A recent Gartner report revealed digital twins of customers (DToC) could transform the way enterprises deliver experiences, drive sales and delight customers in unique, surprising ways. The report points out that just as a digital twin of an engine can be used by engineers for predictive maintenance, a DToC can be used by different departments within a brand to simulate and anticipate customer behavior. This will enable brands to improve products and services, customer experience and loyalty while providing informed, predictive insights. Let’s take a look at digital twins of customers, use cases, methodology and the challenges of using DToC to improve the customer experience.

What Are Digital Twins of Customers?

To understand DToC, one must first understand the concept of digital twins. The term digital twin refers to a virtual representation of a physical object, product, service or system that spans its life cycle, is updated with real-time data and informs actionable insights through the use of simulations, machine learning and reasoning. Originally coined in the 1990s to refer to digital representations that were to be used in manufacturing and engine design, technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and predictive analytics have enabled the use of digital twins to evolve and extend into many other industries. 

“Digital twin solutions, a virtual representation of a physical object or process, offer manufacturers more efficient business practices, like digital transformation strategies, with the use of simulation technology,” said Daniel Fallmann, founder and CEO of Mindbreeze, an enterprise information insights provider. “By building digital twins of their manufacturing plants and factories, engineers can identify missteps in the production process, which then helps optimize design, manufacturing, and labor processes with the ability to visualize every aspect of production.”

The idea for DToC is very similar. Brands will create the virtual representation of a customer, which is then synchronized with its physical representation using real-time data inputs and event-stream processing. Finally, action is taken on a series of data points that originated from a system that continually creates data. According to Gartner, this virtuous cycle informs and affects the CX CORE (customer, organization, relationship, experience) persona and total experience (TX) strategy.

Consider how product testing simulations have been done for decades by brands testing new products and services. Imagine if there was a digital version of a customer, based on all of the touchpoints the customer has had with a brand and its products and services. New products and services, websites, apps and more could be tested using this extremely accurate virtual representation of the customer. This is part of what DToC is about. 

More than simple personas, the DToC also provides context and predictions of future behaviors using virtual and physical interactions. It is dynamically updated as new information arrives, and is able to aggregate enough data to accurately simulate the customer experience.

Chris Jones, chief product officer at Amperity, a customer data platform (CDP) provider, told CMSWire simulating customers is a powerful tool to improve the customer experience. “We believe the starting point in implementing digital twins of customers (DToC) is to build a complete view of the customer so you can understand everything about your current customers — including product preferences, average spend, frequency of purchases, preferred shopping channels, etc.,” said Jones. “Most brands today lack that form of digital insight, which you can think of as the foundation for any work around a digital twin.”

Related Article: Current and Future Uses of Digital Twins Across Industries 

How Are Brands Using DToC?

The picture Gartner paints with DToC is particularly subtle and complex, and includes personas, individuals, groups of individuals, as well as machines. This extremely comprehensive, continually evolving snapshot may seem overwhelming, but it’s what a lot of enterprise and CX platforms are currently working to develop using more traditional technologies. 

Customer journey maps pinpoint all of the intersections a customer has with a brand, including their pain points. Voice of customer initiatives aggregate the customer’s own words from social media posts, feedback, reviews, surveys, customer service tickets and more. CDPs are able to bring together customer data from all of a brand’s channels to provide a single source of truth about individual customers. Together, these technologies allow brands to gain a much deeper understanding of their customers, as well as their likes and dislikes. “To build a unified customer profile robust enough to be considered a digital twin, the CDP has to truly be focused on unifying data from all of the online and offline data sources — not just event routing or web conversion tools,” said Jones. 

DToC will take it one step further. By using virtual representations of the customer and their interactions, along with AI and ML, they will be in a much better position to gain actionable insights into the next actions their customers will take, along with insights into their future purchasing habits, needs and desires. 

“One key innovation making DToC possible is the availability of cloud-scale computing resources combined with modern AI and ML technologies,” Jones explained. “Together, these innovations now make it possible to truly know your customer, at scale, across every touchpoint,” he said, adding brands must be grounded in a unified customer profile with robust transactional and behavioral data with strong identity resolution capabilities to know the twin model is accurate.

As Jones suggested, many brands are using new identity resolution functionality that puts together pieces of data to create a holistic view of the customer. This enables them to better understand what a specific customer purchases, how frequently they buy, how much money they spend and how often they frequent the brand’s website. This data can then be used along with DToC to create a more complete digital persona.

How Is a Digital Twin of a Customer Created? 

Gartner’s report on DToCdetails the creation of digital twins, beginning with the immediate actions a brand should take to get started. Because DToC depends on quality data, customer data and sources of customer insights should be audited. DToC should be used to extend CORE personas by representing models for individual customers based on those personas. All of the interactions in the customer journey should be used to populate the DToC, and the evolving models should be used to shape future interactions. At this point, considering transparency, brands must identify the value DToC brings to the customer, rather than just for the brand.

“With DToC, brands can use a deep understanding of the customer to create value for the consumer, the employee and the bottom line,” said Jones. “We’re seeing these capabilities deepen the human connection between brands and the customers they serve by empowering employees across the brand to truly see the customer and provide a personalized experience.”

Moving on to short-term planning, brands should create a profile of customer behavior and model the next potential actions for a given customer journey. Brands must talk to their customers about data transparency while determining the physical and digital interactions that are required to create the DToC.

Learning Opportunities

Joe Jorczak, head of industry of Service & Support at Yext, a provider of digital experience software, told CMSWire it’s not only about having a more personal understanding of their customers, but also enabling customers to have confidence in the role they play for brands to deliver products, services and communications to be more predictive and relevant to whatever stage of the journey the consumer is in. "More predictive and relevant consumer products, services and solutions has opened up the opportunity for sustained customer engagement at a time when consumers are shifting between brands at increasing rates," said Jorczak.

Jorczak explained the DToC concept is built on the capabilities of the CX CORE experience and is combined with business strategy and total experience (TX), to create a shared customer and employee experience. “A persona for an individual gives insight into the right TX for the persona, as TX maps out the superior shared experience journey for both the customers and employees, moving them to better relationship stages.”

Finally, in the long term, the Gartner report indicated brands should create the digital twin of a team of customer experience specialists that will be used to discuss the implications and merits of DToC on operational processes and the overall brand business model. Privacy regulations and laws should be discussed regularly, and the team should work on tracking dynamic personas and the stages of their relationships.

Fallmann further explained DToCs are created by connecting scattered data from different silos, departments and data sources, which includes consolidating unstructured and structured information. “The creation of DToCs take all touchpoints into account from social media history, website activity, previous calls and support tickets filed, and any other interactions with brands across digital communication outlets,” he said, adding the analytics and metadata behind all these actions allow enterprises to receive the complete picture along with proactive insights that shape more personalized experiences.

Related Article: Designing, Optimizing and Operating the Factory of the Future

The Challenges of DToC

By far the biggest challenge of DToC is data privacy and security. Gartner suggests transparency should be built into any DToC initiative, and this will affect customer trust in any such program. Additionally, privacy by default should be a best-practice approach:

  • Absolute transparency: Accessible, understandable notices, statements, communications
  • Choice: Modern consent and preference management
  • Access level: Select from a variety of privacy rights

The bottom line for brands is ethics should always be at the core of a DToC strategy. Because DToC is driven by customer data, stringent governance and transparency must be a given, and since DToC depends on very sensitive personal data, privacy, security rules and regulations will continue to be the focus for both consumers and regulators.

“With privacy and values-based ideals molding, DToCs should function as a buffer zone by delivering only interactions and services that are desired by the individual consumer based on their personal goals at that specific time,” said Jorczak. Because it is likely our personal twins will be provided by third-party cloud platforms, Jorczak emphasized the task for regulators will be ensuring these providers are insulated from challengers that will seek a back door into consumers’ private information for company use. “The result will be a renewed focus on trust and transparency and a need for all organizations to become truly customer-centric on a personal level.”

Another challenge is the difficulty of convincing customers they need a digital twin that a brand will keep and continue to use, and, more importantly, that the customer should help to create their digital twin in order to improve their own experience. This is where transparency and trust play an even larger role. 

Finally, there is always the challenge of obtaining good data. Because data is aggregated from various departments, some of which are siloed, and other data comes from sources that are outdated, unstructured, unformatted or duplicated — bad data is always a risk. “One challenge that can surely be handled with the right solution is detecting bad data. The quality of data is so important in creating the most accurate representations of customers, making it vital for companies to exclude bad data when implementing digital twins across their operations,” said Fallmann.

Final Thoughts: Digital Twins Leads to Deeper Customer Insights

With the continued focus on customer experience and the customer journey, brands are under pressure to deliver an exceptional experience to customers across all of the brand’s channels. Digital twins of customers provide brands with an opportunity to gain an even deeper understanding of their customers through simulations based on the customers’ own interactions and history with the brand.