How augmented reality is transforming the service experience

As AR gains traction in the enterprise, experts weigh in on the benefits to customer and employee experiences.

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Training employees or troubleshooting equipment with instruction manuals and PDFs seems downright old-school, now that digital collaboration technologies make it easier than ever to share information. For example, augmented reality (AR) technology can overlay instructions onto real-time video, enabling people to communicate more easily and literally “see” how to solve problems and learn new skills. In an IDC survey, 73% of the responding executives said AR will be important to their product and service innovation efforts over the next 12 to 24 months.

Improving the speed and quality of service is an ongoing challenge for all organizations in an era of demanding customers and a shortage of trained technicians. We asked our IDG Influencer community of technology experts how organizations can innovate with AR to create more engaging, personalized, and effective experiences for customers as well as employees. Here’s a summary of their insights.

Bridging the knowledge gap with AR training

AR trains employees faster by filling the traditional gap between theory and practice, says Steve Prentice (@StevenPrentice), a speaker, author, and consultant for technology integration.

“I can instruct you on how a widget attaches to a nozzle or how to drive a car, but until you experience these things kinesthetically, they will remain just factual knowledge,” Prentice says. “People who are merely told how to do something feel more afraid and hesitant to apply their new skills. That slows learning and risks higher employee turnover.”

Because the AR training experience is much richer, organizations can convey even highly specialized skills remotely.

“It enables accomplishing a wide variety of complex tasks that would be difficult or impossible to do with text-oriented interfaces, especially if real-time interactions are required. Examples include machine repair, surgery, and control of remote vehicles and machinery,” says Jack Gold (@jckgld), founder and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates.

Although the technology may feel a bit strange at first, the learning curve for users is short.

“As time passes, the human mind will welcome this kind of assistance and forget that it is dealing with AR,” says wireless analyst and columnist Jeff Kagan (@jeffkagan).

But people who design AR training must keep the technology’s unique capabilities top-of-mind.

“Don’t make the visual experience too complex — or too static,” Gold advises. “And it’s important to keep latency under 10 milliseconds, or it will create confusion and challenges with user interactions.”

It’s also important to make sure everyone can take advantage of AR’s benefits.

“AR allows you to take two-dimensional content and create a more robust, interactive course. But please remember to always make it fully inclusive and accessible,” says Debra Ruh (@debraruh), CEO of Ruh Global Impact and executive chair of Billion Strong.

Trainers can continually improve the user experience by analyzing data from past AR sessions.

“The trick is to make the AR engagements meaningful, as opposed to simply creating mundane digital ‘eye candy,’” says Frank Cutitta (@fcutitta), CEO and founder of HealthTech Decisions Lab. “Metrics can be gathered from the data coming from AR devices and apps, making it much easier to customize AR content for future engagements. You can give users a ‘digital front door’ through which they can travel into deeper levels of the digital world while still interacting with key elements in the traditional world.”

More effective collaboration

In addition to improving training, AR makes it easier for people to collaborate. Sharing real-time video feeds enables service technicians to instantly see what customers need to do — and show them, rather than tell them, exactly how to do it. Using AR’s guided step-by-step instructions, many customers will be able to solve problems themselves.

“AR-enhanced videos will speed up the self-service process and delight customers instead of frustrating them,” says Mike Kail (@mdkail), a strategic advisor at Cloud Remedy.

In the workplace, AR helps distributed teams connect on a more human level.  

“AR integration with group chat, video chat, and collaboration tools can improve the employee experience,” says Will Kelly, (@willkelly), a product and content marketing manager focused on devops and the cloud.

The technology can also enhance more specialized applications.

“Workers can collaborate within and design virtual spaces in nearly every industrial sector,” says Scott Schober, (@ScottBVS), president and CEO of Berkeley Varitronics Systems, Inc. Using AR with CAD and other design tools can also help manufacturers achieve radical cost reductions, says Neil Cattermull (@NeilCattermull), a director at The Future as a Service.

And in a remote healthcare setting, AR brings patients closer to clinicians.

“Sensors can ascertain patients’ emotional state through eye movements, skin temperature, and vocal commands, giving impaired users accessibility and providing vital health monitoring,” Schober says.

Sparking innovation throughout the customer journey

From improving service to creating unique shopping and entertainment experiences and streamlining the path to purchases, companies can use AR to differentiate their brands.

“The experience is the brand. That's not just a marketing slogan these days,” says Gene DeLibero (@GeneDeLibero), chief strategy officer and head of martech consulting at Geekhive. “Augmented reality enables businesses to engage with their customers, regardless of place, across the entire customer journey.”

That could be especially helpful in the retail space, where the rapid rise of online shopping has raised customer expectations for visualization and personalization across channels.

“AR may be one last hurrah for retailers, allowing them to provide a differentiated experience that builds brand and product loyalty,” says Isaac Sacolick (@nyike), a digital transformation influencer and president of StarCIO.

These are just a few of the ways companies are using AR to create deeper, more meaningful interactions for their workers and customers. As the technology gains traction, analytics will point the way to other cutting-edge applications.

“Organizations can innovate with augmented reality in so many ways. This new technology will continue to grow as people discover new strategies for providing great customer and employee care,” Kagan says.

Learn more about reimagining the service experience.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.