The metaverse is the new, experiential, immersive internet where we will take our digital avatars to work, learn and play across persistent environments. Whether you think we are heading for Ready Player One levels of immersion or that it’s just a lot of hot air and hype, the fact is businesses are pouring cash and resources into staking their place in this new digital world. And one of the main reasons they are doing so is the opportunities it provides to connect and engage with customers in a whole range of new ways.
Metaverse environments will allow us to talk and interact with brands and with each other, either through our avatars or by directly connecting to video chat portals and voice chat. The truth is no one exactly knows what will become the defining ways that we will use the metaverse, whatever form it eventually takes. Some – such as Facebook (so excited about the concept it rebranded its $100 billion-plus business as Meta), are convinced it will involve virtual reality (VR) and headsets. Others – such as those behind emerging metaverse platforms like Sandbox – say that while VR will play a part, it won’t be an essential part of the experience. To them, the decentralized, user-owned aspect of the metaverse will be far more integral to the experience than the hardware that we use to access it.
So taking both visions – and everything in between – into account, here’s an overview of some of the exciting implications that this red-hot tech trend has for how businesses will interact with and serve their customers in the near future.
The Pandemic and the Leap to Virtual
The global Covid-19 pandemic upended our lives in many ways but none so drastically as the acceleration of the shift to digital. Before the outbreak, we were increasingly choosing to shop, socialize, work and entertain ourselves in online environments. After it struck, this became less of a choice and more of a necessity for many – vastly speeding up the rate at which businesses chose to move their services online.
Many companies that found they were not set up to accommodate their customers’ needs through digital channels struggled, while those that had invested in social media, video chat, online customer service, and emerging technologies like AI chatbots thrived.
It’s these customer-oriented technology trends that are being touted as fundamental to what the metaverse will become. Companies moving into the metaverse – from entertainment brands like Disney to financial services giants like JP Morgan Chase - are banking on customers becoming increasingly happy with the service that they can provide through these channels. As investment grows, we can expect these offerings to evolve to fully leverage the convenience and instantaneousness that digital interaction offers.
More Immersive and Engaging Interactions
The fact that we now value positive and efficient customer experiences more highly than traditional factors that we used to judge businesses on, like price or quality of products, is key to understanding the value of the metaverse to customer service. The idea of the metaverse is that interactions between users – customers, in this case – and the brands we want to spend money with will be more immersive and engaging. When avatars are connecting with each other – as in Meta’s (Facebook’s) Horizon virtual worlds – there’s the opportunity to observe and measure body language in new ways. This can include hand gestures, facial expressions, and a whole new visual language that will undoubtedly emerge to cope with metaverse social interaction - just as emojis have become a big part of text-based conversations. Three-dimensional metaverse spaces give users a sense of location and being that goes beyond what they are used to experiencing in “traditional” virtual and online spaces.
It doesn't take a huge leap to imagine that businesses and brands will learn to observe, measure, capture, and analyze these details for clues about how they can most effectively engage with us. Think of it as social sentiment analytics ramped up to eleven – communication in the metaverse could take any form from text to voice, video, and synthetic content like avatars or computer-generated video. Businesses and organizations that make the most of the multi-trillion dollar opportunity the metaverse is said to offer will develop omnichannel approaches to extracting insights from all of this information and using them to make customer experience-oriented decisions.
Automated Customer Interactions
As AI improves, self-service channels are an increasingly efficient and, therefore, appealing option, rather than having to sit in a seemingly endless holding pattern as we try and reach a human representative. As companies get better at serving customers in this way, they, of course, gather more and more data on how to do it effectively, leading to increasingly accurate automated customer service – that's the plan, anyway.
AI, in this sense, can encompass computer vision and natural language processing technology – which watches and learns from our metaverse presence (avatar or otherwise) in order to ascertain what our issues are and how the company or brand may be able to help. Chatbots will evolve from the text boxes we’re used to now, with their somewhat hit-and-miss level of success when it comes to understanding our questions and finding the most appropriate answers. As deep learning algorithms improve, the number of occasions leading to them having to call in a human agent to take over the conversation should decline. One piece of research found that between 2017 and 2019, the percentage of chats that were able to handle end-to-end customer queries rose from 20 percent to almost 70 percent. This technology will undoubtedly be deployed by brands as they move into the metaverse space and offer customers quicker and more convenient paths through which to revolve their problems.
In the metaverse, brands deploy digital 3D assistants to act as virtual tour guides, personal shoppers, troubleshooters, consultants or any of the other roles that their human agents can provide in the real world. And increasingly, they will be able to fill these functions either manually, with human-controlled avatars and one-to-one communications, or in an automated manner via AI agents.
Brands are used to using influencers to promote and show off their products and services across social media. As the metaverse becomes more popular, it’s likely that they will adopt similar strategies in these more immersive and interactive environments. Brands like Nike and Gucci already create digital products designed to let us dress up our avatars in virtual worlds. Just as is the case in the real world, we can expect them to create limited edition releases to hand out to the most popular avatars with the largest audiences. This will undoubtedly impact the world of e-sports – competitive online gaming tournaments which will be held in the metaverse – as well as art, fashion, and music-related events which will find their home there too.