Home > Columns > CRM Columns

2021 Predictions from Pega – What’s Next for Customer Service?


Presented By: Pega

Blending the Real and Virtual Worlds: How Extended Reality Will Transform Customer Service

By: Jeff Nicholson, Global Head of CRM, Pega 

While technologies like virtual or augmented reality tend to conjure images of immersive gaming, advanced robotics, or even intense military training - these solutions are much more broadly accessible than you think. Digital simulations in real environments, like healthcare and education, can significantly transform customer experience – such as modernizing patient care, improving access to learning, and more.

Extended reality, the umbrella term used to describe these immersive technologies, has advanced to transform customer experiences across a number of industries and applications. With its unique ability to simulate physical states at scale, these solutions are already being integrated by some of the world’s largest brands. In our socially distanced world, interacting with customers virtually, while still preserving critical brand experiences, is becoming an increased priority. And, when done right, it can deliver even more immersive, interactive experiences for customers compared to traditional modes of customer experience – and businesses are taking note. In fact, according to a recent study, more than half (52%) of global business leaders think extended reality will become a competitive differentiator within the next five years, while more than a quarter (30%) believe it will become essential for customer service.

With a growing number of end users working remotely and still expecting a personalized experience, we’re sure to see more and more organizations heading down the extended realty route than ever before.

Closing the Distance Divide Between Companies and Their Customers

It all comes down to two words: Empathy and Empowerment. Many organizations have recently rapidly doubled down on digital solutions like intelligent virtual assistants and cloud technology to transition to the future of customer service. These solutions can better scale with the needs of customers, including the dramatic peaks and valleys of volume, such as those that we have seen over recent months.

But this isn’t a temporary trend. Even after COVID, businesses will still need to enhance their customer communication while making their customer service teams more efficient. Extended reality presents a unique avenue for businesses to do this. And while we typically associate virtual or augmented reality with those special digital goggles or headsets that companies like Google and Microsoft are developing, it can take other forms. With this latest generation of AR, customers can interact using the devices they’re comfortable with – such as their phones or tablets – with the ability to augment their reality within a mobile application with helpful information and guidance. Extended reality brings the in-store experience to a customer’s home or work environment. It enables customers to experience products in a virtual manner without ever having to travel to a store, so customers can now craft their own experiences when and how they need to, without relying on businesses to do it for them.

For instance, if a homeowner is having trouble with their cable box, an AR-enabled application on their phone might be able to overlay visual guidance to troubleshoot and help the customer resolve the issue on their own. This application can be integrated into a cable provider’s customer support operations for this AI-powered guidance, or when needed, assign a live agent to walk them through the steps virtually.  This not only empowers to solve their own issue themselves 24x7 in many cases, but when a human agent is required it can also provide greater empathy and contextual understanding in the moments that matter most. 

Enabling a Consistent Experience Across Channels with Extended Reality

Like all new overhyped technology, there is risk in diving right in without really understanding how the technology can impact customers across different channels. Technology – including extended reality – has to work wherever customers are. If it’s embedded into one channel, it has to follow customers when they leave and interact with a brand through a different channel to truly enable a successful experience. The key to customer experience today is understanding that customers don’t live in one channel, they require a channel-less experience that follows them anywhere they go. Any interaction must be fueled by technology to enable an experience that’s customized, accurate and efficient. Extended reality is just one example of how companies can use next-gen technology to make it easier for customers to interact with companies.

It's all about utility. In years past, extended reality has been more of a “party trick” than any real game changer. Immersive experiences relied upon stuffing your smart phone into a VR cardboard holder, where simple visualizations could be projected. The alternative was using clunky hardware that still somehow fell short. Today, we are finally on the cusp of real utility where one’s own smart phone (is there any other kind at this point?) can overlay helpful visualizations directly upon the screen and real-time surrounding environment. And this is only scratching the surface of what is coming next.

The blending of the digital and physical worlds is a trend that shows no signs of slowing down. For CRM leaders to drive real adoption, focus on the ultimate utility and value add – rather than the party trick – to realize the greatest gains to your business.