These days, everything's about personalization, a laser focus on customizing the user experience to the nth degree. Alas, subscription services--so often thought of as a dream for folks living in our fast-paced, personalization-hungry world--aren't exactly keeping their audiences interested.

Here's the underlying problem: Subscription services are hard to manage end-to-end. Unless they're highly individualized, their cookie-cutter approaches can quickly kill customers' appetites. Who wants a one-size-fits-most item? Not many people.

To be sure, subscription businesses keep cropping up; the subscription e-commerce market specifically has blossomed by 100 percent per year for half a decade. However, gaining customer attention and holding it are two very different beasts. As many subscription providers--Blue Apron, for one--have discovered the hard way, people are fickle and want relationships, not "here's what you get whether you want it or not" delivered in a box or on a screen.

But some subscription companies are getting the recipe for personalization right. Think of streaming subscription services like Netflix and Hulu. Think of direct-to-consumer e-commerce models like Dollar Shave Club and Ipsy. Or look at beauty and wellness subscription service FabFitFun, which is providing streaming video content in the form of FabFitFunTV and FFF Live to motivate subscriber loyalty.

Delivering top-notch content regularly is part of the equation, but there's a little more to it. Businesses that fall into the subscription model should figure out how to personalize their services--fast--starting with three steps:

1. Know what customers actually want.

Big data and artificial intelligence are both highly useful and readily available. When used in tandem, those tools can provide companies with customer insights that buoy customer interactions and stop services from falling short of expectations.

Imagine being able to streamline all those friction points prompting negative Google reviews or subscription cancellations. It's all possible with a little help from AI-boosted technology. Personalization at high levels isn't merely on the horizon; it's at the back door. By leveraging data from social listening, customer feedback, historical data, and other sources, subscription companies can build two-way commitment and trust.

Really, trust is the end result of having a lock on your customers' desires. Social listening data insights revealed that FabFitFun's community craved stronger content offerings, which led to the brand's streaming content channels. Beauty subscription service Birchbox also does data-driven personalization brilliantly by soliciting customer feedback with its beauty profile. Subscribers basically tell the company how to keep and woo them; it's a fantastic way to get up close and personal with potential long-term loyalists.

2. Stop marketing to just Millennials.

Yes, Millennials are an important group, but don't forget that other generations and groups are buying subscriptions, too. Rather than categorizing everyone under a generational umbrella, start by understanding not just generations but categories.

In other words, pull a Netflix. The company doesn't divide its audience of 130 million users into Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers; it chooses programming suggestions for like-minded communities. It's a broader, wiser approach than pigeonholing individuals by their birth years.

"All your viewers are important, but they don't have all the same needs so don't try to sell them a one-size-fits-all approach," said Craig Barberich, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Evergent, global provider of cloud-based subscriber solutions. "Sure, Millennials are important and are big users ... but don't neglect other demographics and global users worldwide. Give all your viewers a personalized viewing experience."

3. Create between-the-box touchpoints.

To increase subscriber stickiness, you must build and personalize your relationship to foster goodwill and trust. Just because a customer signs up for a subscription doesn't mean he or she will stick around, so you should look for engagement opportunities beyond your box delivery or outside of your service platform. For instance, streaming service Showtime employs influencers to converse with fan communities on social media.

How do you know if you're missing these key opportunities to build momentum? Generally speaking, you get a raft of people experiencing buyer's remorse or dropping off the face of the earth when you circle around asking them to re-up.

Using your AI insights, figure out places to increase healthy give-and-take between you and customers. What red flags indicate that you should be sending out coupons or advising them of special tips? Check in with customers not just on a preset cadence but when users signal unhappiness or disinterest. The faster you can jump in when a user has stopped opening your emails, for example, the higher your chances to save a subscriber.

Like all business models, subscription services have changed with society's differing tastes. With these three tactics, revamp your recipe for customer loyalty to keep subscribers coming back for more.

Published on: Oct 31, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.