Customer data is now available at an unprecedented scale, and the technology to enable meaningful and positive customer experience (CX) has never been more advanced.

What's more, there is broad consensus that CX is critical as a competitive differentiator.

So, why is it that CX efforts so consistently fall flat?

What Is the Customer Experience Gap?

There is a yawning gulf between organizational measures of customer experience and actual customer satisfaction. A full 87% of marketers say they are delivering engaging customer experiences. Considering that marketing teams are often tasked with CX strategy and execution, the overwhelmingly positive assessment here suggests that brands are delivering on CX, after all: 87% of marketers couldn't be that wrong, right?

Let's juxtapose that figure with the consumer perspective. In the same study, nearly half (49%) of consumers reported that brands failed to meet customer experience expectations, and two-thirds couldn't even remember a time when a brand exceeded their expectations.

And in relation to traditional advertising, an overwhelming majority of consumers say their experiences miss the mark: 91% of consumers say the ads they are seeing have become even more intrusive than in the previous few years, and 84% say obnoxious or intrusive ads give them a poor opinion of the brand being advertised.

In other words, there are real consequences to getting CX wrong.

Part of the customer experience gap stems from changing demographics. We know that Millennials are almost allergic to traditional advertising, and they don't respond to traditional marketing the way previous generations did (although they are more receptive to messaging that meets them where they live—on social networks).

But demographics isn't the real issue. Indeed, the chasm between organizational and consumer appraisals of CX demonstrates that although brands continue to invest aggressively in CX, their investment isn't exactly paying off.

Personalization: An Opportunity to Close the Gap

The customer experience gap may be wide, but for forward-leaning companies it actually represents a huge opportunity. If nearly two-thirds of consumers can't remember ever being truly wowed by a brand experience, imagine how differentiating it would be to actually wow consumers.

So, to take advantage of this opportunity, where should you focus your energies?

The answer is personalization. Because when personalization is done correctly, it translates into real results.

We know that customers prefer (and spend more on) integrated brand experiences. Beyond that, many have come to expect a personalized experience. As it turns out, 75% of consumers are frustrated when website content isn't personalized; and, according to Forrester, the same percentage of consumers even expect a business to know why they are calling before they even pick up the phone.

Relevant and effective personalization, however, can be difficult to pull off: You need deep knowledge of your customers, and you need to integrate that knowledge seamlessly into every interaction with them.

If that seems daunting, rest assured, there are concrete steps you can take to make it happen.

How to Get There

There are many paths to personalization, but they all start with journey mapping—identifying all the steps a customer might take with your brand and all the possible paths to interaction, engagement, and conversion.

Mapping the customer journey can be as informal as gathering stakeholders in a room and plotting it out the journey with sticky notes, or as sophisticated as creating detailed maps based on website data, surveys, and customer interviews. However you go about it, this exercise provides you with an invaluable foundation from which to launch your personalization efforts.

To build on your journeys, and, more important, make them actionable, follow the LUDA framework: listen, understand, decide, act.

Here's how it works.

Listen: Once you've mapped your current customer journeys, "listen" to customer behavior by collecting data on it across every one of your marketing channels. Doing so will almost always involve breaking down data silos, since your customers' behavioral data likely lives in disparate parts of the organization. This listening needs to be ongoing so that you can create a complete, up-to-the-minute picture of customer behavior, informed both by historical data and by current info—what's going on right now.

Understand: Using your journey maps and the data you've gathered, track users along different journey paths and analyze behavior. Real-time data allows you to update your assumptions and respond quickly when customer behavior begins to change.

Decide: Determining the next best action for every touchpoint in the customer journey is the crux of personalization. Building off the insights you've gleaned, determine what the ideal journey flow is. Find a solution that will enable you to implement your next best actions in real-time—whether it's SAS, an R-based model, decision trees, or other methods. Embrace cross-channel messaging and think of ways to create an integrated experience—following up with an email upon shopping cart abandonment, for example, or utilizing sentiment analysis to flag potentially upset customers interacting with a chatbot so you can send them to service agents.

Act: Now it's time to actually execute personalization efforts. By determining next best actions for each and every interaction, organizations can extract true value from their data and carry customers from one touchpoint to the next logically and seamlessly. It's especially important here to record the action, as well as its result, for future analysis and continuous improvement.

After that, rinse and repeat. Personalization is an iterative process, and there is always room for improvement. The more you personalize, the richer the data you'll be able to collect, and the better insights you'll be able to extract. Change your decisioning processes to account for new understanding, and empower your teams to create even more integrated experiences.

You likely already have lots of the systems and teams in place you need to be successful. By applying the LUDA framework and robust journey orchestration practices, you'll be able to personalize interactions in a way that leaves your customers coming back for more.

More Resources on Closing the Customer Experience Gap

Goodbye Funnel, Hello Flywheel: How to Build the New Customer Experience

Three Ways to Reach Customers With Personalized Content: Data, Emotion, and Metrics

What Makes Customer Experience: Jeannie Walters on Marketing Smarts [Podcast] 

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The CX Gap: How We Got Here (And How You Can Close It)

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image of Mark Smith

Mark Smith is president of Kitewheel, a company that orchestrates real-time personalized journey management using current marketing and advertising technology.

LinkedIn: Mark Smith