To pedestrian onlookers, the excitement for virtual reality lies mainly in the innovation it can potentially bring to how people consume entertainment. And while that may be the case, it's not the sole reason why deeply invested companies like Microsoft, Oculus, and Vive are pleased with how the development of the technology is progressing in terms of providing virtual reality customer support.
As brands continue to explore the possibilities of VR for marketing purposes, perhaps the key in making people fully embrace the technology is by using it to improve overall customer experience.
This article aims to touch on the virtual reality customer experience, its potential benefits, and the companies that currently have a leg up on the competition when it comes to being imaginative with the technology.
Benefits of virtual reality
Just in case you're one of the few who hasn't tried putting on a VR headset yet, it's a fully immersive experience that transports users to a virtual world, boasting 360-degree video and audio. One moment you're in your room, the next you could be on top of a mountain riding a rollercoaster replete with stunning panoramas and virtual adrenaline rush.
This VR advantage has already been used by brands like The North Face to make customers identify with their brand identity–giving shoppers an immersive experience of Nepal's landscape of ancient monuments, fostering their love for the great outdoors in one campaign, and in their McMurdo's South Pole Experience campaign.
Play to emotions
In a marketing world where playing to people's emotions is a significant aspect of the machinations, VR's ability to inspire emotional stimuli is something marketers should take full advantage of once they are able to fully utilize the tech.
To demonstrate the power of VR when it comes to affecting people's emotions, the Institute of Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, for example, has used VR for mental health rehabilitation.
"This is where VR shines," says team director Skip Rizzo. "You can put people in simulations that bring up an emotion, and then teach them ways to deal with that emotion in an appropriate fashion."
VR's potential for customer experience
Try before you buy
Despite still being in its nascent stages, a number of brands have already started using VR to improve the customer experience.
At IKEA, for example, prospective customers can explore different possibilities for their kitchen design (different fixtures, colors, dimensions, etc.)–all via an app and a VR headset.
People no longer have to guess or internally visualize how it would look, as VR provides them with a fully immersive experience of the kitchen design. This also allows them to identify potential design solutions or hidden dangers, which they may otherwise not see until it's too late.
Redefine online shopping
As pointed out by e-commerce fulfillment provider Red Stag, VR could soon be used to provide a middle ground between e-commerce sites and brick and mortar shops–providing a solution to the limitations of both, and ultimately providing an enhanced customer experience.
Imagine being in the comfort of your living room, but also being able to see how well an evening dress fits. This could soon be the norm in online shopping once VR fully takes shape.
Enhanced customer service
Despite increased accessibility to customer service by technological advancements like chatbots, remote troubleshooting is an area that remains clunky at best. VR has the potential to be a game changer in this regard, with both parties able to visualize what the other is looking at.
From rudimentary tasks like reconfiguring a router, to more complex ones like implementing a central heating repair, VR can enable both the customer and the customer service representative to arrive at a solution much faster than ever possible.
VR best practices
You could have the most talented, persuasive salesperson, but that still wouldn't be on par with having customers experience the product firsthand via a VR product simulation. Brands like Audi have already been improving customer experience by allowing them to sift through vehicle customizations, while also traveling to other countries onboard their virtual Audi.
Not only does the experience give customers a better idea of the kind of value an Audi vehicle can bring to their lives, it also provides the company a great opportunity for cross-selling.
Tech.co stated when consumers actually use the product, they can trust that the performance was as adequately described by a sales presentation.
Korean machinery company, Doosan Infracore, came up with a brilliant gamification application designed to showcase their technical products, while also providing information to customers via easily digestible (and visual) means.
As noted by Engage Customer, at the Machine Tools Fair, a gamified augmented reality experience enabled customers to unlock scaled 3D models of their latest products, which they could then explore and view in detail.
Apart from giving customers a detailed look at the products, the gamification process emotionalized what would otherwise be a highly technical exchange–a win for both the company and its customers.
Samples of brands taking advantage of VR for customer experience
Last year, the Chinese e-commerce giant launched a virtual reality shopping program, where customers were able to choose clothes and accessories while getting help from a shopping assistan–all by wearing a VR headset. This gives Alibaba's 400 million users access to 3D renderings for thousands of products, and in the future, will allow retailers to create their own VR stores.
This could potentially change online shopping as we know it–and open windows to vast possibilities yet to be explored.
Smartphone manufacturer OnePlus created a VR experience set in space to launch one of the flagship handsets. The campaign "transported" 60,000 people to a space station, where they were provided with a fully immersive experience that allowed them to learn about the new phone's features.
According to Clickz, within six hours, OnePlus enjoyed an incredible 30% conversion rate.
Despite a relatively muted hype around VR, compared to 2014 when Facebook purchased Oculus, there are still plenty of reasons to be excited about the evolution of the technology.
Companies are beginning to realize the vast potential of the technology, and as the price for VR headsets continually drop, more and more people can have access to the game-changing potential of VR experiences.
Innovative companies, like the ones mentioned above, are already giving the world a glimpse of the infinite possibilities, especially with the development of WebVR, which makes this technology available on the most popular web browsers.
Jolina Landicho is a marketing strategist working with various brands online, and the content marketing manager of Avenew Media. She is devoted to helping businesses bridge relationship gaps by providing in-depth, actionable advice on online marketing, business development, and growth hacking.