With the age of the customer comes a problem, according to Rob Brosnan, senior analyst at Forrester Research.

The issue: Organizations have focused on optimizing their websites for years. But in the age of the customer, that optimization mentality might not work so well.

The reason: Customers aren’t a fixed problem to optimize against because their needs, wants, and actions are constantly changing. From shifting across devices and channels to engaging with brands in new ways, it’s more difficult to pin down exactly what the customer wants, when the customer wants it, and respond appropriately.

To Brosnan, these customer behaviors suggest something a little scary: No company ever interacts with the same customer twice.

By that, he means even if your brand interacts with the same individual across website sessions, email interactions, or in-store purchase, something about that customer has changed. Whether it’s the products they are interested in, or the questions that drove them to a particular interaction, or the device they are using, the customer’s needs and wants are almost constantly in flux.

If companies don’t understand how each of these factors impact the customer experience and adapt to these challenges or scenarios, says Brosnan, their marketing programs will likely be “out of date before they even get off the ground.”

And that’s where big data comes in. In order to remain relevant, organizations need to bring all of their data together in order to make the information actionable in the moment, responding to customers across all touchpoints. And while organizations have a lot of data, possibly too much data, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to compile it all and understand it.

So where should companies focus their efforts? Brosnan suggests:

1. Clearly define what type of relationship you want to have with your customers, as well as what you know about them (the types of devices they use, what they use those devices to do, etc.).

2. Understand internal resources. Blending your internal resources together can often develop the solutions you need now. For instance, bringing together the expertise from your analytics department and combining it with the knowledge your email marketing team has can help create new insight.

3. Plan for real time. Saying you’ll react to customers in real time is one thing, but actually doing it is another. Brosnan notes that in order to actually react in real time, you need to plan the type of content and engagement you want or else you will react quickly, but not efficiently, to customer needs in the moment.

The era of the customer brings with it many challenges and opportunities, particularly as it relates to big data. But the companies that learn to anticipate and plan to respond to visitors in the moment based on device, needs, and past behaviors will likely be the ones that succeed.

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