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Is It Really Time for Customer Experience Professionals to Explore the Metaverse?

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The metaverse is here. But is it really here for brands and customer experience professionals?

Brands won’t be able to tap into the reality of the metaverse today because it will manifest over the next decade in stages, according to Forrester researchers. That doesn’t mean customer experience professionals can’t explore the new 3D experience layer of the internet.

“It’s wise for CX practitioners to start wrestling today with fundamental questions about what the metaverse is and what it will mean for experiences,” said David Truog, VP and principal analyst for Forrester. “There’s both enthusiasm and skepticism about the metaverse, and they’re both justified, but the fact is that more and more companies are beginning to envision what their presence might be in the metaverse, and how they’ll get there.”

CX professionals have both an opportunity and a responsibility here because the fears about the metaverse turning out to be a dystopia, Truog added, are much more likely to come true if CX practitioners aren’t involved. 

“So for the sake of customers everywhere,” he said, “I hope CX practitioners really step up and take the metaverse seriously.”

Big Brands Are Invested in Metaverse Experiences

Some brands are already seriously invested in the metaverse. The NFL is deeply immersed. Gamers certainly see it as a reality, too.

If you look at the brands primarily associated with metaverse experiences in the eyes of consumers, the list includes some heavy hitters:

  • Meta
  • Google
  • Oculus
  • Microsoft
  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  • Amazon
  • PlayStation

Retailers such as Vans, Forever 21, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Burberry, Gucci and Louis Vuitton have created immersive experiences in the metaverse. Nike has built Nikeland Showroom on Roblox to allow users to shop a virtual collection of Nike shoes, clothes and accessories. 

Samsung created an immersive experience in Decentraland that re-created the brand's high-tech flagship store in NYC. Estée Lauder, Dolce & Gabbana and 70 other brands hosted fashion week, showcasing new styles in Decentraland, according to Ryan Cummings, Ph.D., director, research partner at UserZoom

“On Roblox, an online platform and storefront where users go to play games, with 42 million active global users, 70% of which are under the age of 16, a digital Gucci bag sold for $4,000,” Cummings told CMSWire. “Brands know that segment of brand-loyal customers will pay anything to align themselves with your brand in the physical and digital realms. Generation Alpha is not growing up digital. It's now fully immersed and will expect these types of experiences.” 

Related Article: Time for Metaverse Customer Experiences? NFL Says 'Yes'

Metaverse Exploratory Phase, It Is

Some practitioners associate metaverse with NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and Web3 as they explore.

Roc Prat, UI/UX designer at Printful, said he is, in fact, in the exploratory phase when it comes to metaverse experiences.

“I think it will be a great channel for brands and companies to impact their customers so as designers we will need to adapt to new formats and understand how the users behave and interact within a fully digitalized environment,” Prat said. “So far I'm just trying to get into concepts like blockchain, NFT, Web3, etc. I think knowledge is key to better designing all these new futuristic concepts.”

Although the metaverse is in its infancy, brands are monitoring any trends that may shape or affect their customers. This is the case for Cummings and UserZoom.

“From a research perspective, we are exploring ways our platform can enable consumers to conduct research in Web3, recruit and incentivize participants and what research methodologies are the most suitable to garner the best insights,” he said. “From a design perspective, we consider how designers can co-create, evaluate and validate consumer needs around digital experience, payment gateways (cryptocurrency) and assets (NFTs) that have cross-operability across various platforms: OpenSea, Horizon world, Sandbox and Decentraland.”

Cummings said his company sees several customers actively exploring parts that would make up the eventual metaverse. Customers actively conduct research around NFTs, cryptocurrency and Web3 experiences with their customers. Various reasons are driving research on these efforts around digital customer experience, albeit brand perception, new channels or potential new revenue streams, he added.

Related Article: CX Decoded Podcast: Marketing and Customer Experience in the Metaverse

Where Do CX Pros Begin in the Metaverse?

The big question is, where does the average brand go with metaverse experiences today? Entrepreneurs whose CX team is, well, non-existent and CX ownership falls on “someone.” Or the brands that do have a chief customer officer or VP of customer experience that reports to the C-Suite.

Learning Opportunities

Forrester is in the camp of recommending exploration:

  • CMOs should learn how consumers want to engage with extended reality, researchers said. Currently, Forrester finds that only 14% of US online adults feel brands should deliver branded experiences in the metaverse. 

  • CX and design leaders should explore the metaverse’s potential for a new generation of customer experiences. Design leaders that excel at human-centric design will make the metaverse inclusive, co-creative and beneficial to people. 

“It starts with understanding that the metaverse is the 3D experience layer of the internet,” Truog said. “A lot of technology vendors are insisting that it also has to do with blockchain, NFTs and other Web3 technologies. It does not — not yet, anyway. The metaverse and Web3 may eventually intersect, and I think probably will, but they do not depend on each other: either one could go into orbit or completely crater without any effect on the other.”

One Internet, and One Metaverse

It’s important to understand that there can be only one metaverse, by definition — just like there is only one web and one internet, according to Truog. Nobody says “webs” or “internets,” he added, and, similarly, it makes no sense to say “metaverses.”

“There are already many 3D virtual worlds, but none of them is a metaverse or the metaverse,” Truog said. “They need to interconnect, just like websites interconnect, using links, for the primordial metaverse to emerge.”

CX professionals should begin experimenting with creating extended reality (XR) experiences by doing them because XR is very different in many ways from a more traditional medium like a website or a mobile app.

“However,” Truog added, “it’s not time to drop everything and focus only on the metaverse. CX practitioners need to help ‘keep the wheels on the bus’ for their organizations to continue doing what they need to do to stay in business — and do this kind of experimentation in parallel, not instead. This is a ‘both and’ situation — companies need to walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Related Article: Will the Metaverse Revolutionize Marketing and Customer Experience?

CX Analytics Will Come With Privacy Issues

When/if the metaverse is fully mainstream, what will a typical CX practitioner's involvement be for their brand?

At that point, CX practitioners will still need to be involved in many of the same types of work they are involved in now already, Truog said. They will need to conduct research to uncover evidence about users’ real needs. They will need to help prioritize those needs. They’ll need to guide the design of experiences that meet those prioritized needs. 

They’ll need to measure those experiences to make sure they are what the design intended them to be,” Truog said. “And they’ll need to lead in building a customer-centric culture so that their colleagues who are not CX professionals can benefit from and contribute to all of this work, also.”

Truog sees a metaverse future that includes education, healthcare, product design, engineering, simulation, service and much more. All the while, CX practitioners will have access to the things they have today — analytics on user experience that help them craft customer experiences. However, there will still be important issues like data privacy with which to contend. Oracle and Sephora have been in the spotlight on those this month.

“There will be massively more opportunities for analytics...," Truog said. “However, that means there will also be significant data privacy issues to contend with. So companies that design respect for privacy in from the beginning will have a head start. Further upstream in the process, there will be deep changes in design workflows and digital asset production pipelines as design CX practitioners learn the world of 3D experiences.”

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