From Palaeolithic cave paintings to the great works of Shakespeare to the new digital form, communication is about conveying the human experience. Every word and image is meant to break down the boundaries between our minds, share emotions and information, and build a micro-relationship between the creator and their audience.
That’s why augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) as communication tools have the potential to surpass the development of the written word, the invention of the printing press, and the commercialization of photography. Before, there has never been a method of communication that combines an immersive experience with interactivity in a way that so closely mimics and augments the human experience. For brands and their CX efforts, the coming impact of AR and VR can’t be overstated.
AR and VR 101
While AR and VR have been popular concepts in science fiction for many decades, they have finally reached the technical maturity necessary to go from high-tech toy to a valid communication medium. While similar in concept, the two technologies differ in terms of functionality:
- Augmented reality refers to the overlay of a digital element on a real-world environment, usually through the use of a screen like a phone or tablet. For example, furniture shoppers can use the IKEA Place mobile app to point their smartphone at a space in their home to see what a couch, chair, table or any other piece of IKEA furniture will look like in that space.
- Virtual reality refers to the creation and delivery of an immersive digital experience that blocks out reality through the use of headsets, goggles, monitors, or simulators. VR has been primarily used for video games, movies, and entertainment, though another common use is for training professionals like surgeons, soldiers, and pilots.
Thanks to increasing broadband availability and higher speed connections with future 5G technologies, the increased processing power of devices, and the maturity of technology like cloud computing and artificial intelligence, AR and VR are poised to become a primary way for brands to interact and communicate with consumers. According to TechSci Research Report, India AR & VR market is projected to grow at a CAGR of over 55% during 2016 – 2021. It is predicted that by 2021, the market is going to generate $108 billion in revenue. Major tech companies like Alphabet, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are racing to develop new hardware, software, development kits, and app stores to make AR and VR as easy to adopt as smartphones were a decade earlier.
The shift to VR and AR in CX
When it comes to customer experience, experts predict that AR and VR will soon create a seismic shift in customer expectations on par or exceeding the impact of social media, mobile apps, and the internet itself had on how brands approach CX. As brands work to incorporate VR and AR into their overall digital strategy, it will be key to keep the human experience front and center. That means focusing on delivering:
- Personalized experiences: With AR and VR, you can completely immerse your audience in your brand from the comfort of their own home, while using data to make that experience unique to them. By meeting your customers where they are, both literally and figuratively, the easier it will be for the user to see how your brand fits into their lifestyle.
- Emotional resonance: VR and AR have the power to elicit an emotional response, which a brochure or webpage can’t hope to match. These technologies allow customers to interact with your brand as an active participant instead of as a passive consumer, giving brands the opportunity to create memorable experiences at every touchpoint.
- Accessible information: As self-service becomes more common, AR and VR will be critical in bridging the gap between the brand and the customer. These technologies can give users confidence they are making the right buying decision at their own pace, while having access to your complete CX team at the touch of a virtual button.
- Customer engagement: As customers gain the ability to explore products with a 360º view, from inside out, and in 3D, brands are going to be able to engage with customers at an almost unimaginable level using real-time data.
As technology like artificial intelligence comes to the forefront, VR and AR may help overcome the CX divide that can come from “dealing with a robot” versus working with a human. For example, while sophisticated AI can look at a bank customer’s spending patterns to make recommendations for meeting a savings goal like retirement, the advice the AI provides can be easy to ignore if it were to come via email or a text. However, if delivered by the bank’s brand avatar as a part of a VR experience, it could make it easier for the customer to create an emotional connection and be open to what the AI has to communicate, just as if it were coming from a human advisor. Beyond just selling more product, VR and AR can be used by companies to create digital life coaches that help solve real-world problems and build lasting brand value.
While AR smartphone apps and VR headsets are already common today, the virtual revolution is only beginning. Every business in every industry has the opportunity to incorporate AR and VR throughout their entire CX process, from marketing to sales to customer support. The successful company will be the one that uses this technology, not as a new channel for engagement with the company, but as a way to transform what engagement truly means.