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Virtual reality in
business can
help deliver a
personalized
customer
experience

Author: Gordon Littley

From Paleolithic cave paintings and the great works of Shakespeare to your mom's blog, communication is about conveying the human experience. Every word and image is meant to break down the boundaries between each other's minds, share emotions and information, and build a micro-relationship between the creator and their audience.

That's why augmented reality in business and virtual reality in business, 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. Never before have there been methods of communication that combine an immersive experience with interactivity in a way that so closely mimics and augments the human experience. For brands and their customer experience (CX) efforts, the coming impact of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can't be overstated.

How can virtual reality in business and augmented reality in business help deliver a personalized customer experience?

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 retail mobile apps to point their smartphone at a space in their home to see what a couch, chair, table or any other piece of furniture would 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 it is also used to train professionals, like surgeons, soldiers and pilots. For example, Walmart has found virtual reality helpful for cross-training associates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Augmented reality in business and virtual reality in business will soon help brands offer uniquely immersive and emotionally resonant experiences that exceed customer expectations. This transformation in customer engagement will be thanks in large part to the increasing availability and maturity of enabling technologies, such as 5G, broadband, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

Recent iPhone and Android devices support augmented reality, delivering it into millions of consumers' hands. Smartphones are also equipped with better cameras, processors and displays than they once were, dramatically improving the AR and VR experience. Specialized headsets for AR and VR are also available at more attractive price points now.

All these recent advancements indicate a promising future for AR and VR. Virtual reality has the potential to be the most disruptive technology of the next decade, and the augmented and virtual reality market is expected to grow to over $30 billion by 2030. Major tech companies, like Alphabet, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Sony 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 ago.

Applying VR and AR to help deliver personalized customer experiences

Within the next ten years, AR and VR will create a seismic shift in customer expectations on par with or exceeding the impact that social media, mobile apps and the internet itself had on how brands approach CX. As brands work to incorporate VR and AR into their digital strategies, these immersive technologies will be key to keeping the human experience front and center. That means focusing on delivering:

  • Personalized customer experiences: With augmented reality in business and virtual reality in business, you have the opportunity to completely immerse your audience in your brand from the comfort of their own homes, while using data to make that experience unique to them. By meeting your customers where they are, both literally and figuratively, it will be easier for each user to see how your brand enhances their lifestyle.
  • Emotional resonance: VR and AR have the power to elicit an emotional response that a web page or social media post can't hope to match. These technologies allow customers to interact with your brand as active participants instead of as passive consumers, giving your brand the opportunity to create memorable experiences at every touch point.
  • Accessible information: As self-service becomes more common, AR and VR will be critical in bridging the gap between brands and their customers. These technologies can give users confidence they are making the right buying decision at their own pace, while having instant access to your CX team should they need any support.
  • Customer engagement: As customers gain the ability to explore products with a 360-degree view, from the inside out and in 3D, brands will be able to engage with customers at an almost unimaginable level using real-time data.

VR marketing could generate appetite for big ticket purchases by making virtual versions of them available on demand. For example, the impact of COVID-19 has been especially severe for the travel industry, as flights to international destinations have ground to a halt. Germany's national tourist board has responded by inviting would-be travelers on virtual trips across the country, so they can begin planning post-pandemic trips. Volvo offers virtual test drives, helping automotive enthusiasts experience in advance what it would feel like to take a quick getaway in one of their cars.

While AR is already available in smartphones and VR headsets are becoming common, as well, the virtual revolution is only beginning. Every business in every industry has the opportunity to incorporate AR and VR throughout its entire CX process, from marketing and sales to customer support. Successful companies will use these technologies not simply as new channels for customer engagement, but as a way to transform what engagement itself truly means.

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Gordon Littley is Managing Director, Domain and Vertical Business Development for Verizon.