How many times have you contacted customer service and the representative on the other end immediately recognized you and knew exactly what you needed? The first time this happened to me, I was blown away by the ease and convenience of the interaction. In just seconds, that company won me over for life.

Today’s busy consumers increasingly appreciate and almost expect this type of personalized experience. According to a recent Epsilon study, 80 percent of the respondents are more likely to do business with a company if it offers a personalized experience that’s tailored to their unique needs.

"It’s an exciting time to work in the technology industry and witness the evolution of personalization as companies increasingly try to embrace it"

So why aren’t all customer experiences personalized to each individual? It comes down to data and technology. Companies either don’t have the data or they have too much of it. Most companies have access to unprecedented amounts of data from different sources (i.e. email databases, search, transaction history, etc.) that don’t compare apples-to-apples.

This is where technology comes into play. An integrated technology platform can unify the different data sets, channels, and touchpoints throughout the customer journey—enabling companies to view every single customer-brand interaction, and provide a unique and seamless experience that reflects consumers’ changing needs and interests in real-time. This can encompass everything from in-store purchases and customer service calls, to digital ads and mobile chatbots.

Before embarking on this path, companies need to understand the four areas of personalization that must work together to be successful:

Recognition and reach. This might seem obvious, but knowing who you are talking to is an essential first step to personalization. In digital advertising, sending a message to the wrong person is not only a waste of advertising spends, it’s also a turn-off; if you talk to a valuable member of your loyalty program like a stranger, you risk losing that customer’s business. But accurately recognizing consumers has become harder than ever with the proliferation of devices—the American consumer now owns an average of 3.4 devices.

The ideal approach gets the right message to the consumer on the right device, at the right moment. Companies need to understand which device is the most important for each person, and ensure all communications are consistent across that person’s devices and channels. For maximum impact, these recognition efforts should have enough scale to reach a significant portion of a company’s audience, and companies need access to the right data sources and technology to get that scale.

Know your customers and stay connected.

The next important step is getting to know your customers and growing a relationship with them over their lifetime. Companies need an accurate, multi-dimensional understanding of consumers to engage with them in the right way over time. This involves building individual profiles that include web browsing behavior, app usage, video plays, email activity, cross-screen engagement, life events, hobbies, ad interactions and product interests. It’s important to note that this can be achieved within a privacy framework that removes all personally identifiable information (PII) from customer data before it is used.

Consumers’ activity is always changing, online and offline. Your understanding of consumers stays strong only if you can maintain a persistent connection with them over time. Some companies rely on cookies, but they disappear after a few weeks and not all browsers allow them. True personalization requires connecting all online and offline activities to customer profiles and continuously enriching those profiles with every interaction. This enables ongoing conversations with the same customer for years.

Make informed decisions about each interaction.

Once you know your consumers, deciding how to interact with them in a way that’s customized to each person is key. Organizations have billions if not trillions of opportunities to interact with customers, where decisions have to be made, often in real-time—and that’s a challenge. For example, if you’re an advertiser, how do you decide which creative to use in your digital ad for customer A, and how should that differ for customer B? After a consumer makes a purchase, what is the most optimal time to send another message and on which channel? When a customer visits a retailer’s website, how can the content be customized according to that customer’s interests upon arriving to the homepage?

The sheer amount of decisions to be made in a very narrow window requires massive scale and machine learning; wait too long to decide on the content of your message and the customer will move on. Technology can automate the decision-making process, ensuring companies have the best conversation with each consumer at the right time.

Measurement is critical.

Finally, what good are these efforts if you cannot track how they are working? Closed-loop measurement – a.k.a. the ability to connect every interaction with a customer to online and offline sales – is the best way to measure and optimize personalization efforts. The insights gleaned from this approach should inform future decisions, not to mention help companies understand the impact on their bottom line.

I’ve seen clients cobble together different datasets across multiple solution providers only to end up with a fragmented approach that results in data leakage; the more players in the mix, the less effective your ability to reach, scale and measure will be. One end-to-end integrated solution will always result in the highest performance and provide the greatest benefit.

It’s an exciting time to work in the technology industry and witness the evolution of personalization as companies increasingly try to embrace it. I can’t help imagining a world where everything is personalized for us, the consumers – an inbox that’s no longer clogged with irrelevant emails, visiting a website where content is customized to our interests, or receiving a coupon for a product we’ve just been researching on our smartphones. This new reality is here and the companies that focus on these four key areas of personalization will cross the finish line first.