Augmented reality (AR) can enable some truly amazing user experiences, and it has the potential to completely transform customer service. But it’s currently overshadowed by chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI), and all the talk about how those technologies will dramatically change the contact center — including by replacing human agents with machines.

AR technology, which merges what we see in the physical world with the 3D features of the virtual world, should be getting a lot more attention, however. It does something chatbots and AI can’t: It preserves, and even elevates, the human connection in service and sales experiences. And while AI agents could handle AR-supported customer service experiences, they could not deliver highly personalized, human-to-human interactions.

Why is the human factor so important to maintain in customer service when chatbots and AI can handle many tasks more quickly and efficiently than human agents? Because consumers still overwhelmingly believe that human-to-human interaction provides a better emotional quotient (EQ). That’s the ability to recognize and respond to a person’s emotional state. And 80 percent of consumers believe that human hearts, not robot minds, offer the best EQ, according to our new report, Emotions Win: What Customers Expect in the Age of AI. The research suggests a new frontier for customer experience is emerging, and that businesses, by combining AI with human interactions, can seize “a massive marketing opportunity right now and for years to come.”

You can be sure AR is going to play a big role in this new frontier, and here’s why:

AR Reduces Miscommunication and Accelerates Problem Solving

Great customer support is essential to maintaining customer satisfaction and loyalty in the digital age. One negative experience not only could ruin a company’s chance to earn a customer’s repeat business, but it also could result in that person saying negative things about it in social media and elsewhere. Our research shows that most consumers (85 percent) will at least share the story of their unsatisfactory experience with people who are close to them: friends, family, and colleagues.

AR can help reduce the risk of poor customer service experience by providing more context to both customers and agents so that issues can be understood and resolved faster — the first time around. It enables a more human way for customers and contact center agents to interact by letting them interact and solve problems virtually, side-by-side. For example, agents can use AR to guide customers through a process, like assembling a product or troubleshooting a device connectivity issue, in real time using visual guidance. And with technology like Microsoft’s HoloLens system, remote experts can be “in the room” with users through an app that enables video chat and screen sharing.

AR can also put more problem-solving power in the hands of consumers. Instead of reaching out to the contact center, a consumer could, for example, point their smartphone at a product to access AR overlays that offer visual instructions for installing a product at home or resolving problems. This should become commonplace fairly soon, as more smartphones are equipped with AR capabilities, making it much easier for customers to experience it.

For agents, AR providing basic how-to information to customers in need means that they are free to focus their attention on helping other customers with more complicated and urgent matters. They can take the time to provide highly personalized experiences that will, in turn, increase customer satisfaction.

AR Enables More Meaningful Brand Interactions

Customer service can be a powerful tool for engaging customers and elevating a company’s reputation and brand image because agents are connecting with people at a critical moment: when they are feeling frustrated and want (or desperately need) help to resolve a problem.

In fact, according to our research, 90 percent of consumers view problem-solving as an important or very important characteristic of their interaction with a brand. And 89 percent of respondents said that support plays an important role in helping them figure out the right solution for their needs.

Today’s consumers also expect to experience a consistent brand experience across any channel, physical or virtual, that they use to interact with a company or brand. They have very high expectations about omnichannel experiences. That includes customer service, which many businesses now view as a form of marketing in our increasingly service-oriented economy.

Also, given the AR-driven brand interactions that more consumers are having in-store these days, it stands to reason that many will soon start to expect, or even prefer, to interact with customer service agents who are equipped with AR tools.

Consider a study by consumer experience marketing firm Daymon Interactions, which found that 61 percent of shoppers prefer to shop at stores that offer AR over ones that don’t. And many leading retailers, from Timberland to IKEA to Zara have been responding to that demand, delivering AR experiences in-store or using AR to bring the in-store experience to consumers shopping at home. Some brands, like Adidas, are even incorporating AR into their products.

The rise of AR-infused shopping and brand experiences helps to further underscore why this technology and customer service are a great match. For example, while most consumers (61 percent) see AI’s potential to make shopping faster, an equal percentage sees AI making that same activity less personal.

So, as businesses take a more automated approach to the customer experience, they should also be careful to preserve the human element wherever possible, and especially in customer-agent interactions. Today, brands have an opportunity to build rapport with stressed-out customers in need of assistance by delivering a blend of helpful information and empathy.

In time, AI will likely gain some level of EQ — nearly half of consumers surveyed by Invoca believe that will happen. But until then, and likely even beyond, AR technology can ensure people still experience the human-to-human interaction they want and need from customer service — only better.

 

Jane Irene Kelly

Posted by Jane Irene Kelly

Jane Irene Kelly is a business and technology writer with more than two decades of experience. Her previous leadership roles in publishing include San Francisco bureau chief for Adweek magazine. Jane is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. She resides in Pennsylvania but keeps a piece of her heart in San Francisco.

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