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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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Education

University students hold the keys to ‘level up’ the esports industry

Written by Tao Martinez, Head of University Esports Development at GGTech

For many students, getting in from a class or lecture means jumping onto CS:GO or League of Legends with their friends to pass the time and have a laugh for a few hours.

Climbing the ranks may spark conversation about “going professional” one day but forging a career in esports has never been more accessible for students, with the industry growing by the day.

The total revenue of the esports industry in 2021 was estimated by Newzoo to be $833.6 million, and this is enhanced by a rising number of jobs, university courses and opportunities, making it one of the fastest growing and desirable sectors to lead a career in.

The opportunities

The most obvious route into esports is through being the best at a given game, with teams willing to sign players up on a contract to represent them at tournaments and online leagues. And whilst this is desirable, there are actually a whole host of other careers within the industry.

With Covid fears beginning to fade, in-person gaming events are returning with competitions such as the Amazon University Esports Masters, hosted by GGTech in collaboration with NUEL, bringing together the best university talent across Europe to face off.

Beyond the players, these events require event organisers, planners and managers, advertising, sponsorship, social media promotion, casting, filming, tech support, and that’s before even getting to the participants which involves players, coaches, and team organisations.

There are so many aspects to a successful esports competition which in turn creates a wealth of jobs and opportunities – which are growing all the time. And these opportunities are also available through online esports leagues as well.

We are in an era where traditional television is being taken over by Netflix, YouTube and Twitch, creating new mediums for viewers to engage with esports, which is reflected by a growing viewer base.

Research from VentureBeat estimated that in 2021 there were 234 million esports enthusiasts, up from 197 and 200.8 million respectively in 2019, highlighting a stark growth. What’s more is that by 2024 there are expected to be 285.8 million enthusiasts and 291.6 million occasional viewers. Esports is a rapidly growing industry that people want to be involved with, and it’ll only get bigger in the coming years.

This is supported by an increase in job awareness through sites like Hitmarker, a dedicated jobs site for advertising esports opportunities.

University courses

The esports ecosystem supports universities through the development of teaching, facilities and opportunities in the industry which helps to focus on student’s interests whilst developing their core skills in preparation for a career in the industry.

For example, Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies, as part of Nottingham Trent University, offer a BSc in Esports Production which teaches students about the global esports industry, the principles of esports, production and technology, as well as broadcasting and management. This will be delivered in Confetti X, a £5 million dedicated esports complex due to open ahead of the upcoming academic year.

Universities such as Sheffield Hallam offer courses in esports management, whilst Chichester has its own esports degree. This is supplemented by universities such as Warwick who have large student esports communities who come together for competitions and tournaments.

The importance of good training in developing the esports industry is being increasingly recognised by universities who are creating new courses each year as a result. Courses involving business, management, events, marketing, journalism and design all offer unique skills which match up with a plethora of new jobs emerging in the esports scene, and with the industry growing at the rate it is, the number of these jobs will only rise.

Moving forwards, the onus is not only on the esports industry supplying opportunities for university students, but also on the university ecosystem to provide the highest-quality education and training in order to fuel the integration of new talent into the dynamic esports workforce.

In order to assist students who are pursuing a career in esports, GGTech works with university students to run and produce the Amazon University Esports Masters competitions, giving them vital first-hand experience at casting, broadcasting and event management.

Part of the fabric for the future development and growth of the esports industry is putting faith in the talent of university students, being willing to innovate courses, equipment and opportunities, and supporting students every step of the way to help turn their hobby into their future employment.

That’s why university campuses are the best testing space for evolving equipment, products and services whilst allowing students to gain valuable experience, especially through internships and competition management.

Opening people’s eyes to the vast array of opportunities and careers that the esports sector has to offer will fuel the next generation to become the core of the industry during its rapid growth.

Now is the time for a career in esports

In the esports industry revenues are growing, viewership is growing, the number of participants is growing, and this is creating more and more opportunities all the time.

There is no better time to pursue a career in esports, and education is at the forefront of attracting prospective students into the industry. As the sector grows, we will see an increasing number of universities offering esports related courses and follow in the footsteps of Confetti in building dedicated facilities for students to gain the best first-hand experience for running tournaments.

Students should be encouraged to take the plunge, and universities and esports professionals must provide the best assistance possible to welcome in the new generation to help the entire esports industry grow.

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Technology

Goodbye excel spreadsheets, hello performance management tools

By Harald Matzke, Executive

                                                                                                              Adviser at Serviceware Performance

Whether it’s the implementation of new software or the use of innovative technologies such as RPA, the opportunities and challenges that arise in the context of digitalisation are manifold. Many companies face challenges due to the complexity of converting systems and processes: high costs as well as investment effort and the lack of time and resources. The project landscape for many companies is becoming increasingly confusing, which repeatedly leads to errors in project management. For example, project resources are planned twice, schedules and deadlines are not met, the budget is not adhered to or, in the worst-case scenario, the project fails completely. Unsuccessful IT projects are not uncommon, especially with large-scale projects, such as initiatives for digital transformation. Despite this, research from Citrix has revealed that three in four IT leaders (77%) see opportunities for success in past digital transformation failures.

IT projects fail – but why?

There are many reasons why IT projects fail. Errors occur both before and during the project phase. Often it is due to the scope of work, which was inadequately defined in advance. Companies also repeatedly underestimate the scope and impact that IT projects have on the entire business. Quite often, they plan too little time, so that even at the beginning, important targets can only be met with difficulty.

So how should companies proceed? First of all, they should ask themselves two questions:

  • Are we running the right projects?
  • Is our project implementation result-oriented?

The intersection of these two core issues is the project portfolio, which maps the projects already underway and those awaiting a decision. A good portfolio management should actively add and remove projects in order to achieve the intended transformation goal. Portfolio management is an important basis for comparing resource supply and demand and making it transparent for all stakeholders. In project scoring, defined criteria can be used to make a comparison of different project alternatives as objective as possible. Especially when so-called hard and soft facts have to be taken into account, project scoring provides valuable support for the most diverse investment scenarios.

The goal at the beginning of planning is to find a project or product portfolio that is as balanced as possible in terms of opportunities and risks whilst also promising long-term success. Project costs must also be calculated here. In addition to classic cost types such as personnel, travel or material costs, these also include those that have a special significance in the project context, for example external consulting services. Project cost management includes both planning and actual plan comparison as well as regular revision during the project in order to have a clear picture of the costs incurred at all times. Adjustments only work if there is continuous and complete project reporting. Here, the achievement of project goals is to ensure that the business is attaining a desired outcome.

The importance of keeping an optimal overview of projects

To get a clear overview of the status and development of projects, companies often use a number of different tools and applications such as Excel or PowerPoint. In principle, both are solid tools for calculating projects and creating reports. However, they quickly reach their limits as soon as the requirements increase. Modern tools are therefore essential, especially when managing complex IT project portfolio. If a tool from the performance management area is chosen, non-financial indicators can also be taken into account and serve as a basis for business decisions. Parameters such as “service level performance” not only indicate the pure cost aspects of a new project, but also take into account the scope and quality of the service provided.

But what should performance tools do in order to make the described planning steps more efficient? First of all, the most important requirement is integration into existing systems, making sure that it meets the needs and requirements of the company and the respective projects. Often, individual systems (product data management, enterprise resource planning or operational project management) already exist in the company and the data only needs to be merged and prepared.

The chosen solution should also provide a transparent view of the entire project portfolio in relation to the resource and capacity situation. Information should be stored “multidimensionally” (project view, organizational view, time, data types in forecast versions) and analyzed using standard reports and ad hoc evaluations. The forecast view also helps to simulate potential future portfolios and predict their impact on the future cost situation and resource utilization.

Furthermore, the tool should offer the possibility to develop business cases that can serve as a basis for comparison for later versions of the project. By filing them in a central database, the assumptions in the business case can be continuously refined over time and supplemented with facts and key figures such as net present value, payback period or internal rate of return (IRR) can be calculated. Organizations should also be careful not to use business cases only as an initial means of defining the project scope and evaluating the economic viability, but to keep an eye on them on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately, experience shows that few organizations open up the initial business case at the milestones and, in particular, review the initial assumptions and objectives after the project has been completed. In some cases, this would be important in order to see that projects are no longer goal-oriented and would possibly contribute more to success if they were stopped, thus freeing up the resources used for other projects and tasks.

Two sides of the same coin: project and people

With performance management tools, a close link to business strategy and operational planning and budgeting can be achieved, which brings more transparency to react in time to rapidly changing developments. Besides all the technical possibilities that can be used to implement IT projects, however, the human factor must not be forgotten. Changes and transformation are usually unpopular because they often trigger concerns about being replaceable or having to give up privileges and routines. Involving the affected groups of people and open communication regarding the introduction of new software that will impact the company and the work is crucial. Managers should always deal honestly and openly with employees’ concerns and wishes and communicate changes in the course of the project promptly. Then nothing will stand in the way of project portfolio success!

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Business

RPA and Intelligent Automation: The key to Public Sector Post-COVID recovery

Jerry Wallis, Head of Industry Strategy, EMEA, SS&C Blue Prism

In current times, businesses and citizens are seeking more reassurance and proactive support from the public sector than ever before, as they weather the remaining storm of COVID-19. In turn, those working in the public are dealing with a long list of challenges every single day to meet new needs and requirements.

Under ‘normal’ circumstances, citizens already hope to deal with the public sector in the same seamless and convenient way that they shop online for groceries. However, during large-scale crises – like, but not limited to the ongoing pandemic, rather than downsizing staff within public services, they are having to work harder than ever before.

If there’s one thing in all this that has held the public sector back it is manual, inefficient, and time-consuming backend processes. No longer merely a tactical tool to streamline mundane back office processes, intelligent automation (IA) has become an indispensable catalyst for digital transformation. As a result, many public sector IT departments have a new charter: save time, money, and resources, while improving the overall level of operations. Could RPA and intelligent automation be the answer?  

First, a Public Sector Mindset Shift

For years, companies have invested in digital innovation enabled by intelligent automation and cloud computing. Businesses reap the rewards in terms of business agility, efficiency, cost savings, staff being freed up to do more meaningful tasks, and improved customer experiences. This has now raised the expectations of citizens as ‘consumers’ of the public sector. People no longer differentiate between whether they are dealing with a financial services institution, an e-commerce platform, or a government agency. They now expect fast and frictionless interactions, every single time. This means that the decision makers in the public sector need to respond accordingly to avoid damaging negative user experiences.

COVID-19 exposed existing gaps in the health sector as the NHS waiting list back log continues to spiral out of control, the Government has said this is going to take years to clear with over 5.7 million people on the waiting list. Now is a crucial moment to prioritise automation.  As appointments went online to ensure only high priority patients were entering hospitals, the NHS rolled out Microsoft teams to 1.2 million employees in a few weeks enabling them to commute remotely with colleagues and patients. Not all organisations are well-equipped for a technology-charged future.

Exploring New Possibilities in Health Care

Intelligent automation improves citizen and patient experience with greater efficiency and security. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can handle administrative tasks around the clock, allowing staff to focus on pressing tasks that require decision making and leadership skills. Intelligent automation in healthcare will be instrumental in the development of the NHS. The rapid pace of the pandemic has left little time to streamline internal processes. Therefore, the use of spread sheets and other manual processes proliferated purely to keep up with the extreme workload. These inflexible processes are outdated and prone to human error. They must be replaced with a long-term solution that is underpinned by automation. In addition, leaving the more mundane roles to RPA, allows NHS staff to apply attention to the more fulfilling tasks and carry out patient care.

The pandemic has put a huge strain on healthcare facilities globally and amid this storm, we are seeing the NHS continuing to struggle to balance short term pressures of staff shortages and technical errors. This makes the long term digital transformational goals of the NHS Long Term Plan appear a lifetime away.  Every NHS trust should be examining processes to prioritise what can be automated and taken off over stretched human workers. This is how we begin to tackle the extreme waiting list. 

Balancing the future needs while meeting today’s demands

Whilst the pandemic has created huge challenges for the public sector, it has forced businesses to become more agile and transform as speed. While public services have felt a strain, they will be able to offer a more user-centric service through technology.

At the end of the day, top-ranked digital governments tend to have centrally driven digital transformation mandates, coupled with evolutionary steps taken to strengthen and fulfil that mandate year-on-year. Within this equation, the benefit of unattended and intelligent automation is its interoperability with existing systems and its scalability. That means that any government agency and business can access an extensive toolbox of cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence or machine learning algorithms, and can easily deploy them on top of systems enabled by digital workers.

Through lessons enforced by the pandemic about insufficient or overworked employees, digital workers could very well be what public sector needs as the complex organisations within it move forward. After all, the ability to deliver modern services and provide a sense of solace and reassurance to the citizens using them which is the ultimate marker of public sector success.

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