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Two of the strongest innovation trends right now are immersive experiences and the development of the metaverse. Forrester predicts that 2022 is the year when organizations’ investments in immersive experiences will turn browsing into virtual inhabiting. The consumer tech industry’s new vision for its version of the metaverse, including speech-generated virtual worlds, generates headlines daily.
What doesn’t get discussed quite as much is how the blending of immersive and metaversal technologies and experience designs will amplify the effects of each. Because immersive and metaversal technology development is accelerating, organizations don’t have time to wait and see what’s going to happen. Instead, they need to focus on bringing the change now.
When thinking about metaversal experiences, it’s important to realize that while the metaverse as a specific set of experiences provided by in or beyond a technology company’s proprietary space may be in the early stages of development, the real-world metaverse has been quietly expanding over time. Most of us simply don’t think of the technology-driven, connected experiences we have as metaversal, but they are.
Consider the philosophical question of where the mind ends and the rest of the world begins. It’s arguable that every mode of recording, sharing and analyzing data, information, knowledge and wisdom (DIKW) outside of people’s own minds and person-to-person interactions is metaversal. By that standard, humans have been slowly building a metaverse for millennia, from cave paintings to the printing press to the telephone.
Now, thanks to the internet, wireless connectivity and new technology manufacturing capabilities, the pace of metaverse expansion is accelerating. Advances in technology also have the potential to make the metaverse less intrusive and more seamless. For example, a field service technician today can point a tablet at a piece of equipment and get an AR image that shows an arrow pointing at the part they need to remove.
That’s helpful, but it can go even further. Just as landline telephone users were limited to calls from specific locations where there was a phone available, current metaversal experiences require an intrusive headset to deliver an immersive experience. Future experiences will be more like interacting with a smartphone no matter where you are and what you’re doing.
The differences between the immersive metaverse of tomorrow and today’s tools for sharing experiences are the number of senses involved and the friction or intrusiveness of the wearables guiding the experience. For example, in an immersive metaverse experience, the technician’s glasses will draw their vision to a part, and when they look at that part, they’ll hear a pleasant sound or get a pleasant smell. The gloves they wear will guide their hands to the correct tools and help them use those tools correctly. If the technician does something that could injure them, the wearables will leverage the appropriate senses to keep them safe. In the immersive metaverse, the technician interacts with reality intuitively to do their job safely and efficiently.
Right now, there are a couple of obvious use cases for immersive metaversal experiences that go beyond cool and compelling brand engagements. The first is handling tasks, like our immersive metaverse example involving the field technician. In these cases, customer experiences may be enhanced, optimized, and made more cost-effective at scale with immersive metaversal solutions.
For example, maybe the bank that delivers customer service through an app and phone calls will develop an immersive process that alerts customers of potential issues in real-time and walks them through a solution on whatever device or platform the customer prefers?
Immersive metaversal customer experiences could also accelerate the pace of B2B ecommerce and large-ticket consumer purchases. We already see automakers rendering 3D models of builds as the customer selects options online. What if the customer could pick their options and then virtually walk around the car, look under the hood, sit in the driver’s seat, and smell the leather? On the B2B side, what if a plant manager could have the same kind of immersive interaction with an industrial motor, rather than having to fly or drive to the manufacturer to see it before placing an order?
Companies need to understand what’s possible in the metaverse, what’s already in use and what customers or employees will expect as more organizations create immersive experiences to differentiate their products and services. The possibilities may include improvements in what companies are doing now as well as revolutionary changes in the way companies operate, connect and engage with customers and employees to increase loyalty.
How can leaders start to identify opportunities in the metaverse? Start, as always, with low-hanging fruit, like commerce and brand experiences that can benefit from immersive support. Also consider the technology that can enable what you need. From an architectural standpoint, it’s helpful to think of immersive experiences as a three-layer cake. The top layer is where users get access via systems of engagement. The middle layer is where messages are sent, received and routed to the right people via systems of integration. The bottom layer comprises the databases and transactions — the systems of record.
When companies consider new options for user interfaces (UI), user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX), they need to think about how evolving metaversal technology and user expectations may impact those systems of engagement. For example, future engagement may include desktop, mobile, and wearable experiences, as well as experiences that haven’t been developed yet, like headset experiences or an experience that’s synthesized across all those devices.
The possibility of rapid and dramatic experience changes requires thinking outside of silos. How will users move fluidly between entry points to those systems of engagement? Organizations that can figure that out can change the way users engage to a more immersive, continuous experience. We already see some organizations taking this approach.
For example, for many years, customers who had a problem with a product or service would call the company’s customer support line as a first step. Very few people enjoy calling customer service because it takes time and can be frustrating. Companies don’t like fielding lots of customer service calls because they’re an expensive way to solve customer problems. Now, some organizations have moved most customer service processes to their app, so that customers only need to speak to a service representative when they have an issue the app can’t resolve – and they can call from the app. Expect to see that kind of fluidity across engagement points grow, especially as more immersive technology becomes available.
The key concept for organizations to keep in mind is that we already live, work, and play where the metaverse meets reality. Now, we’re waiting to see how these new technologies will make the metaverse less intrusive and more immersive, but the fundamental building blocks for creating and delivering richer metaversal user experiences already exist for visionary organizations to work with now.
Andy Forbes is the Salesforce solution architect at Capgemini Americas. Michael Martin is the enterprise architect of mobile solutions at Capgemini Americas.
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