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Technology

Designing Customer Experiences for the Metaverse

By Kaj van de Loo, CTO of UserTesting

It’s clear that people find change difficult, and it never ceases to amaze me how resistant we are to new technologies. The entire concept of the internet was derided as a passing fad and smartphones were expected to crash and burn. What once seemed outlandish is now ubiquitous. So what’s next?

The metaverse is the latest innovation set to change the face of modern lives. These 3D worlds, powered by virtual reality (VR) headsets, offer untold potential–from the opportunity to connect remote working teams for immersive meetings that mirror real life, to the ability to practice surgical techniques with real hand movements, without any risk to real patients.Think Habbo Hotel with major tech updates.

While Habbo Hotel is something the majority of us didn’t expect to make a comeback, this time virtual realities are here to stay, thanks to major investments from Facebook (now Meta), Microsoft and Google, among many others.

As the virtual world is gaining traction, brands are beginning to consider how to become early adopters of this next digital frontier. But amidst the hype, brands must stop to consider how they can create the best possible customer experience (CX)–and how they can avoid making predictable mistakes.  

A common mistake many companies make is taking the current experience they provide and simply replicating it on a new channel. Most experiences are designed and optimised for a specific channel and developed to meet the audience’s needs. This ‘lift and shift’ strategy does not factor in the inherent differences between channels–not to mention the fact that subsegments of audiences gravitate towards different channels.

In this case, this technique is particularly dangerous as the immersive, virtual nature of the metaverse is vastly different from existing experiences, such as in-store shopping and smartphone apps. In addition, the metaverse is currently cutting-edge technology, so is not widely used by everyday consumers, meaning audiences found in virtual reality most likely are significantly different to a brand’s core audience.

It follows that brands who will see the most success in the metaverse in these early stages are those whose customers are already using virtual reality. Companies targeting younger, tech savvy consumers have a considerable advantage. On the other hand, those whose core market is pensioners will struggle to gain traction in the metaverse at this stage–it doesn’t matter how good the experience is if the customers aren’t there.

Not only do metaverse audiences look different to core audiences, they also expect a different experience. It’s important for companies to consider the edge the metaverse can provide. For example, a travel firm stands to benefit by offering immersive virtual tours of destinations and hotels. Meanwhile in the finance sector, it’s difficult to envision how the metaverse can enhance the experience offered by existing online and app banking facilities, aside from helping those in the extended reality worlds claim or represent ownership in digital items like non-fungible tokens (NFTS).

The retail industry has already undergone significant digitalisation with the advent of online shopping. Customers are being converted, thanks to the undeniable benefits like the ease of browsing multiple brands at once and the ability to use highly refinable search functions, not to mention shopping from the comfort of the home. However, it can be a challenge to really “see” a product online, leaving many customers frustrated with perceived (or real) discrepancies in size, texture, colour and quality–hence the popularity of ‘internet shopping fails’ videos. The metaverse has the potential to solve this problem by allowing customers to examine products virtually, giving a better, more accurate indication of the product before purchase.

While it is hard to see the applications of virtual reality technologies for some industries, it’s clear the metaverse offers significant potential for others. However, brands should proceed with caution. Rather than ‘lifting and shifting’, companies should design experiences to take advantage of the platform’s capabilities. For some sectors, this may mean creating a brand new experience. Any company which simply moves an existing experience into a new channel will fail to build customer empathy.

Brands should also test early and test often. To build an excellent experience, companies really need to understand their target audience. By testing with and talking to the right audiences, brands can tap into valuable insights that can help cultivate and optimise the customer experience. Video-based feedback platforms like UserTesting capture the perspectives and experiences of an individual in narrative form to help companies build greater customer empathy and a deeper understanding of their audience. They can get feedback on everything from early ideas to the actual experience–which will allow teams to gather the insight needed to customise experiences that overcome specific pain points, creating truly excellent customer experience. 

In just a few years, the metaverse has transitioned from the stuff of futuristic sci-fi fantasy to legitimate technology that is already more widespread than we think–for example, many schools are already incorporating ‘VR goggles’ into learning experiences. With another few years under its belt, the metaverse could be a part of our everyday lives. So it’s important brands start considering future opportunities for incorporating the channel into its marketing mix and keep their finger on the pulse. But it won’t be that easy, as success in the metaverse will rely on building customer empathy into the core of any offering.

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Pharmaceuticals

Taking next-generation motion from concept to reality

~ How free motion can address challenges in the pharmaceutical industry ~

If companies were to take home one lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic, it should be that flexibility is key. This statement is no less true for the pharmaceutical industry, which has been pushing for flexibility for years. With a pandemic almost behind us and the challenges of a rapidly ageing population, flexible manufacturing is needed now more than ever. In this article , Adnan Khan, manager of pharma industries at Beckhoff UK, discusses the challenges of pharmaceutical production lines and how next-generation motion can help. 

While there are many tips for creating a more flexible manufacturing process, from plug-and-play robotics to single-use manufacturing, few tips focus on motion control in production lines. Motion control has the power to make production lines more flexible and efficient, but few motion control systems provide the freedom and range to maximise their benefits. 

From concept to reality

In interviews conducted by Donna Ritson, president of DDR communications and Paula Feldman, senior director of Business Intelligence, 75 per cent of pharmaceutical manufacturers said they were increasing their level of automation going forward. So for those wanting to invest in optimising their production lines, where should they spend their money? 

Over the years, technology has advanced, allowing the pharmaceutical industry to advance with it. However, despite the introduction of sophisticated technology, challenges still occur in the production of pharmaceutical products, such as flexibility and efficiency. The XPlanar, a first-of-its-kind planar motor system, can help address these challenges.

The XPlanar system comprises the mover, tile and control software. The magnetically driven mover is wireless, with six degrees of jerk-free movement, allowing for the technology to effortlessly levitate over the tiles, which can be moved and placed as a facility needs. With each singular mover having a bare load of up to 4.2 kg, a maximum speed of 2 m/s and an easily wipeable surface, the XPlanar is bringing the reality of next-generation motion to the pharmaceutical industry.

Flexible and efficient 

Flexibility has always been an issue in the pharmaceutical industry, as traditional plant layouts make it hard to switch over or adjust equipment to produce different products. Due to a large number of sensitive chemical processes in pharmaceutical manufacturing, moving equipment around requires equipment recalibrations and strategic positioning. However, with new methods such as modular manufacturing, allowing for multiple different drug productions in one facility, these challenges are slowly being addressed. 

Modular manufacturing refers to a type of manufacturing where there is no fixed equipment, meaning facilities can be broken down and rearranged as needed. As modular manufacturing is embraced, new techniques will be needed to achieve a modular facility. The XPlanar system elevates this manufacturing method to a more efficient, flexible and long-lasting one. Like with many of the equipment used for modular manufacturing, the XPlanar system can be laid out freely in a multitude of arrangements to suit the pharmaceutical facilities’ requirements. 

The XPlanar system provides the pharmaceutical industry with the production flexibility needed to not only create a modular manufacturing facility but a more efficient manufacturing facility. The XPlanar system allows manufacturers to create a flexible production line with movements of 360 degrees, allowing for easy and efficient product inspection, alignment or processing. 

The easy adaptability of the movers and tiles ensures the technology can last in an ever-evolving technological landscape. Using this free-moving system the pharmaceutical industry can see the benefits of next-generation motion becoming reality.

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Business

Using consumer technology in business should be a thing of the past – and here’s why

By Joanna Jagiello, head of marketing at The Barcode Warehouse 

Who hasn’t had that heart-stopping moment when your phone slips neatly out of your hand, bounces three times and lands screen-side down on the concrete? Or what about the time you were balancing your tablet atop your pile of paperwork and an errant elbow sent it hurtling towards the corner of the desk, and on to the floor? While these are costly and frustrating accidents to have with personal devices, these mistakes are having an impact on businesses too.  

With a sharp increase in the number of workers operating across hybrid environments and, therefore, requiring more devices in order to stay connected and successfully complete their work, a businesses’ device estate has grown significantly. With this comes a number of new challenges. 

Not only do organisations need to consider, with greater detail, the range of equipment required by their employees such as headphones and headsets, keyboards, mice, and charging devices, but managers have also been forced to think about the physical durability of their chosen tech. 

Safeguarding their investments from any adverse working conditions and tough environments will only serve to maintain, and even improve on, productivity by reducing the downtime in the break/fix cycle. 

As a business, if you’re considering a refresh of your device estate, then weighing up the cost/benefit of investing in more appropriate technology, such as rugged devices. In this article, we discuss the differences between existing consumer-grade, and rugged devices, along with the advantages and disadvantages of investing in new technology. 

What’s the difference between consumer and rugged technology?

Firstly, both rugged and consumer devices cover items including smartphones, desktops, tablets and laptops that employees use to complete their work. 

Consumer-grade devices can be purchased off-the-shelf and are often used both in a personal and professional capacity. Simply adding a hardened or rugged case does not ‘ruggedise’ a device though; such devices have been built and designed to withstand harsh environments and the more rigorous demands of commercial use. Rugged equipment protects internal components too and often has additional built-in protection against dust, moisture, and extreme hot and cold temperatures. They can also have additional features built-in such as barcode scanners and longer-lasting batteries. 

There are three grades of rugged device; semi-rugged, fully rugged and ultra-rugged, with the latter being close to indestructible. Different businesses will require different levels of ‘toughness’ depending on the severity of the environment that they will be used in. For example, someone working in sales that often finds themselves working in the field would benefit from a semi-rugged device, whereas construction workers would benefit from fully rugged or ultra-rugged devices. 

So, why is now the time to consider investing in new technology? 

Equipping employees with appropriate technology improves productivity 

Research by Microsoft Surface, conducted with YouGov, found that 66% of employees with a work-related, company-owned laptop or tablet have been working with the same device since the start of the covid-19 pandemic, with the figure increasing to 71% for frontline workers. The same research suggested that older devices could be impacting productivity after 33% of employees who received new tech devices reported an increase in productivity. 

When thinking about the most important features of a new device, 58% of employees reported that reliability was their number one most desired feature, closely followed by responsiveness when working (56%), battery life (45%), screen size (43%), and start-up speed (36%). 

This statistic may be because businesses are demanding more from their employees’ devices than ever before. With the increasing usage of cloud applications, big data, AI and the Internet of Things, organisations need to ensure that the devices they are supplying to their employees are suitable, and have the capability to deal with these more significant data sets, workloads and environments. 

Why choose rugged devices over consumer-grade? 

When considering the devices to equip their workers with, businesses have to take into consideration a myriad of factors ranging from cost to functionality, and operating systems to device types. However, despite the heavier workloads required from devices, many organisations continue to use consumer-grade technology, which may be proving a false economy. 

Key considerations

If your business is still using consumer-grade technology then you are exposing your team, and your organisation, to unnecessary vulnerability. Let’s discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of choosing rugged devices. 

Cost efficiency 

While updating your device estate may seem like an initial outlay your business is hesitant to make, continuing to use consumer-grade technology may prove to be a false economy.

Businesses considering rugged technology are often looking to maximise efficiency, improve productivity and reduce the cost of maintaining, repairing and replacing their device estate over time. When you consider how rigorous the physical testing that rugged devices are put through is, it’s easy to see how they would outlast consumer devices. This leads us in to our second consideration – durability.  

Durability

From shock-mounted hard drives and floating system components to high IP rated dust and moisture protection and all-magnesium casings, rugged technology is designed to withstand harsh environments and bounce back from drops, slips, and temperatures that would otherwise render consumer devices useless. 

By investing in technology that can operate efficiently in all-terrain environments, you are ensuring that profitability and productivity can be maintained – no matter where your employees may find themselves. Time spent adjusting elements like screen brightness due to poor visibility, or waiting for devices to come up (or down) to operational temperature is all time, and money, lost.

In addition to this, while one-off repairs or maintenance tasks for consumer-grade devices certainly won’t break the bank, it’s another expense that can build up over time. With more devices waiting for repair, the more downtime your business will experience; so while investing in rugged devices may seem more expensive in the beginning, the reduction in downtime due to enhanced durability and the option to introduce buffer and repair management to your estate means that repairs, maintenance and replacements take much less time, and money, out of your day! 

Business future-proofing

If you’ve missed the roll out of 5G, where have you been? The new superfast network started rolling out in the UK back in 2019, with full deployment by 2023 which will see the 3.5GHz, 5G, network cover 68% of the population, and 12 % of the geographical area in the UK, according to Statista. With 5G set on becoming the standard in mobile connectivity, so too will the number of manufacturers supplying 5G compatible devices.

In order to keep up, businesses will need to think forward to what the state of technology looks like. If firms continue to invest in consumer tech, they are already committing to making further purchases, and increasing costs. Investing in rugged technology, on the other hand, is most likely to deliver improved return on investment due to its increasing popularity and ability to help workers stay better connected and, therefore, more productive. 

Final thoughts

Aside from being cost-efficient, rugged devices can be implemented seamlessly into your work environment. With functionality and accessories that accentuate the abilities of the device, and your workers, they are a worthwhile investment that will save you money in downtime while providing a more reliable, long-term solution to your tech needs.

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Business

Top intelligent automation trends to watch in 2023

By Paul Milloy, Business Consultant at Intradiem

With 2023 just around the corner, it is time to look at what the next 12 months might hold. It seems clear that some of the trends that emerged during the pandemic will continue to manifest. For example, hybrid working models have become deeply ingrained throughout society and the staffing challenges of recruiting and retaining the right people are unlikely to go away. However, there are other factors that will likely come to the fore in 2023 that may need automation technology investment to fix. These include:

  1. A greater need to manage volatility

No one likes surprises. Whilst Ben Franklin suggested nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes, businesses will want to automate as many of their processes as possible to help manage volatility in 2023. Automation has already revolutionised almost every industry and has been the catalyst to much of the digital transformation that has occurred over the past decade, providing flexibility, efficiency, and insights.

Data breeds intelligence, and intelligence breeds insight. Managers can use the data available from workforce automation tools to help them manage peaks and troughs better to avoid unexpected resource bottlenecks. Not only that, but workforce automation can help managers spot issues before they even come up by providing insight into who on the team is performing well and who may need some extra coaching or training.

Workforce automation is a key component of the global human resource technology market that Fortune Business Insights projects will reach $39.90 billion by 2029, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.5 percent. Compared to legacy manual processes, it is a powerful way to transform the processes of employee scheduling and forecasting, using real time data with little to no human intervention required.

  1. More channels than ever.

Whilst businesses are somewhat adept in dealing with customers via traditional channels such as phone, email and text, other channels will become more prevalent in 2023. Communications via video apps or through connected devices such as Alexa will become increasingly normalised next year. Businesses will, therefore, need to rely on technology to monitor and react to volume fluctuations on each channel in real time, balancing targeted resources across call, web, chat, and other channels, some of which need differing response times and skill levels. Expecting humans alone to manage this without intelligent automation technology is a recipe for failure. The alternative provides a better result in which employees are empowered and customers can use their preferred channel of communication and receive reliable responses from agents.

  1. More focus on wellbeing.

Taking care of your staff is even more important during this skill shortage. A culture of inflexibility and a strict focus on internal metrics has all too often come at the expense of workers’ needs. There is, finally, a well overdue shift happening where employee wellbeing is being placed at the heart of a business’s operations. There are good reasons for this. When workers are heard and their needs are accommodated, the company can reap the rewards in retention, performance, and brand perception.

Automation technology will be key in automating previously inflexible processes whilst providing intelligent data led nudges that help agents work efficiently in a complex operating environment. This means that companies can offer an unprecedented level of flexibility and support to their staff, while making significant improvements to engagement and wellbeing. By improving engagement between employees and employers – and fostering a culture of support and encouragement – everyone benefits.

  1. A greater need to drive efficiencies

A key automation technology is, of course, artificial intelligence (AI). Through its unique ability to process the massive quantities of time-sensitive data generated by a modern business, AI can translate the data into immediate actionable intelligence. This leads to efficiency and engagement skyrocketing without compromising on the customer experience. In turn, this reinforces an organisation’s reputation from the outside.

Efficiency and productivity gains are two of the most-often cited benefits of implementing AI. The technology enables businesses to automate their routine operations and free up the workforce for more critical tasks. This particularly applies to customer support departments where the use of AI to predict outcomes, enable more informed scenario planning and risk assessment, and ensure better targeting, will shift the dial from a one size fits all approach to a much more segmented and tailored experience for both customers and employees. 

Earlier this year, research from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) found that 15 percent of UK businesses have already adopted the technology. This is set to rise to 22.7 percent by 2025 and 34.8 percent by 2040. Expenditure on AI is expecting to rise at a CAGR of 12.6 percent during this period, reaching £83.5 billion by 2040.

Currently, just over two-in-three (68 percent) of large companies and a third (34 percent) of medium sized companies have adopted intelligent technologies. Whilst larger companies have been the most likely to adopt the technology, this is likely to change in 2023.

  1. An increased reliance on machines.

Since machine learning (ML) rose to significance a decade or so ago, it has rapidly transformed nearly every industry. Businesses would be wise to sharpen their skills and learn what ML has to offer. Whilst technologies in the past only processed static, historical data, ML provides a real-time capability that transforms the gap. It can help organisations become better at predicting flows and responding to them proactively rather than reactively.

The potential improvement to areas such as customer service is enormous. Solutions can leverage “productionising” ML models – by which a model is transformed to a scalable, observable, mission critical, production-ready software solution – at their core.

Whilst it is difficult to predict what areas of intelligent automation technology will prove most popular in 2023, there is no doubt that it will be used to reduce human intervention where relevant, and augment human capability where needed. Whether it is used for automating contact centres operations or self-driving cars, automation technology will continue to reduce waste, save electricity, empower workers, and improve quality, accuracy, and precision whilst making life that little bit easier for all of us. Roll on 2023!

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