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The metaverse is here — and setting the stage to transform CX

Your customers need you to be where they are. Long gone are the days when that just meant a clerk assisted shoppers in a brick-and-mortar retail store, or an agent attentively listened to and resolved concerns by phone. This was an era in which customers got the support a business said they could have — maybe not what they wanted or needed. The evolution since has resulted in far more customer control and emphasis on customer happiness, as well as customer-centric tools such as self-service options and in-app messaging

And now with the advent of the metaverse, we have a new realm for customer experience (CX). While the term originated in a 1992 sci-fi novel called Snow Crash, think of the “real” version as a visually rich model of the internet. It’s a parallel world. When you “go” there, you’re an avatar, and so are those with whom you interact.

“Customer support is integral to digital, immersive experiences. Companies have a real opportunity to innovate their CX strategy to embrace this significant tipping point,” Adrian McDermott, Chief Technology Officer of Zendesk.  

How the metaverse is shaping experiences

In the past, companies aspired to metaverse-like experiences, but the results fell short: low-fi, and not-so-great. The wish for a digital realm beyond websites was there, but not much came of it. Finally this idea is coming to life. 

With the metaverse, computing devices can connect people into real-time social experiences — good ones that people actually want to engage in. There’s consumption entertainment — think watching a movie, sitting courtside at a sporting event. But instead of getting in your car and fighting traffic, you attend in this immersive parallel realm, with or without VR goggles. Then, from an entertainment point of view, there’s participatory entertainment, like gaming. You’re interacting with people and it’s highly social. In some ways you might even be writing the script. 

Finally, there are professional use cases. Here at Zendesk, one of our teams recently had a meeting in the metaverse. This was far more compelling and interactive than the Brady Bunch–style online meetings we’ve slogged through for the past two years. 

“In the metaverse, areas such as media, entertainment, software, and gaming are converging. Content must be rich, engaging, timely, and relevant,” says R “Ray” Wang, founder, chairman, and principal analyst of Constellation Research.

The truth behind the VR goggles

Are we heading toward a future where we languish in our custom rigs, decked out in VR suits? And that’s life, eight hours a day?

No. While it can be tempting to frame this shift from two dimensional to three dimensional in this way, down the line we’re likely to enjoy metaverse experiences that are immersive but nonetheless 2D, no goggles required.

“We will regularly reach for the metaverse, and we’ll find compelling, enjoyable experiences there,” says McDermott. “We won’t passively consume TV and sports so much as use the headset as a doorway to active engagement. The metaverse may happen from the comfort of home, but if you’re actively participating in something, it could deemphasize the couch potato element.”

And one day we may even think of it less in terms of parallel physical worlds, spaces, and realms — and more a choice of how and where we are spending our time. Digital time versus in-person time.

For example, one day you might be able to visit Baltimore’s breathtaking National Aquarium without getting on a plane, or even in a car if you’re a local. This can all be spontaneous. And it’s not just people having solo experiences with a device — friends and family and colleagues can do things together.

Metaverse experiences will become a larger and larger part of our lives.

How customer relationships will look different in the metaverse

Crucially, retail will move into the metaverse. This will bridge the online shopping and brick-and-mortar experiences. In the metaverse, a company can show and advise on its products, and of course concierge personal experiences. If you offer financial services, then your business is negotiating loans in the metaverse. Physical therapist? You might do an intake and demonstrate hamstring stretches. We could go down the line, whether it’s movies, consulting, therapy, fitness… All the things we do as a digital economy—and some that we’re not doing yet—have a future in the metaverse. 

Customer relationships will also evolve.

In customer support, we look at every interaction as an opportunity to build rapport with our customers. When we think of conversational experiences, for instance, every interaction is a relationship between the brand and the customer. Messaging, for instance, will be essential, but the goal will be to swiftly meet a need versus engage the customer in extended or free-form conversation. We’re reframing the type of relationship between company and customer. We aren’t deemphasizing the centrality of relationships with our customers. A need well met will impress the customer in this context more than a friendly chat.

“When you offer help, the interactions will be more laser-focused,” says McDermott. “The goal is to keep people immersed in the metaverse, so companies need to think of support in terms of instant and efficient resolution.”

How customer support will work in the metaverse

This year’s Zendesk Customer Experience (CX) Trends Report advises that businesses prioritize customer service as if their growth depends on it. Eventually this will include the metaverse, and the time to start planning for this is now.

There will be a lot of moving parts in metaverse customer experiences. For a detailed window into how it will all operate and evolve, let’s look at gaming in the metaverse.

We have to make sure not to take players out of the game, as that disrupts the experience. We can’t make players go somewhere else when they need support. Email is slow and asynchronous. Messaging is much faster. And while gamers have gotten used to that round or square button at the bottom of a screen that opens a text chat, this type of experiential rupture is a dealbreaker in the metaverse. 

Speed is ever essential. With gaming particularly, it’s the win-or-lose factor. So in metaverse gaming, if anything breaks, we have to fix it fast. Waiting until a player goes looking for assistance, especially if they leave the experience to go to a website, is the wrong approach. We’ll have to extend our reach to be in more places. And we have to help customers at the moment when they are running into problems.

Here’s one vision of a customer support agent in a gaming experience: 

Imagine the agent starts their shift. Suddenly they’re floating all around this digital, immersive place with loads of activity, colors, sounds, shapes. Mostly everyone seems to be doing fine – but then the agent sees an exclamation point. 

They float toward it — and find a player sitting down, waiting for help. The agent and the player have a quick conversation. Issue resolved. 

These kinds of experiences could revolutionize the whole world of service. It’s a huge opportunity. But make no mistake: A support area that’s hypothetical will become crucial quickly. Your business has to start envisioning and planning, and the time to do it is now. “This is a build, partner, or perish moment,” says Wang.