There has been much buzz lately about the metaverse to the point where “meta-” is becoming a tag, even a company name a.k.a. Facebook.
But what exactly is the metaverse? And is there a need for customer service, support, and sales through their contact centers in it?
To find out, I had a virtual conversation with Shannon Flanagan, Vice President of Global Industry Strategy: Retail & Consumer Goods at Talkdesk. The company had a study conducted into the metaverse to understand how consumers use it and uncover the opportunities for brands looking to dive into this space.
Q. What is the metaverse? And what will it be used for?
While the metaverse is still taking shape, we consider it to be the new frontier of unifying the physical and digital worlds. A more simplistic definition is that it’s an immersive virtual world where people interact with friends, family, and brands.
Currently, gaming is the primary activity in the metaverse. Not surprisingly, gaming is drawing in more than a third of Gen Z users (38%).
At the same time, we see growing adoption by companies for onboarding employees and virtual events. Yet as more brands establish themselves in this “world,” they will see business opportunities; the increase in product discovery, inspiration, and purchases will rise right alongside them.
As the next iteration of connecting with customers, the metaverse is creating new ways to connect with new and loyal buyers, build brand awareness, and unlock a new channel for growth. Rather than just scrolling on Instagram or watching a video, consumers can now have immersive experiences with people, places, and products.
Q. Is the metaverse becoming popular and why?
Our survey found that more than two-thirds (69%) of all survey respondents had visited the metaverse recently.
After more than two years of social distancing, people crave interpersonal connections and interactive experiences more than ever.
Many respondents reported feeling isolated and missing companionship during this time, which makes sense given how the COVID-19 pandemic put a pin in most everyone’s social lives for more than 24 months. Through the metaverse, people see a chance to reconnect safely and conveniently.
Q. Who is in the metaverse?
The metaverse is proving to be a diversified space – spanning age groups and genders – making it a virtual world anyone can take part in.
Our survey found that 73% of women and 62% of men had already dabbled in the metaverse. While we see younger generations as lead early adopters, Baby Boomers (45%) are making their mark as well. For digitally-native millennials and Gen Zers to dominate the space is not unexpected because navigating the metaverse comes naturally for them.
Q. Are there any expectations that it will take off, in which direction, and enter the mainstream and when?
Opinions differ on when the metaverse will become mainstream. Analysts and Meta itself estimate it will be at least a decade before it reaches maturity.
A third (34%) of our survey respondents, however, expected the metaverse to become mainstream and fully mature within the next five years. This growing interest could spur accelerated growth in terms of the capabilities and functionality of the metaverse.
“Opinions differ on when the metaverse will become mainstream.” —Shannon Flanagan
Q. Understanding there are only so many hours in a day, what existing activities are (and will) the metaverse replace, and why?
Globally, consumers currently spend an average of two hours and 27 minutes on the internet every day. They spend this time on entertainment, gaming, social media, and shopping, and we expect these activities to migrate to the metaverse over time.
Just as online, mobile, and social platforms siphoned purchases from brick-and-mortar retail stores, it’s likely that the metaverse will be the next evolution in shopping and service, as well as these other online experiences.
Q. I understand that commerce/shopping is part of the metaverse. Is this for real products and services, or virtual ones (like the real estate, railroads, and utilities in the Monopoly board game)?
Given its origins in gaming, early adopters of the metaverse are already comfortable purchasing virtual items, such as tokens or coins, gamer skins, or expansion packs.
Based on our survey, we expect the metaverse to also act as a source of inspiration for real-world purchases.
In fact, 21% of respondents said an experience in the metaverse could inform their decision to make a purchase at a physical location or from the company’s website. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have already generated demand.
Many think that the metaverse is just dressing a virtual version of yourself. It is so much more than that. It is the ultimate merging of physical and digital shopping with consumers wanting to move through these worlds seamlessly. Shopping is inherently a social activity, the metaverse brings that to life further driving community commerce.
Q. What is the role of customer service/contact centers in the metaverse?
Just as the telephone, internet, SMS messaging, and chat functionality evolved customer service, so, too, will the metaverse.
As more consumers become comfortable in virtual worlds and brands create immersive shopping experiences, immersive service experiences are equally important to design.
Contact center agents will need the proper tools to engage with the customers where they are, such as augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR). Virtual agents powered by artificial intelligence (AI) will become even more important to provide personalized service as if the customer is in the store.
Ironically, an avatar-to-avatar customer service engagement has the potential to breathe new life into 1:1 human service interactions, deepening customers while also generating sales.
Q. I also understand that consumers’ expectations for service will be higher in the metaverse. Why is that?
Customer expectations are continuing to evolve with each new channel that emerges. Digital platforms have pushed many consumers away from traditional customer service channels and more to chat, social, and video channels. To no surprise, our survey found that 51% of consumers expect customer service to be better in the digital world.
Younger consumers, who are most excited about the metaverse and willing to explore its capabilities, are more demanding of high-quality customer service.
Over half of Gen Z consumers even say they would stop buying from a brand after only a single instance of poor customer service. This is something that brands will need to consider and be prepared to manage when entering the metaverse.
Over a quarter of our survey respondents said they would engage with an avatar in the metaverse as a more effective and interactive way of getting assistance, compared to interacting with a chatbot. It doesn’t matter the channel or the world, we all want easy, convenient, fast, and friendly service.
Q. What are the challenges and issues in providing service in and for the metaverse?
Regardless of which channel shoppers prefer, today’s service issues will be more or less the same as tomorrow’s.
The same requirements retailers need to meet today will simply become even more critical. Having a unified and 360 degree view of the customer is an absolute must, as is having a unified checkout experience. Balancing personalization and privacy will remain as important as ever.
Companies cannot model their metaverse customer experience (CX) strategy with their current omnichannel strategy. They have to put themselves in their customers’ shoes and ask themselves, “what data and technology, skills, and people do I need to have to surpass consumer expectations, even surprise and delight them?”
“…brands that want to succeed in the metaverse should start to consider what it means to their brand and customer and begin to test and learn.”
The bottom line: one negative service experience can cost you customers forever. If you don’t have a strategy and the right technologies to provide fast, easy, proactive, personalized, and friendly service everywhere your customer is, including the metaverse, customers will eventually go to brands that do.
Q. What are your recommendations for contact centers that will be providing service and support in this new “world”?
The reality is that, although it might not be fully functional for many years, brands that want to succeed in the metaverse should start to consider what it means to their brand and customer and begin to test and learn.
Brands can prepare today by starting to incorporate interactive elements into their shopping experiences.
For example, deploying video shopping as an added layer of CX will allow brands to experiment with digital-forward formats and help them begin to understand what immersive customer engagements could look like down the line.
While the metaverse is still a cloudy concept to many, its opportunities are endless. Just as the internet transformed the shopping experience three decades ago, the metaverse will also, providing new opportunities (and challenges) to put smiles on your customers’ faces.