Presented by Soul Machines
The metaverse is front and center — a buzzword that companies across the technology sector are building brands and new universes around.
Some have emphasized the possibilities of the “embodied Internet” — a digital space where we would presumably do all the things we currently do online, but instead of staring at a 2D computer screen we’d be steering our avatars through an immersive 3D environment.
The fact is, the digital world envisioned by science fiction writers like Neal Stephenson and William Gibson has already come to pass. Given how close we are to passing the Turing test, our expectations for the metaverse can’t be the same as when we read Snow Crash back in the 90’s. The metaverse is constantly evolving as those who interact within it evolve. We have grown beyond the vision of a single metaverse. Today we have Fortnite, Roblox, and Minecraft. Tomorrow we’re likely to inhabit virtual environments created by companies that don’t yet exist.
These worlds may be fantastical, or they might be realistic-looking twins of the physical realm. We may bring the same avatar and identity with us from one metaverse to the next, or we might slip on different identities depending on the virtual environment we’re entering.
In any case, there will be digital spaces where we interact with one another, play games, hold business meetings, attend live concerts, shop, go on virtual vacations, and engage in every other activity available to computer-generated entities.
Every brand needs to be thinking about this now, and planning how its digital incarnation is going to look, sound, act, and most importantly for brands…feel.
Take banking, as one example. People increasingly don’t go into branches any more. The number of brick and mortar banks has been declining steadily for years. People use apps to move their money around and ATMs on the increasingly rare occasions they need cash. Transactional-based digital experiences are great for just that but how will brand connection, competitive advantage, and long-term value be enhanced in the future.
At Soul Machines we believe the answer lies in empathetic CX.
Empathetic CX should be a key consideration for companies contributing to the metaverse from day one.
As human beings, we form emotional connections and establish trust through face-to-face interactions. That’s been true for millions of years; it’s not going to change any time soon.
The same will be true of Digital People. Computer-generated avatars will need to mimic their human counterparts in ways that feel natural. They need to understand the context of what someone is saying and respond appropriately. They need to smile when you smile, to blush when they’re embarrassed, and talk faster when they’re excited because you are showing the same emotion.
Whether a digital person is indistinguishable from a real person isn’t really the point. The important thing is that the interaction feels real.
Brands, like Nestlé Toll House, have discovered that using digital customer service personnel that react and respond in a human-like way doubles the amount of time people spend interacting with them online. Nestlé’s cookie coach, Ruth, saw engagement times of 7-13 minutes; typical digital interactions top out at less than 1 minute.
Authenticity becomes especially important as sports stars, celebrities, and other notable public figures begin to generate their own intelligent avatars. If you encounter a digital version of George Clooney in the metaverse, it needs to look, act, and sound like the real George, even if this Clooney clone is speaking Mandarin instead of English. It also must be endorsed by George Clooney — if we don’t proactively ensure others’ likeness aren’t being improperly appropriated, we’ll always be playing legal whack-a-mole to remove them.
The other essential element here is honesty. With all the controversy surrounding deep fakes, the worst thing brands can do is pretend that a computer-generated entity is a real human being. They need to transparently say, ‘I’m a digital person, and I’m here to help you.’ If we don’t have honesty, we lose trust.
As brands grapple with how to operate within the metaverse, their ultimate goal remains unchanged — to build sustainable, long-term relationships with their customers. That’s not something you can do using chatbots or animated characters spouting prerecorded answers. You need to do it in an intelligent, scalable, and empathetic way.
Because if we’re unable to form meaningful connections in the metaverse with digital people, it’s not going to be a very interesting place to be — no matter how many Facebook friends you might bring along with you.
Greg Cross is Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer at Soul Machines.
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