Merrill Lynch uses machine learning to automate investors’ portfolios, Facebook employs it to curate newsfeed content, and Google’s self-driving cars rely on it to navigate the roads.  Thanks to machine learning’s ability to analyze data with greater speed and more accuracy than any human — in a more cost-effective way — the technology is now being embraced by countless industries and businesses have big plans for it in 2017.

According to a survey conducted by MIT Technology Review Custom in partnership with Google Cloud, 50% of organizations plan to use machine learning to better understand customers and 48% anticipate using it to gain a competitive advantage.

To date, CRM technologies have helped companies get better and faster at capturing customer data, but the analytical capabilities have been limited. Any business with a customer loyalty programs is ripe to adopt machine learning technology and use it to take their loyalty offerings to the next level.

Machine learning won’t just look at data and point out obvious facts. Instead, it will uncover correlations between groups of data sets, comprehending exactly what the data is saying.  This ability to see patterns and understand consumer behavior equips marketers with the information they need to better segment and target their customers.

For example, the technology can be applied to the creation of a recommendation engine, which is based on a customer’s prior behavior instead of an artificial set of parameters or rules. It can predict the preferences of shoppers, travelers and diners and develop actionable insights such as which customers get which types of offers. Predictive analytics can also detect potentially improper or even fraudulent behavior.

Using machine learning to optimize business is a must in today’s world of micro-personalization. Consumers’ expectations are higher than ever. Brands focused on determining “the next best loyalty offer” need to elevate their line of thinking, instead looking to “the next best action” that will truly improve the customer experience — and in turn, improve engagement.

Two brains — one human, one machine — prove to be better than one as machine learning cannot replace human marketers. In fact, machine learning is a tool that only works when it’s used in combination with human expertise and analysis.

See the piece in full as it ran on Mediapost .