers’ demographics, previous browsing activities and purchase behavior. They have made returns easy, simplified checkout and created sites customers want to return to.

These high-fliers have created a new standard for B2B companies. B2B engagement through personalization needs to be a priority for companies if they wish to ensure online relevance in a sea of content and commoditized product offerings. Indeed, a 2015 Gartner report (registration required) predicted that “by 2018, B2B sellers that incorporate personalization into digital commerce will realize revenue increases up to 15 percent.”

Big Data, Big Opportunities

One of the biggest challenges for personalization is creating a single customer view upon which to build out effective content touchpoints. Often, the issue lies in a lack of data aggregation, particularly within organizations that are structured with relatively rigid business line siloes.

With customer data spread between distributed and decentralized storage, personal files, mobile phones, CRM systems, customer support systems and people’s heads — frequently with overlapping or duplicate records — the issue is not having data, it’s accessing and using it. Increasingly, organizations are zeroing in on the data that provides the most value by isolating the information that will let customers know they are known and understood throughout their online experience.

Predicting Customer Needs

As more and more companies use customer data to personalize, being one step ahead of your customer is one way to keep a competitive edge. By combining customer data with predictive analytics, an organization can identify buying patterns to predict and plan for future demand.

These kinds of predictive analytics enable businesses to make use of online content, offline interaction and real-time behavior to offer relevant information and develop a long-term view of the customer journey.

For example, let’s look at a young couple and their relationship with a financial institution. Having recently financed their house and added their baby to their insurance policy, this organization should be in an excellent position to provide information about other appropriate options, perhaps including an educational investment plan or life insurance. By honing in on critical data about the couple’s stage of life, the organization can be well positioned to offer the couple relevant information and product solutions to suit their needs.

Title image by Tongle Dakum