Augmented Reality and iPads Help Customers Visualize In-home Installation

An HVAC company is using iPads to show an image of what its heating and cooling unit will look like once installed in the consumer's home

When your salespeople can't answer the single most frequently asked customer question, no one's happy but your competitor.

Mitsubishi Electric Cooling and Heating sells heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, and its staff is constantly asked, "What will this thing look like when it's installed?"

Salespeople have tried many ways to help customers visualize the installed system, including big sticky notes applied to the wall. Now they've got a better answer: an augmented reality application that displays 3-D images on their iPads so customers can see exactly what one of those giant air conditioners or heaters will look like in their office or living room.

Some companies have dabbled in augmented reality for promotions, including Starbucks, which issued a Valentine's Day app last February that let customers exchange personalized messages via their coffee cups. At Mitsubishi Electric, the apps help sell products and improve customer satisfaction, says Gabriel Weiss, who leads the interactive marketing technologies group at the company. "Augmented reality is more than just showing off with technology."

Using IT to make concrete and innovative improvements to the customer experience can pay off in new sales and strong loyalty, says Frank Wander, founder of the IT Excellence Institute, a consultancy.

In the past, Mitsubishi Electric printed life-sized pictures of its products for salespeople to stick onto customers' walls to give a sense of what they would look like. But flat images don't show the whole picture. Some HVAC units are nine inches deep, for example, and customers couldn't easily visualize how far the units would stick out.

Using the augmented reality application on his iPad, a salesman snaps pictures of the customer's room and combines them with stored images of an HVAC model to create a 3-D depiction on the iPad screen. Salesmen can also email 3-D images and video to customers to consult as they weigh whether to buy.

"A brochure doesn't tell the customer what it looks like in their own space. This does," Weiss says.

To administer these and other mobile applications, Mitsubishi Electric initially emailed them to contractors, who had to install them on their devices. Not many bothered because it was time-consuming. This method also meant that Mitsubishi Electric had to email new versions of the apps whenever there was an upgrade and cajole people to install the new versions.

As the number of mobile applications has grown at Mitsubishi, Weiss sought a more efficient method for controlling them. Working with vendor AppCentral, he built a secure enterprise app store.

This lets Mitsubishi Electric offer access in a familiar, consumer-like way. It also lets the company control who has access to which software. Internal sales staff get different applications than contractors, for example. An app store also makes it simpler to push out upgrades automatically, Weiss says.

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