Virtual reality is already here, with a significant potential to transform the customer experience (CX). According to an Oracle and ESG research report, “, VR and AR are rapidly approaching an inflection point. 84% of CX stakeholders surveyed agreed that VR and AR have the potential to supplant brick and mortar CX in the next five years.
Here’s why VR is an emerging technology to keep your eye on, along with a look at how smart brands and digital marketers already use VR to deliver a high-quality CX.
So what is VR, exactly? Virtual reality is a computer-generated environment, commonly delivered via a headset, that simulates your physical presence within a synthesized reality. VR is infused with auditory and visual cues that feel realistic, allowing you to perceive and exist in the new reality as you would the real world. If you’ve ever watched , you might recognize the holodeck on the as a famous example of this technology.
VR is distinct from its cousin (AR), which allows users to see and interact with computer-generated objects and entities that are layered on top of the real world. Pokémon GO, an interactive AR game that inspired legions of fans to don avatars and wander through cities and towns across the globe in search of Pokémon, is a well-known mobile AR app. VR, by contrast, completely replaces your current reality with one that has been carefully designed to create a transformative experience.
Because VR is fully immersive, transporting you to an entirely different reality from the one you know, it often creates a sensory impact that’s profound and even emotionally resonant. Understanding this benefit, smart brands use VR to enhance CX and engage their customers in innovative ways.
According to the (SHRM), Walmart is already using VR for customer service training, creating scenarios for high stake events like Black Friday that employees can experience in a safe virtual environment so that when they eventually experience them in the real world, they’ll be better prepared to deliver top-notch customer service. Walmart supervisors also use VR to train their employees on new technology and business processes. As of February 2019, 10,000 of Walmart’s 1.2 million employees have taken skills training in a virtual setting.
Businesses are even using VR’s unique benefits to safely serve their customers during the pandemic. As reports, the tourism industry was already using VR to market certain locations prior to the global health crisis, but now they’re also using it to let would-be travelers visit destinations like Machu Picchu or the Galápagos Islands from the safety of their homes.
According to the , artists are using VR to stage virtual productions, like Shakespeare’s , that allow patrons and even live actors to congregate in a shared space using an Oculus headset. In both the tourism and theater industries, early adopters already enjoyed some success while experimenting with VR and now embrace it more fully at a time when they’re temporarily unable to offer these experiences in person. In doing so, they capitalize on a rare opportunity to engage audiences they might not otherwise have been able to reach.
Marketers have already identified several best practices for creating a meaningful CX with VR. According to the (CMI), it’s wise to have a deep understanding of your users before you begin offering them a virtual experience of any kind. While this approach is essential to a high-quality CX in any setting, it’s particularly relevant in the VR context because a user’s freedom of agency—their ability to move around as well as their agency to make certain choices—has an especially strong impact on their experience in a virtual world.
It’s also helpful to envision your user as the protagonist in a story when creating a virtual experience for them. As CMI advises, you’ll want to create a schema that guides your user toward their ultimate destination via a series of decision trees. You may also benefit from using cost-effective mobile VR solutions that allow you to experiment with the technology and discover how to create compelling VR experiences, potentially even gaining an early edge over competitors in the process.
Although VR is an emerging technology for the moment, brands anticipate that it could replace many brick-and-mortar experiences within the next five years. Companies already tap VR’s unique capabilities to train employees, transport would-be travelers to enticing destinations, and host live theater performances for avid audiences. While businesses are only beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible in VR realms, it’s clear that it’s the visionaries—innovators who are already exploring the technology and trying it out in creative ways—that are ideally positioned to transform CX using VR.