From chatbots to artificial intelligence, a wide range of emerging technologies are set to transform how brands interact with their customers. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are the latest developments to be heralded as game changing, offering companies the prospect of creating new, immersive experiences for both consumers and their customer service agents.

Because of their inherent differences, these technologies will provide diverse opportunities for businesses. VR, which uses a headset to immerse the user in a virtual world, holds the potential to simulate a specific experience for a consumer or employee, from driving a car to trying out a holiday destination. AR, on the other hand, superimposes a computer-generated image on to a user’s view of the real world, meaning it could be used to guide consumers when they’re using a product or service or as a new support tool in a customer service setting.

So far adoption has been led by the gaming and entertainment industry. According to Forbes, more than 100 million VR headsets were shipped last year alone and AR is making a significant impact on social media, with Snapchat lenses and Instagram filters as prime examples. But while the market is embryonic, its potential applications for customer relationship management cannot be ignored as brands strive to improve loyalty by creating memorable experiences for consumers.

The technology has four key future applications:

1. Workspaces of the Future

AR has the potential to enhance customer service agents’ workspaces. Specially designed glasses will enable employees to access numerous virtual user interfaces and activate them instantly or push them to the background with hand gestures – agents would control and make use of various virtual screens and databases with a simple swiping motion.

This approach would maximise the accessibility and usability of the resources available to agents during customer interactions and not limit them to what they can recall on a desktop computer or handheld device. This will enable them to solve customer issues more efficiently.

2. Try Before You Buy

VR could provide brands with the opportunity to let customers try products and services virtually before they make the decision to purchase. With retailers increasingly adopting an omni-channel approach to their customer service, agents could take a consumer on a virtual guided tour of a shop to look at items of clothing, for example, using a VR headset in one, seamless interaction.

The automotive sector is another industry that could see a significant change. With car dealerships increasingly linked up to contact centres, a customer service representative could take a customer on a guided tour of the vehicle and then on to a virtual test drive. While this won’t provide the consumer with exactly the same experience as actually driving the car, it still has the potential to significantly accelerate the sales cycle and decision to purchase.

3. Support for End Users

Both AR and VR have the potential to play a leading role in aftersales care, reducing pressure on agents so they can focus on more complex, resource-demanding enquiries. For example, if a consumer needs to change the toner cartridge on a printer or perform simple maintenance to their car, a VR video can show them all of the steps needed to do so to be able to self-serve.

AR could take this a step further and provide customers with real time support and guidance through an AR-enabled app on their mobile device. If they are assembling a piece of flat pack furniture, for instance, the app will track each piece electronically and provide a visual guide so a consumer can see each step they need to take.

4. Training for Frontline Staff

Providing the right training for agents is a critical component of delivering exceptional customer service. But the challenge for brands is how to create realistic scenarios that test employees, without exposing them to customers prematurely. VR has the potential to help here, providing immersive training experiences that can completely disconnect staff from the outside world.

Trialling virtual reality challenges in our own training schemes has accelerated the development of communication and problem solving skills – key abilities for customer service staff providing technical support, for example. VR adds a heightened sense of realism and the option to introduce gamification, which, even in its most basic form, creates a more memorable learning experience.

Eventually, the technology could also be used to develop bespoke, virtual training programmes that meet an employee’s specific development needs, helping them get up to speed and make progress in areas they need to improve. This would not only streamline the training process, but also ensure that employees are better equipped to deliver exceptional customer experiences.

Both technologies offer the potential to open up completely new prospects for brands – it’s not a question of whether they will become indispensable, but when. Now is the time for businesses to start considering application scenarios and how to integrate AR and VR into their customer service operations, to ensure that they are well positioned to maximise their value.

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