Who Really Cares About the Metaverse?

Remember the good old days when we were all trying to figure out what the Internet was? Well, folks, it's happening again (sort of), and it's called the metaverse. In Valoir's 2022 Customer Experience Survey, we asked consumers about their views on the metaverse, and we found that early 40 percent of consumers don't know what the metaverse is. Even digital natives are unclear: one-third of 25-44-year-olds didn't know. That's not necessarily surprising, given that those who are allegedly in the know all have different definitions of the metaverse.

So, what is the metaverse, anyway? It depends to some extent on whom you ask, but in general experts agree the metaverse assumes some combination of always-on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Some will tell you it means a virtual world where we will all be buying and selling digital goods and sending our holograms and avatars to interact with other people's holograms and avatars. Others have painted a rosy picture for what it will mean for field service and customer engagement.

But what do customers really think about it? Beyond just a general understanding of the term, we also asked consumers about how it might change the way they interact with companies.

Only one in four consumers believe the metaverse makes trusted brands more engaging. For those who had some idea of what the metaverse was, only one in four believed it could make interacting with companies they trust more interesting and engaging. So, if you're a trusted company with money to spend, investing in metaverse activities (whatever they might be) could enable you to get one in four of the customers you've already engaged to be more interested in you. You should keep in mind that that those potentially interested metaverse adopters are also predominantly (and not surprisingly) in the bottom quartile of the population, both in terms of age and annual income. You should also keep in mind that this is about increasing engagement with companies they already trust, not sparking new engagement opportunities.

Only one in five consumers say the metaverse would influence them to interact with a new company.

Although the numbers are slightly more optimistic for metaverse-driven brand engagement as we go down in age and income range, consumers today are not looking to the metaverse as a source of inspiration for new purchases or company interactions. For all the talk about non-fungible tokens and holograms, today the metaverse is not a significant source of new customer engagement. Although that might change as the metaverse's value proposition seems clearer for someone other than Meta, we've learned so far that there's just as much opportunity for fraud, distrust, and bad behavior in the virtual world as there is in the real one, and consumers are proceeding with caution.

Even fewer consumers think the metaverse would be helpful in resolving customer service issues.

When we asked consumers about the metaverse's value in the customer service arena, only 14 percent thought it would be helpful in solving customer service issues, and that perspective was fairly consistent across age, gender, and income. There are three key reasons for this:

  • Without a clear explanation of what the metaverse is or will become, average people can't connect what they've seen in dystopian films or when trying out bad VR or AR headsets with any real-world practical application of the technology.
  • The metaverse is intensely personal. When one of the world's largest companies decides its next big thing and brand is going to be called meta and that company has a questionable history when it comes to using our personal data and algorithms, people get nervous.
  • The metaverse is being overmarketed. Like any other bubble caused by irrational exuberance, the metaverse label is being slapped on a lot of things right now and being used to oversell new technology that's not yet ready for prime time (anyone who has tried to set up an AR or VR headset knows that).

So, what do you do about it?

First, focus on getting your customer experience (CX) right. Whatever your CX quality is today will only be amplified by an increasingly always-on world (which is here now, metaverse or not). You'll be forgiven for being less than cutting-edge when it comes to virtual reality; you will never be forgotten for a horrible customer experience.

Second, watch out for shiny object syndrome. Just because something is sparkly and interesting doesn't mean it has business value, and metaverse marketing is on its way to being the AI of the past 10 years. Anyone who's tried one of those clunky VR or AR headsets know they have a long way to go before they're broadly practical for anything other than fun (and a lot of them aren't even fun yet). Although there are and will be good business cases for augmented reality, particularly in areas like field service, those use cases will be very specific and the cost and learning curve for employees and customers will have to dramatically drop before broad applicability makes sense. The first mover advantage isn't always true in tech, and it certainly won't be true in the metaverse as a customer engagement channel. Small, self-funding pilots are a better strategy than big bets. Comparing the business case for any potential metaverse project vs. other customer interaction channel initiatives will help keep things in perspective.

Third, keep your eyes open and recognize that disruptive technology often leapfrogs across industries and departments, so paying attention to not just what your industry peers are doing but what those in completely different industries might be great sources of inspiration and cautionary tales. As we all adjust to a more remote world, virtual technology will continue to evolve, and some of the best lessons learned might come from employee experience, so keep a look out on the HR front as well.

And finally, and perhaps most important, remember that irrational exuberance fueled many of the great successes and failures of the modern world. Whatever the metaverse is today, it is constantly evolving, and there will be clear winners and losers as standards, interoperability, regulations, ethical use of data, fraud protections, and numerous other issues are worked out. Just like in the days of the Internet bubble (and dotcom crash), companies and investors are making big bets on everything from NFTs to virtual reality. As a customer service leader, focusing on the customer experience first and the best enabling technology second will be your best bet.

Rebecca Wettemann is CEO and founder of Valoir.