By Gavin Finn | originally published on Entrepreneur.com, September 12, 2017
Got a product your customer wants to try out (virtually) first? This technology makes that possible.
In the arc of every modern technology’s development, a great deal of attention is generally initially focused on the technology itself. When, for example, artificial intelligence (AI) was emerging as a computational and cognitive force, researchers and university professors were constantly in the media explaining how neural networks and machine learning worked, and how this technology (and many other forms of AI) differed from traditional computer programs.
Today, just a few years later, AI systems are embedded in many of the products that companies and consumers use regularly. Clearly, we have adopted AI technology and integrated it into our daily lives.
This is also the case with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), two distinct but related technologies that have become popular in the business and consumer press.
AR is the ability to insert digital objects into a camera view of the real world, based on information about the scene that is within the camera’s view. While Pokémon Go is the most commonly known consumer use of this kind of technology, far more sophisticated AR applications offer great promise for all kinds of applications.
VR is based on the diametrically opposite concept: It immerses real people inside a fictional digital, or virtual, space. Many games now use VR to make the experience even more realistic than someone has playing the game on a computer, TV screen or tablet. Just as with AR, there are many potential applications of VR that go well beyond games.
Why will AR and VR be important for businesses of all kinds? Well, for every company, building engagement with customers is a key element of their ability to develop long-lasting and lucrative relationships. At Kaon Interative we have identified three primary factors that contribute to successful engagement strategies:
Multi-sensory engagement — getting customers involved in learning about, and using, products in a way that is active. Touch, sight, audio and even smell are all important senses to employ when engaging with customers;
Intellectual engagement — sharing relevant and useful information with customers so that they have a meaningful experience learning about and using the company’s products and solutions; and
Emotional connections — with B2B purchases, research has shown that building an emotional connection is at least as equally important as creating a logical case for people to buy. Certainly, continuing to develop emotional connections post-purchase leads to loyal customer relationships.
Augmented reality, for real
AR and VR are tools to help with each of the above elements, building even more engagement with customers. From early sales and marketing encounters with customers, through those customers’ purchase and use of the products and into the realm of customer service and support, AR and VR are becoming more and more useful.
Examples: AR applications, such as WayfairView, include software that shows how furniture will look in a customer’s home. Prospective buyers can use a phone or tablet’s camera to see how their homes will look with a variety of different furniture pieces before they make a purchase decision. For industrial facilities, manufacturing managers can see how a new piece of equipment might fit into their workflow: The new assembly or manufacturing process can also be visualized through the camera of a phone or tablet while the manager walks through the existing plant.
AR, then, will result in a better understanding of how these products and solutions will benefit the manufacturing facility and increase companies’ propensity to buy. They’ll be able to see troubleshooting and maintenance instructions overlaid directly onto a physical product as they are working on it, resulting in shorter downtimes, improved productivity and deeper brand loyalty.
Virtual reality, for real
VR applications, meanwhile, enable customers to immerse themselves in a digital space — such as a hospital, laboratory or oil refinery — illustrating how complex products and solutions work and helping them understand how they would navigate and use these new products. At Cisco Live in June 2017, Dell EMC utilized a VR application developed by my company, Kaon Interactive, for its enterprise prospects and customers.
The application showed attendees and partners how they could visualize their own IT transformation with converged and hyper-converged solutions. These enhanced experiences were intended to create a deeper understanding of the company’s differentiated value propositions. For existing customers, VR simulators will help train personnel before they operate real machinery– the way flight simulators are used for pilots — but without the expense of complex physical systems in the real world.
As these solutions become more mainstream, in terms of devices and software, they are losing some of their technology focus and beginning to gain a more integrated status as components or features of larger products and solutions. Consumers and B2B buyers, for their part, are developing an awareness of, and even an expectation for, these kinds of experiences when they interact with almost every company.
For every entrepreneur attempting to build a more engaging and lasting relationship with his or her company’s prospects and customers, AR and VR are important capabilities to include in planning how their current engagement strategies will evolve. And special gadgets won’t necessarily be a part of the mix: Rather than having to have a separate device for an AR experience, users will simply use the phones and tablets they use already (Google and Apple have released or announced platforms that allow software developers to build AR applications and capabilities into their Android and iOS applications).
Similarly, while today’s VR headsets are somewhat cumbersome, requiring cables and sensors attached to a PC, these devices, too, are rapidly evolving, using wireless and even mobile devices (e.g. the Google Daydream).
This evolution to the mainstream will allow businesses to build AR and VR features into larger and more holistic applications, creating a complete set of capabilities for even more meaningful customer experiences.
Therefore, the future for this technology remains wide open. And every company should be including AR and/or VR applications in its customer engagement lifecycle — from the stages of early customer awareness, marketing and sales to installation, deployment, service, and support.