Unless you‘ve been living on a desert island for the last few months, you have probably heard of “metaverse”. It’s the sci-fi buzzword brought back into vogue by Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who even rebranded his company as Meta in an effort to project those future-facing ambitions. Though no-one knows for sure what the metaverse is going to look like, some things are reasonably certain: there will not be one, but several metaverses, which will be interactive, omnichannel, and capable of full visual and audio immersion. Similar projects have been launched in the past. Remember “Second Life”? It was all over the headlines in the mid-to-late 00s before sinking into relative obscurity. So why now? What has changed? And – the question that interests us most – how will the metaverse impact brands and their customer relations?   

Unlike previous projects, the metaverse stands a real chance of taking off. The main difference is that nowadays, access to technologies is much easier. Virtual worlds like “Fortnite”, “Roblox” or “Minecraft” are available for free (or almost free), and attract millions of users.  

For those looking for more immersion, virtual reality headsets (such as Meta’s Oculus, the HTC Vive, Sony PSVR, and Samsung HMD Odyssey are available from $230, with phone-friendly options starting at $69 (Google Daydream View).  Since Oculus reignited the industry in 2012, these products have greatly improved in terms of quality and breadth of budgetary options, allowing for longer immersion and greater accessibility. The devices are intuitive to use, and similar advances are expected over the coming years, especially where standalone headsets and mobile devices are concerned. 

Trial and error 

Millions of users, a universe free of physical limits where everything is possible, and a dynamic ecosystem in the making: brands can’t ignore this new world. There have been several attempts to launch into the metaverse, but the concept is still in a test and learn phase, the goals and the form of its possible interactions are yet to be determined. Some use it to facilitate remote work, by making virtual meetings and training easier, more interactive and more immersive: a joint initiative between Meta and Zoom is a great example. Others use technology to create new sales opportunities: Home appliance brand Dyson offers a more immersive approach to product presentation through its virtual stores.   

The idea of a metaverse is hardly new–the term goes back at least to 1992 and sci-fi novel “Snow Crash”, its concepts revitalized by 2018 blockbuster movie “Ready Player One”. Yet the reality is still in its early days. Brands have been building other kinds of digital worlds for a couple of years now. They are creating self-help communities, offering customization to help customers relate, and using AI to make the most relevant offer and accompanying their customers on the channels of their choice.  

But most of these solutions are still imperfect, and the customer experience hardly ever lives up to the initial promise. Why? Different elements (store, website, customer service) are assembled as well as possible – but that’s not always good enough when the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The metaverse, on the other hand, might well be able to unite physical and digital spaces with different modes of communication.  

New opportunities 

The metaverse is both a challenge and an opportunity for customer relations. A challenge, as almost everything is yet to be defined: the best formats in terms of visualization and environment, the highest possible levels of interactivity, and new ways of accompanying customers. 

This accompaniment must be instantaneous. Even though it’s remote, customer expectations are likely to be closer to a face-to-face experience, which implies a new approach to interactivity, and the possibility to switch from voice to text (and back), depending on the customer’s choice. This raises the questions of adviser selection and training, and of the type of technological environment that would make this possible.  

But the metaverse is also a unique opportunity to offer a truly omnichannel environment, increase customer satisfaction, and raise revenues. 

Beyond channels? 

Will the metaverse be the answer to the quest for omnichannel customer relations? It’s still too early to say. It could even go beyond this concept and lead to unichannel communication, thanks to the strong potential for channel aggregation. The metaverse will bring its share of hopes and disillusions, but chances are that it will inspire the sort of paradigm-shifting change brought about by the internet itself. For this reason, brands should not rush, but observe carefully, consider possible usages, and test viability. As a technology expert for customer relation solutions, innso has started looking into the possibilities that this phenomenon offers for our clients. Let’s discuss this together!