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The inroads into the enterprise forged recently by augmented reality and virtual reality are already substantial. What was once a game system accessory is now changing the way businesses communicate with customers.
The gaming industry has seemingly delivered what was previously considered a toy but is now highly evolved, low-cost hardware to the enterprise, along with an army of well-trained, experienced VR developers.
Whatever its origins -- and however coincidental its current ascension in the marketplace -- AR/VR is ready for prime time. And as its two primary strengths are presentation and communication, it is finding its ideal role in CRM and CX.
An augmented customer journey
To discuss the impact of AR/VR in CRM, it's first necessary to understand the difference between the two. VR is what most people think of right away -- an entirely contrived digital environment, like what one sees in a video game. AR, on the other hand, visualizes the real world, but adds something along the way. For example, you may see a picture of an actual living room with a digital chair and lamp inserted into the photo. Both AR and VR have their place in CRM.
In the case of VR, the visualization of places that don't yet exist becomes possible, such as the realized design of new buildings and the radical remodeling of entire floors within existing buildings. Buyers can walk through a building or renovation project before signing the construction contract.
With AR, the range of possibilities is even greater: there are already smart mirrors, which reflect a customer's image -- but donning an outfit being considered for purchase, a new hairstyle, or different cosmetics and accessories.
According to Zion Market Research, the global AR/VR market will surpass $800 billion by 2025.
Here, there and everywhere
So where is AR/VR taking CRM as it grows? There are a number of areas where it's taking root and proliferating rapidly.
Retail. One of the most compelling reasons for CRM to employ AR/VR is simple: It attracts customers through its sheer "cool" factor. According to BRP Consulting's 2018 Digital Commerce Survey, 48% of consumers surveyed said that they are more likely to patronize retailers who use AR. Smart mirrors and immersive experiences are part of the allure, of course. And Macy's, for example, has implemented VR technology in a number of its locations, enabling customers to shop for furniture.
But beyond drawing the customer to the retail store, AR/VR is also a means for the retailer to take the store to the customer. This technology enables customers to browse virtual aisles and peruse products as if they were really there -- all without leaving home.
Moreover, AR has become part of CRM promotions. Foot Locker, for instance, recently undertook a promotion for its LeBron King Court Purple sneakers that used geotargeted clues on smartphones -- Pokémon Go-style -- to lure potential buyers into the game.
As a result, per BRP's survey, 32% of retailers report that they plan to implement AR/VR within three years.
Social VR. There has been a huge shift in CRM over the past five years, as businesses put increasing reliance on social media for crucial input on customer likes, dislikes and brand loyalty -- resulting in social media becoming the favored arena of customer engagement.
VR has the potential not only to enhance the social media experience, but to also redefine it. With VR, social media engagement goes from observing a webinar on a mobile device -- and commenting in chat along with others -- to being digitally present at the event in the form of an avatar, interacting with other attendees by voice. In this same way, consumers graduate from browsing product webpages and discussing them in comments with other shoppers, to digitally attending trade shows -- walking the floor, visiting booths, observing demos and even examining products directly.
Field sales. A major advantage of AR is that businesses can easily implement it on common platforms. Snapchat users, for example, are already accustomed to AR filters that add digital elements to pictures they take on their smartphones. This ease-of-use and flexible deployment makes AR a perfect fit for sales.
Field sales agents, for instance, can potentially use AR in combination with their smartphones to identify likely businesses or residents in a particular area most likely to switch internet providers; to serve up demographics of shoppers -- store by store -- in a mall; or to show customers how their homes will look with new windows.
AR/VR is more efficient
Beyond all of these considerations, AR/VR is pointing the way to greater human efficiency.
Picking and processing in order fulfillment, for instance, could incorporate AR that receives order details into an agent's field of view, rather than by barcodes and mobile device -- perfect for an order fulfillment market that moves at the speed of Amazon. And virtual real estate tours are more efficient than live tours.
Major tech players such as Microsoft are already moving toward integration of AR/VR with their CRM applications, and third parties are developing AR applications for easy integration.