Simple, convenient and visually attractive were the ideal CX, but this has become the expected norm. Now CX leaders need to create immersive customer experiences and produce positive emotional outcomes. Alex Smith-Bingham, Group Offer Lead for Customer Experience at Capgemini, tells us more.
Today’s consumers move fast and expect more. Whether grabbing a coffee or ordering a taxi, consumers’ expectations have evolved: simplicity, convenience, speed and attractive experiences are no longer ideals to work towards, they are the basic standards that must be met.
As ubiquity surpasses differentiation, brands that were once put on pedestals for their excellent customer experience are now struggling. Research by Forrester, covering the period 2019 to 2021, reveals a flattening of the curve in the relationship between brand experience and loyalty. This plateau raises questions about where we are in the pursuit of excellence in customer experience (CX) and suggests that fewer customers are compelled to remain loyal. It makes us think: what’s next?
The immersive customer experience
When IKEA’s Augmented Reality (AR) app, IKEA Place, launched in 2017, users were able to see how a chair or sofa would look in their own homes. The application was able to realistically render true-to-scale 3D products with 98% accuracy, which meant less guesswork for the customers and less chance of disappointment. Today, IKEA customers can design entire rooms with IKEA furniture thanks to its AR app.
With many brands following suit, AR experiences have become commonplace for e-commerce retailers. And while it is still impressive, such tools don’t even scratch the surface of immersive experience technology.
By engaging with new capabilities, brands can and should offer more immersive experiences that not only deliver convenience and value but create genuine emotional outcomes. Our own study on customer loyalty found a clear link between emotional connection, trust and loyalty, and the pandemic and increased digitisation have made authentic human connection the most sought-after commodity. Today, forming an emotional bond with customers has become critical to success.
Extending consumer capabilities
Have you ever felt the frustration of opening a product ordered online and it not quite being what you imagined? You then spend more time returning it than the initial purchase: both an inconvenience for you and the business, not to mention the additional carbon footprint it creates. Such situations often lead to an ‘I wish I could’ moment. For example, ‘I wish I could have seen this sofa in my living room first…’, or ‘I wish I could have tried this on before’.
By developing the capabilities to answer such wishes, we are giving customers ‘superpowers’. This journey can help brands to break free from stagnation and offer immersive experiences to their customers.
Take an online furniture store. Giving consumers the power to browse, choose an item and use AR to see if it suits and fits into their house is already proven to drive sales. However, browsing through hundreds or thousands of different items and colour schemes to find the one that suits is less convenient. To make it easier, a business could use AI to learn what products are most meaningful to that consumer via click data to add suggestions tailored to their tastes.
It’s a similar story for fashion. Next day delivery is expected, but consumers might wish to touch the fabric or see how it fits our body type before they hit the ‘buy now’ button. Immersive technology can grant this wish by reproducing the consumer as a virtual avatar to try items on. Taking such steps can generate an incredible Return On Investment (ROI), especially for businesses accustomed to accepting returns from unsatisfied customers. Yet, extending capabilities is only one side of the story.
Exploring alternate realities
We have now reached an inflection point for immersive technologies and for its target audiences. Over the last few years, the expansion of the gaming industry has led to the increased sophistication and decreased costs of virtual reality equipment, introduced millions to Augmented Reality and set up a new generation predisposed to immersive experiences. As of 2021, it is estimated that 77% of Millennials and 81% of Gen Z play video games. And with an estimated spending power of more than US$300 billion, Gen Z is more willing to try new technologies and novel ways to shop online.
To take advantage of this demographic and offer their customers new emotive ways to engage with their products, business leaders must leverage technologies like the metaverse in comparison to the 2D webpage. Some brands, like Forever 21 and Nike, are already using the metaverse by creating virtual stores that offer customers the power to try and interact with new products in a digital space. Unsurprisingly, they are already attracting millions of visitors.
The possibilities of fully immersive technology are limited only by levels of creativity; the use cases are limitless. BMW, for instance, is providing car enthusiasts with an immersive showroom experience where users not only browse new models but can also build their dream ride and sit in the driver’s seat. Similarly, makeup retailers are enabling users to test products without ever actually getting their hands (or faces) dirty. The end goal is not to gamify the consumer experience, but rather to deepen emotional engagement; to feel a part of an experience rather than a passerby.
As the borders blur between the virtual and physical worlds, businesses must still ensure that they don’t leave their heads in the clouds. Staying aligned with real-world offerings, while ensuring they assess challenges such as interoperability, privacy, ethics, social and sustainability concerns is important.
Immersive experiences bring customers new powers and provide a unique opportunity for marketers to engage with consumers in a direct and personal way. But if approached wrongly, it can have the opposite effect and alienate customers. This is why leaders should plan carefully by ensuring that research, feedback and design are a cohesive process rather than neglected by ambition.
Immersive experience should be tied to the overall marketing strategy. Because it is by getting a better understanding of who customers are, their behaviors and why and how they want to engage with the brand, that leaders can establish which part of the buying cycle is more conducive for an immersive experience and to what degree.
Great CX must be seen as a process, not a singular event. A one-off day in the metaverse or an out-of-the-box AR experience will only be appreciated by a customer momentarily. Instead, truly immersive CX answers your customers’ ‘I wish I could’ moments. There’s no silver bullet and customer demands will always drive expectations higher – so an immersive CX will need to constantly adapt and evolve. But the opportunity to engage with customers in a more intimate way, allowing them to curate their own consumer experiences by providing them with the ability to do so will prove invaluable.Click below to share this article