Improving the customer experience with virtual and augmented reality

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Not so long ago, the perception of immersive technologies was confined to science fiction. In recent years, it has become associated with gaming. Today, many businesses are recognizing the significant benefits of using augmented and virtual realities to improve their operations. AR and VR are now being used for everything from prototyping and design to marketing, customer service, training and productivity. 

As brands and businesses seek to strengthen and grow the relationship between their services or products and their customers, immersive technologies like AR and VR offer practical, emotional and creative routes to enriching these relationships while building brand loyalty and increasing sales. Immersive technologies have the potential to provide practical support and pack an emotional punch with their human-centered design approach. 

Technology has become advanced enough to move AR and VR into the mainstream, allowing them to be used to create a more user-friendly, realistic, accessible and affordable customer experience. 

Key differences between virtual and augmented reality

To make the most of VR and AR, business owners must understand the difference between the two and what each is capable of. 

The key difference between virtual and augmented reality is that virtual reality is designed to take users away from their physical space. In contrast, augmented reality combines physical space with virtual by overlaying parts and pieces of the real world with imagined pieces of digital content. So, while virtual reality completely removes the user from reality, augmented reality blurs the lines between reality and the imagined world.  

Virtual reality

Virtual reality content can vary greatly, providing everything from computer-generated, interactive content to passive experiences like 360-degree images of real-life places. The user needs to use specific equipment like a headset combined with hand controllers to access the most realistic VR content. The required hardware allows users to see, hear, and sometimes even interact with the experience. While this equipment provides access to the most realistic VR experiences, there are plenty of VR experiences such as virtual stores that don’t require headsets or any additional accessories.

VR is an excellent tool for businesses to make deep, lasting connections with customers and potential customers. The immersive nature of VR is the key to grabbing attention and evoking a sense of empathy in users.       

Augmented reality

Snapchat filters and the popular game Pokémon GO are a couple of the first and most well-known examples of augmented reality. AR is generally easier to access than VR because it can be viewed and used on a smartphone or tablet without requiring specific equipment (although equipment for top-end AR experiences is available). Although it doesn’t pack the emotional punch that VR experiences can, its accessibility makes it a great tool to appeal to a mass market. Businesses can use AR to allow users to access and share content easily through any medium, on the go or at home, making the sky the limit. 

Since a single entity doesn’t own the internet, each site becomes its own sort of island. Suppose you imagine users traveling between the islands of news, social media, online collaboration, banking, etc. In that case, the goal of the metaverse becomes clear — create true-to-life environments where your audience can explore a 3D customer experience, such as an interactive shopping journey, that will boost your engagement and sales rate while keeping customers connected to your brand. 

Today, most people are still experiencing the internet through tablets, phones, and laptops instead of hanging out with friends as avatars, doing things like going to virtual events, and exploring virtual shopping experiences. Since you’re most likely watching the internet through a flat screen instead of existing in it, you’re connected with the metaverse but not yet immersed in it. However, more and more ways to experience the metaverse as it’s meant to be experienced are becoming available daily. 

AR, VR, and the metaverse are being used today to transform sales and marketing processes and showcase products and collections like never before.

Retail and ecommerce are playing a significant role in expanding the metaverse. Through AR and VR, businesses can immerse their audiences with an identical virtual online store of their flagship location. They can also enhance their ecommerce offerings by turning their flat online store into an immersive, shoppable environment.

Retailers, manufacturers, and wholesalers can provide a superior, wall-to-wall experience that will delight their clients in an environment that alleviates decision-making and forms a memorable brand connection. Things like dynamic countertops, flooring assortments, changing walls, live furniture, and home accessories can be viewed and interacted with, from any screen and at any time.

Fashion retailers and wholesalers can also be a part of the unfolding metaverse by using the tools and technologies that are shaping the retail sector, leaving all options open even when the doors to the physical world of retail are being closed.

If the metaverse becomes a reality, businesses that already have plans to provide a metaverse customer experience will have the upper hand. With 82% of companies who try AR and VR reporting that the benefits met or exceeded expectations, businesses are clearly becoming more open to the metaverse.

As the metaverse becomes more of a reality, businesses that have set plans in motion to provide an immersive AR/VR customer experience will have the upper hand. As it stands, 82% of companies who have tried AR and VR report that the benefits met or exceeded their expectations. 

How VR and AR enhance the customer experience

Consumers are becoming increasingly reliant on digital tools to make purchasing decisions, complete the purchasing process, and use post-purchase customer support. VR and AR provide the innovative tools a company needs to support and improve its customer experience strategy. Here are some of the most significant reasons businesses are using AR and VR today.

Informed decision-making

Realistic and interactive immersive content is helpful to customers who want to try things before they buy them, which most of today’s customers do. Businesses in every industry, from cosmetics to automobiles, use AR to provide their customers the chance to make informed purchases.

Reduced buyer’s remorse

Most consumers rely on a combination of emotion and logic while deciding whether to purchase a product or service. The visualization capabilities of AR can help shoppers eliminate doubts about a service or product. They’ll feel more confident in their purchase and have fewer regrets about it later. 

Enhanced customer service

Immersive technology can provide practical support throughout the customer’s journey. From making product instructions more accessible for customers to making it easier for customers to connect with support for a product or service, AR and VR come with many practical tools to improve customer experience quickly and efficiently. 

Fully immersive

AR and VR combine to provide customers with a fully immersive experience where they can envision themselves in their purchase. With 360-degree views and customizable options, they get an experience that can’t be replicated in a physical location. When customers can personalize their products, they’re generally happier and much more likely to make a purchase (and spend up to 10% more). 

Stronger connection with customers

Immersive technology allows businesses to inform and delight their customers by building a range of immersive content into customer experience centers. These connections help enhance the customer experience and help build brand loyalty.  

Convenience

Wandering around a store searching for specific products is an inconvenience that many shoppers don’t want to deal with anymore. One of the best things about AR technology is that it can help customers navigate the largest stores in seconds, easily find the products they’re looking for and then deliver them right to their doorstep. 

Customer experience is the key to a business’s survival today. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on developing human interaction and relationships is looking less temporary every day. Immersive technologies like AR and VR are quickly becoming the answers to making vital customer links as a business.  

These technologies have the power to make your customers feel valued, empowered, and unique by your brand, which is what most customer experience strategies need to help the business build solid foundations for growth. 

Eran Galil is CTO & cofounder of ByondXR.

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