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Virtual Reality – The Future of Customer Service

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canstockphoto21180753Recent advances in technology are providing new and exciting ways for us to interact with each other and the world around us. The possibilities of extending these technologies beyond the consumer realm to the enterprise are seemingly endless. This includes enhancing how companies service their customers.

Only a decade ago it was somewhat of a stretch to believe that thermostats that could predict occupancy and usage as well as optimize their settings accordingly. Few would have believed that watches could monitor and report on your health. However, the Internet of Things has increasingly become an integral part of our lives.

Companies are gaining new opportunities to leverage many of these technologies to offer an improved customer service experience. Data from connected devices can provide valuable information on a consumer’s preferences and most commonly encountered issues. This data can enable a company to better tailor service proactively to that customer.

Collected data can also be used as context to tailor interactions with a customer so that they get what they need with the least amount of effort. The information can even be used to upsell and cross-sell additional products and services to that customer.

The Potential of Virtual Reality
One technology that holds tremendous promise is virtual reality. While VR remains in its infancy, it is quickly maturing into a viable medium for humans to connect cyberspace with the real world. The pace of innovation in VR is definitely accelerating, and the cost of these devices is expected to drop rapidly as more consumers adopt the technology. Given this, the application of VR to help companies service their customers is not as far-fetched as it may seem.

Two VR technologies that are leading the way are Facebook‘s Oculus Rift and Microsoft‘s HoloLens. While both Oculus Rift and HoloLens boast a robust VR experience and a powerful developer toolkit that can integrate into other hardware as well as software environments (think gaming), the technologies take very different approaches to merging the real world with the virtual world.

In the case of Oculus Rift, a person can be immersed in a virtual environment, making them an integral part of that virtual reality. Microsoft’s HoloLens takes a markedly different approach to VR by overlaying virtual elements onto the real world to augment real world experiences. Both approaches open the door to countless applications that can do everything from simulating in-person meetings to providing a highly immersive gaming experience.

Applications for Improving Customer Service
So what does this all mean for customer service? Consider the difficulties encountered today when a customer needs technical help. Remote troubleshooting is clunky at best over the phone, chat, or email. In most cases, representatives must try to figure out what the issue is by relying on a customer’s description of the problem, which may not be accurate given that they do not have enough technical experience. Troubleshooting is often slow and done in a step-by-step manner that may be difficult for the customer to understand and follow. It is equally difficult for the representative to determine if the customer has properly followed the steps indicated. Representatives can push instructions to customers, but they still cannot visualize how well a customer is following those instructions. Two-way video communication mitigates this to a degree but is not commonly implemented (privacy reasons are often cited), and the 2D experience is still somewhat clunky.

A VR interaction would solve this problem. By having the customer share what they are seeing and doing with the representative as if they were in the customer’s shoes allows them to better guide a customer through the troubleshooting process. The representative could also highlight what the customer needs to do next as clearly as if they were there. The applications of this approach can be as simple as basic plumbing repair or something as complex as rebuilding a combustion engine.

If this all seems quite amazing, if not a little surreal, keep in mind that the cost of devices is dropping rapidly. And the availability of potential applications is increasing rapidly with a large ecosystem of developers jumping onto the VR bandwagon. Experimentation with haptics promises to bring a tactile dimension that will significantly enhance the VR experience. Promising research in the field of brain-to-brain communications could open up the doors to additional avenues of service down the road, such as direct training. All of these initiatives are contributing to accelerating VR innovation.

The practical implementation of VR for customer service is still a ways off. Devices need to be cost-effective and widely available. Integration of VR technology into business applications needs to occur, and customers have to learn to accept VR as a medium of interaction for service requests.

The writing is on the wall. VR offers the potential of an exciting new immersive experience by creating a mashup between the real and virtual worlds. Different approaches will extend the realm of possible applications VR can enable and integrate with. VR is already showing tremendous promise for enterprises, including how they service their customers. It behooves all companies to start looking now at the potential ways VR technologies can be incorporated into their processes to enhance the customer service experience.

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