Modeling the metaverse: what might the next-gen virtual world mean for enterprises?

The metaverse has been called “the future of Facebook and the Internet” by Mark Zuckerberg. So what is the metaverse, why should you care, and what could it mean in (virtual) reality for enterprises and your business?

Facebook did not invent the concept of the metaverse. The term was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel Snowcrash. The concept could be dated further back to William Gibson’s Neuromancer from 1984. More recently, online role-playing games like World of Warcraft, Minecraft and Roblox embraced elements of the metaverse.

A metaverse is a shared virtual world that is made immersive and interactive using tools like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). And according to some, it’s the next step in the evolution of the Internet.

Where are VR and AR now?

VR and AR have been one of the growth areas of the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, one of the things holding VR and AR adoption back was the cost of headsets and peripheral equipment, but prices have been dropping as headsets got smaller in size. IDC predicts that the VR/AR market will reach a value of $4.43 billion by the end of 2021 and grow to $36.11 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 68.4%. This will be powered both by gaming usage and enterprise applications.

Big tech is getting in on the action, with Facebook at the front with its recent rebrand to Meta. Rumors of Apple Glass could point to Apple introducing VR/AR capabilities and a roadmap to its own virtual world initiative, realizing Apple’s long-held AR ambitions. Earlier this year, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the company was building an “enterprise metaverse.” But while big tech may have big plans, uptake of the enabling technologies remains slow: in the U.S., only 29% of the country’s 169 million gamers say they own a VR kit.

What’s the enterprise angle?

The metaverse presents a possible future where it becomes the next level of customer engagement, and by extension, customer experience (CX). In CX terms, enterprise goals haven’t changed: you need to build and maintain sustainable, long-term relationships with customers that drive loyalty and business. The metaverse could be a place where you do that using virtual avatars of customer service agents, for example, rather than corporate employees at the other end of a phone line or in a chat window.

For consumers, it raises the prospect of an enhanced level of experiential commerce. They can engage with brands in new ways, particularly in an area like retail. Some retailers are already using VR and AR to create more immersive, interactive experiences for shoppers, letting them browse virtual stores and try on clothing in virtual changing rooms, for example. It could represent the next level of hyperpersonalization, which maximizes AR/VR to give customers more memorable experiences than ever before. And by having your metaverse customer service operation staffed by real agents using avatars rather than chatbots or website-based animated characters, you can make engagements more empathetic and interactive than previously.

According to Forrester, the number of brands improving their CX in 2020 was up 13% on 2019, and that number is expected to grow further still in 2021. Furthermore, Forrester reports that 76% of executives say improving CX is a high or critical priority. A metaverse presence and experience could be the next step forward in that process.

What challenges might you need to address?

As with any strategic business initiative, it pays to draw out a roadmap, a potential metaverse customer journey. Questions and challenges will crop up along the way, such as how will your customers choose to access the metaverse? And what will make them stay there and interact with your company?

Further to that, and in line with ensuring CX is an ongoing engagement with customers, how will you measure the success of their experiences in real time? Feedback is an essential element of a CX journey. Furthermore, how can you offer them self-service capabilities inside the metaverse, and how will you provide direct support if and when it is necessary?

There is also the need to bring the metaverse under the same umbrella as your omnichannel communications with customers: people are still going to want to make calls, engage in messenger chats and watch videos as part of their engagements with you. Some will even still make in-person trips to physical stores and outlets. So, you will need to think about the metaverse as a channel and how it ties in with your other CX channels.

The internal possibilities

In addition to its potential for enhancing CX, there could be internal enterprise use cases to be had. The possibility to enhance existing AR and VR usage for collaboration purposes is an interesting one. Facebook has already introduced a new app for the Oculus Quest VR headset called Horizon Workrooms, which is essentially a metaverse for employees to collaborate within. There could be potential for training staff in a metaverse, too. And it’s something that might grow through general fear and anxiety, as people remain cautious about the COVID-19 situation and a potential need to keep social distancing.

The metaverse is an area to watch: big tech’s commitment to it makes that a given. However, according to a Forrester survey in August, it is early days, and 29% of adult consumers in the U.S. said they “still don’t understand it.” Expect that to change soon as the noise around the metaverse and virtual worlds gets louder.

Read more in these articles about the metaverse and what it can mean to your business: A journey into the metaverse: marketing opportunities in a connected and persistent world and XR: 5G extends the boundaries of reality.

Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.