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Will Avatars Take Over in Virtual Reality Customer Service?

In the near future, the person we turn to for help fixing our computer or how to assemble our IKEA furniture may not be a person at all.

It may be a computer-generated avatar – one that knows a whole lot about us and will be able to effortlessly guide us through complicated processes that previously required human interaction.

At least it appears we’re heading in that direction. Self-serve customer service is already here and knowledge bases are all over the Internet, which makes virtual reality (VR) customer service the next logical step. Rapid advances in 3D and VR technology, combined with the increasing role of big data, will make the customer service experience of the near future look and feel a lot different than it does today.

Virtual Reality

Which would be a good thing. The virtual reality customer service experience of tomorrow will bridge the gap between self-help service and human-based assistance, enabling organizations to provide better service without hiring additional staff. Customer service professionals will still play a role, of course, but they’ll take on a higher-level position as expert problem-solvers of last resort.

Putting On a Human Face

The “face” of the VR experience would likely be a computerized representation of a human, or avatar, that could do nearly everything a person can do. To humanize an otherwise computerized conversation, the avatar would take on a persona that appeals to you or if you link to customer service through a social media account, your avatar may be a virtual representation of… you.

Whatever form it takes, your avatar-as-service-rep will possess an enormous amount of data about you and have an encyclopedic understanding of your preferences, purchase history, site-search history and more. Based on this, along with a continuous feed of data about commonly encountered issues – also called machine learning, your avatar will be prepared to provide highly intuitive, fast and knowledgeable service.

So if your washing machine is making a disturbing clunking noise, for example, you’ll whip out your smartphone (or whatever its successor may be), turn on the video and link to customer service. Your avatar will appear, and from his database will diagnose the problem and provide a virtual tour of how to fix it, complete with step-by-step instructions and 3D video. It’ll be as though he’s right there in the room with you, peering over your shoulder and guiding your every move.

This represents a major advance over today’s awkward method of troubleshooting by phone, chat or email, which relies on your description of the problem and is clumsy, time-consuming and error-prone.

And VR customer service wouldn’t be limited to troubleshooting. Virtual reality assistants could help us cook a fancy dinner, prepare our taxes, write a great term paper – the possibilities are endless. With the ability to actually show, rather than tell, they’ll make our lives a lot easier.

But Will We Accept It?

To be sure, virtual reality wouldn’t be appropriate for every customer service interaction. Decisions that involve the uniquely human emotion of empathy – like choosing whether to waive late charges on an overdue bill because of a medical emergency – would still be entrusted to humans.

Which brings up some interesting questions. Even with the many benefits virtual reality customer service could provide, will we as consumers accept it?

Will we be scared off by the fact that it knows so much about us? Or will we put privacy aside in favor of outstanding, personalized customer service?

Is our desire for help from an actual human being so strong that we’ll reject this mode of service? Or will we instead embrace the prospect of learning from a computer-generated persona?

I guess we’ll know soon enough. I just wonder what I’ll look like as an avatar.