In the realm of customer data lingo, the term “real-time” has become the gold medalist in the buzzword Olympics – tossed around like confetti at a parade without much regard for its actual meaning.

We all know that customer expectations are high. Buyers want timely, tailored experiences whether they are talking to customer support or banking from their phone. The age of slow-loading websites and disconnected experiences isn’t tolerated. And here’s where real-time data comes in.

Real time data helps organizations own the moments that matter. Think about this example: A patient is on a healthcare website and fills out a form to learn more about ACL surgery.  They get on a call to schedule a visit to the doctor, and in real time the information they filled out on the website is available to the doctor’s office.  The patient doesn’t have to repeat themselves. The experience is efficient. This is NOT the same as a real-time data call to a database, where information could be missing, or weeks or months old. Being able to respond to customers’ behavior faster and with more relevance unquestionably leads to happier customers and better business outcomes.

Here are a few additional use cases that illustrate the impact of acting on real time data:

  • Personalization/Recommendations based on current behavior – For example, suggesting products on the website based on the last product that a customer viewed on their mobile device.
  • Personalization/Recommendations based on current context – For example, suggesting certain promotions because of the current location or weather.
  • Suppression – For example, remove buyers from product campaigns at the time of purchase. The longer it takes to remove buyers from advertising pools, the more wasted budget and incongruent experience for the shopper.
  • Event-triggered campaigns – For example, triggering a personalized experience directly after downloading a new app.
  • High-Quality Insights – For example, feeding conversion data to conversions APIs in real-time for insights in-the-moment, and before data quality decays leading to poorer attribution.
  • Customer Support with current context, recent behavior – For example, enabling an agent with insights into the webpages a customer visited or campaign they engaged with immediately before calling in.
  • Real-time Sales Follow-Up – For example, enabling a sales rep to call back a new lead (or a lead that abandoned) with insights into their behavior right before they submitted the lead form.
  • Consent and Privacy, Regulatory Compliance – For example, displaying all data stored for a particular user who requests it, including their most recent behavior up until the request, or honoring customer consent across multiple different devices – Right to erasure/access, legal requirements. The longer it takes to reconcile preferences, the higher the risk of violating expectations.

So how fast is fast? According to James McCormick at Forrester Research, real-time data needs to be “fast enough to keep up with the customer,” i.e., able to have impact within the same engagement session or even interaction point. This means a sub-200ms data supply chain across not one, but three key phases of the customer data lifecycle: collectionenrichment and activation.


It starts with collection, the process of capturing customer data as brand engagement occurs. Collection can occur online or offline depending on a company’s business model. In order to pass the test for collection a vendor must be able to collect data in less than 200ms of the customer behavior. Collection must also be “always on” – meaning as users engage with a brand on a web site, mobile app or kiosk, collection must happen for every event, not just for key events. The reason you need a ubiquitous collection framework to ensure robust customer insight and the flexibility of enrichment opportunities.


Data enrichment is defined as the processing of a rules engine at the point of collection in order to augment the data to become more meaningful and business oriented. Enrichment means creating data where none existed before, such as content affinity or lifetime value. Enrichment must occur at the same moment of collection and also comply within a sub-second timeframe in order to be immediately actionable.


Lastly, data that has been collected and enriched in real-time, needs to be activated in the same super-fast time frame, through any variety of execution partners, i.e., integrated digital marketing vendors, to affect action. These vendors include email marketing, retargeting, content management, advertising platforms, and many more. The execution layer is critically important.

You need these three elements working together. For customers to have great experiences we have to deliver when it matters. Real-time data is crucial in today’s fast-paced digital world, where businesses and organizations strive to make data-driven decisions quickly and efficiently. It’s about owning the moment and providing the help, the offer, and the information when it’s needed.

For more resources, explore our whitepaper, The Benefits of a Real-Time Customer Data Platform (CDP).

Post Author

Heidi Bullock
Heidi is the Chief Marketing Officer at Tealium.

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