You've heard it before- business is all about relationships. No matter your specific industry or niche, getting up-close-and-personal with your audience in an authentic way is more important than ever. Central to that is really knowing, understanding, and reacting to the wants, needs, and actions of your audience.

So, how to do it?

1. Ditch Old School Data Gathering Methods

Quantitative and qualitative data and analysis has been front-and-center for businesses for decades. By quantifying cross-sections of your audience then drilling down qualitatively, companies have attempted to unpack essential pieces of the consumer puzzle, with an eye on delivering what their audiences want, when, where and how they want it.

But, increasingly, consumers are "always on" -- always online, always on their mobile devices and always ready for the next action. The challenge, then, becomes leveraging these traditional data collection tools to effectively understand and act on a customer's real-time motivation.

2. Eliminate Survey Spam

"The process currently used to understand customers and actually engage with them is pretty archaic if you think about it," says Scott Miller, CEO of the customer intelligence software company Vision Critical.

"What do we do as businesses? We track everything you do on websites, your retail activities and then we spam you with surveys. And we don't remember that later or listen to you." The alternative? Often it's investing thousands in focus groups that take months to deliver on -- and, as a result, provide data that's limited if, even, usable.

Think about the last time you visited a website and realized it was not the right fit, or put something in your shopping cart then abandoned it. Even though you put the brakes on that particular customer experience, you were probably haunted by ads reminding you to buy the batteries or visit the site over and over again for, possibly, months. Was it useful? Probably not. Did it turn you off to that particular site or business? Maybe.

"The more you mirror human interactions in the way you approach your customers, the more meaningful those interactions will become--both for them and for you," suggests Miller.

3. Understand Customers in Real-time

This too-common process is, often, lose/lose that costs brands an incredible amount of startup capital and ongoing marketing budgets. Instead, brands should leverage real-time data to create authentic experiences. "We approach all of our clients directly to gather feedback," says John White, Director of We Run, the largest team of running coaches in the UK. "In a world of automation, sometimes the personal touch can work wonders," White says.

"Requesting feedback from customers has always struck us as a bit of a 'brute force' approach to learning how to improve our services," says Daniel Rowles, Founder and CEO of Target Internet, a digital marketing training company. "We use Google Analytics to find out which of our podcasts and blog articles are receiving the most views, attracting the most clicks through to other pages, and encouraging people to stay on our website," he says.

At the end of the day, customers and business leaders want the same thing: value. Brands want to understand consumers' authentic needs in real-time so they can deliver value to the customer who, in turn, will engage and convert -- and deliver value to that business' bottom line. At the same time, consumers want those spot-on experiences and elegance that shows a brand "gets" them.