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There’s been so much discussion about the metaverse recently, as companies try to understand what it means for their engagements with customers and employees, and how their brand can be extended into it. Because the metaverse is a complex technological concept, the first step in understanding the potential impact is to define it. Is the metaverse a virtual place or network of places online created and run by tech companies? Is it the technology-mediated experiences we already have day to day combining physical and digital journeys, like location-based offers that appear on our phones and interactive displays in museums and stores?
Both views are correct. The metaverse is the next (not final) iteration of the internet where human interactions will be a combination of virtual, real-time, three-dimensional, and physical experiences. Our ways of working, creating, buying and consuming are already radically changing. The impact of the change will be deeper than the impact of the smartphone.
We are still at the beginning stages when it comes to real ROI for businesses, but now is the time to experiment and invest and innovate in metaverse-based use cases.
The key for organizations is to focus on the business outcome and goal for creating metaverse experiences, regardless of whether they happen online or in a hybrid digital-physical space. For example, while there’s been a strong business and media focus on the marketing- and revenue-generating potential of the metaverse, there’s also a growing recognition of the variety of potential metaverse use cases. In addition to entertainment, for example, organizations may use the metaverse to optimize business operations and enrich employee collaboration and training experiences.
It’s also important to see how digitally enabled human experiences are evolving, and to expect them to continue to evolve, in order to plan strategically. For example, most of us are used to 2D flat user interface-based interactions with tablets, phones, computers and monitors. In fact, we expect those kinds of interactions and may be surprised if they’re not available in stores to help with tasks like planning room décor.
Now, we’re seeing more of what we call natural or spatial user interfaces, in which users and the physical environment interact. Some technologies that support natural interfaces include beacons, biometrics and 3D extended-reality environments that users experience through a headset.
Other senses can be engaged by natural user interfaces through touch (haptics), audio, and even olfactory experiences, to create a more immersive interaction. Experiences can include augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR) to enhance or create new capabilities or ways to interact. The result is an experience that combines visual, natural/spatial, and traditional interfaces enabling a multisensory experience.
But we still have much to learn when it comes to the actual human-machine-human interaction. User experience and interface design skills are about to radically change. Ultimately, the experience will have to feel trusted, secure and private when required.
Engagement blueprinting for metaverse experiences
The interesting thing about the metaverse is that the technologies that support it aren’t new – they are just maturing and becoming more accessible and affordable. Engagement blueprinting is an effective methodology to plan for and design the art of the possible. The process involves looking at each moment in a journey to see what the user experience is now and to think about how new real-time 3D and spatial technology can improve it.
For example, think about a consumer contacting a customer support call center. The customer doesn’t see the behind-the-scenes service design that goes into that experience, from the phone menu to the hold music to the conversation with the customer service representative. All those elements were laid out years or even decades ago, and they may now have a brand impact that’s very different from when they first launched.
Engagement blueprinting brings a fresh eye to the experience to understand the customer or employee’s feelings about the brand as they move through the process. For example, long hold times negatively affect customers’ views of the brand, while slow interactions create frustration that stresses front-line employees.
By reviewing the stack of technology, processes, and training that create that experience, blueprinting can identify areas for improvement to create a better experience for customers and employees throughout their journeys so they retain a positive impression of the brand and remain loyal advocates.
Increasingly, metaverse experiences will provide solutions to these challenges. For example, a customer could interact with a real-time 3D model of the product through the company’s help portal to pinpoint an issue before speaking to a representative. Then the employee can also see the same product model to walk the customer through a troubleshooting process that’s easier to navigate and more effective than a standard phone conversation.
In addition to improving service interactions for customers and employees, metaverse-based solutions can support more effective training, field service and sales. For example, in many industries, companies are preparing to lose a large portion of their retirement-age workforce — and these employees will likely take a large amount of institutional knowledge with them. How can these businesses effectively capture that tacit knowledge, organize it, and present it to employees that need that information to work more efficiently? Virtual and augmented experiences using headsets, 3D models and haptic feedback help to capture and preserve that knowledge and share it without relying on tedious one-to-one training interactions. Using virtual reality for training purposes helps employees retain 75% more knowledge.
Once trained, a service technician can work more efficiently with access to product diagrams, guided installation walk-throughs, and other virtually augmented experiences — all of which can reduce the time of calls, increase customer satisfaction and drive employee retention. Additionally, these solutions can generate customized cross-sell and upsell recommendations for the field technicians to share with customers.
Understanding how to make the most of the metaverse may seem complicated, but it follows the same arc as any other technology application. First, start experimenting. Apply traditional structured innovation and identify the candidate business use cases to solve for. Next, blueprint the process involved to understand how customers and employees experience it. Then, think creatively about how to leverage and combine existing and new technologies to improve the experience. Finally, keep an eye on emerging technologies so you can revisit the process as the metaverse evolves and customer and employee expectations evolve along with it.
Charlton Monsanto is executive vice president, digital customer experience at Capgemini Americas.