As consumers, we have been trained to have high expectations. Netflix and Spotify have instilled an on-demand mindset, and we’ve become accustomed to getting what we want immediately. Meanwhile, companies like Amazon are continuously driving consumer expectations higher and stoking fierce competition among the businesses who are vying to compete. As the twin pressures of consumer expectations and business competition continue to escalate, it is vital that businesses deliver the best and most unique experiences to their customers to boost growth and retention.

Personalization is the foundation of positive customer experience. In fact, it’s one of the biggest factors in customer satisfaction overall. According to Frost & Sullivan, customer experience is expected to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020. With this in mind, it is vital that brands move away from thinking about personalization in the context of single experiences, and start focusing on how it drives customer lifetime value.

Personalization is the key to growing more customers into your best customers by delivering intent-driven experiences to every customer, every time. In order to do this, below are a few best practices to incorporate into your business strategy.

1. Bring together the customer’s intent

Recognizing a customer’s intent is difficult, but it’s the foundation of truly personalized experiences. Each customer has a unique motivation that has driven them to engage with certain brands, and it is critical to understand this background at each separate touchpoint. Customer intent should inform every decision about what data to use and where for an impactful interaction with the user. Whether they’re a first-time visitor or a returning customer, brands must gather knowledge of their customers’ habits and behaviors in order to move the needle on the overall experience.

Customer data is available everywhere, but this is one case in which more isn’t always better— it’s about leveraging the right data. With every brand interaction, customers are sharing data that can be analyzed and used to improve the experience. Brands need to know which data is valuable and how to apply it to help create a more relevant and personalized opportunity for each individual. For example, brands can connect the acquisition channel to their onsite experience, making sure that customers who were searching for a certain product in the past are presented with that information once they return. By gathering this level of insight on customer behavior, brands will be empowered to build more personal context into the experiences they deliver.

2. Act on customer intent to understand engagement 

Once you understand your customers’ intent, you can translate that knowledge into informed action. Each customer will be drawn to a different type of engagement—such as interactions on their favorite social media platform, or promotion of their recently viewed content. Certain types of brand content are bound to be more engaging than others depending on the viewer. It is important to analyze which areas are most appealing and continually test to understand what works and what drives customers engagement.

Learning what areas your customers are drawn to can help focus your efforts. Analyzing customer engagement can surface valuable audience insights, such as which groups of customers are spending significant time on certain web pages – an insight which might lead a brand to optimize those pages with more interactive and dynamic content.

3. Expand experience optimization across channels

The entire customer experience is now omnichannel. If brands are not consistent across properties, then it will lead to a fractured customer journey that may result in the loss of many potential customers. Through the testing and analysis of customer intent and engagement, brands will discover lessons that can be applied throughout their channels, improving their ability to provide consistent experiences for their customers.

Going one step further, every customer has preferences for certain types of brand interactions over others at various stages of the journey—whether they enjoy first finding a product on Instagram, or appreciate email campaigns. Through continuous data analysis, a brand may discover that there are parts of the website, app, emails or other touchpoints that are not operating as smoothly as they could be. With this knowledge, the brand can work to streamline their processes to run optimally, while learning more about which touchpoints are attracting and converting more customers. In doing so, brands can optimize their efforts and ensure that the right customers are being reached on the right platform with the most relevant content.

4. Leverage AI to make experiences persistent

In order to keep pace with the vast amount of customer data, it is vital that brands incorporate an artificial intelligence (AI) solution. AI algorithms can quickly analyze data about customers, their behavior and the business, and determine the best course of action. This can be done at a scale that humans cannot accomplish. With an AI solution, brands can obtain the most influential data categories used in individual decisions and aggregate these insights easily. Smart marketing teams will then incorporate this information into their future decisions, capitalizing on the strengths of both human and machine. By scaling personalization persistently across all properties and channels, brands can truly influence the lifetime value of their customers with just a single touch.

5. Incorporate continuous optimization

The most important part of creating a successful customer experience is that it becomes a continuous program. Successful personalization will never be a one-and-done effort. In order to improve the customer experience and realize ROI, optimization needs to be constant and ever-evolving. It also needs to be easily measurable so that you can take the right actions to execute improvements.

Successful businesses today are customer-first, and it is vital that this mindset be central to the organization. Users want to know that they are understood and appreciated, and brands can communicate that through the content they serve and the level of personalization they offer. Prioritizing customer experience optimization delivers better value to your customers, which translates to more ROI for your brand.