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GUEST COMMENT What should we expect from customer service in the metaverse?

How retailers are navigating a challenging market. Image: Shutterstock
Matthias Goehler is CTO EMEA at Zendesk

Football clubs normally sell tickets to around 40,000 people on match day and those fans will typically visit the stadium for a few hours and perhaps buy a jersey from the gift shop. Now imagine another 800,000 people watching that same match – in 3D – in the virtual world. What experience can and should the club be giving those people? How should it be interacting with them? And not just for the duration of the game, but on an ongoing basis, should they wish to spend more time there.

The arrival of the metaverse is starting to bring up these sorts of questions in industry boardrooms worldwide. As a concept, the metaverse has dominated the tech and business landscape this year – computing devices can now connect people, via VR headsets or even just through their browser, to a digital realm of real-time, virtual experiences that people really want to engage with. While still very much at the experimental stage, brand and professional use cases are now popping up alongside gaming and entertainment ones, with brands from H&M to Heineken and BMW all recently launching products there.

Commerce won’t be far behind in establishing itself and will bring with it a whole new exciting world of branded experiences and ways of buying and selling, as businesses look to connect with consumers on a completely new level. Travel companies, through the creation of 3D models, can showcase high spec, digital representations of hotels, tourist sites and transport options. This can vastly improve the holiday planning and purchase experience, cutting out hours of poring over endless reviews to know whether places are worth visiting before booking. Similarly, the property industry could soon offer 3D tours of house listings, removing the need to travel to endless, in-person viewings.

To make these novel customer experiences more than a passing fad, it will be just as important for brands to consider the customer service strategy to support them. But where to start? Here are a few areas you might want to think about:

How do you best incorporate customer service agents into metaverse experiences?

The metaverse is all about immersion – once you’re in it, you don’t want to have to switch out of the platform and back to traditional support channels like email, if you encounter an issue. As more and more of us meet in the metaverse, customer support will become increasingly essential to a positive experience. We’ve already seen this happen in gaming, where chat integrations make it possible to get support from within the platform. Conversational service – in the form of avatar agents – will be critical to efficiently resolving queries without having to exit the experience, as we navigate this new space. Brands should think about how they consider this as a new support channel where agents or even help articles can ‘pop up’. If done right, those early adopters who are already exploring virtual worlds, will soon be converted into brand advocates.

How does customer service in the metaverse change the purchase process?

The metaverse may well change the way we buy certain products and services in the future. It could create stock-free experiences to virtually try before you buy and give more power to consumers to comparison shop. When buying a car, for example, it could enable shoppers to visit just one dealer to view a variety of brands and virtually explore, preselect, and preconfigure the cars they’re interested in.

But what then should a company’s customer service look like when products are being sold through a third-party distributor? How do you make sure you are plugging in your service at the right time, if a buyer has questions? Thinking about this, as well as any potential impact on how stock is bought in the real world, will ensure that service in the metaverse is set up in the right way from the start.

How will we find brands in the first place?

Virtual worlds are going to facilitate a whole new way for people to start researching and understanding products – much like the arrival of Amazon’s Alexa did several years ago. It will change the way we connect with brands but also allow us to circumvent a connection with a brand altogether if we want to, using a third party – just like we can do with Amazon on the existing web. Brands should study the digital shifts that have already taken place in order to plan smart for this next one.

Research shows that businesses must prioritise customer service as if their growth depended on it. Sooner or later this will include customer service in the metaverse, too. The time to start planning for this is now, especially given that less than a third (30%) of organisations across Europe have already added conversational customer service into their mix and only 40% can currently integrate customer service with other business channels.

In many ways, the arrival of the metaverse is the next phase of our digital transformation – a new version of the internet if you will. And as brands start to take notice of this brave new (virtual) world, the worst thing they can do is nothing – to ignore it and not start thinking about a strategy, even if they’re not quite ready to jump in just yet. After all, we saw what happened to brands like Kodak and Blockbuster that overlooked previous digital disruptions. Whether the metaverse will offer the same level of disruption remains to be seen – but there’s no doubt that it opens up a new world of opportunity that will be difficult to ignore.

Matthias Goehler is CTO EMEA at Zendesk

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