Virtual Reality: Is the Customer Experience Upside Worth the Significant Technology Investment Now?

Telecom and entertainment companies are facing this question right now: Do you launch a pioneering, bleeding edge virtual reality (VR) experience if you know the customer experience (CX) is going to be lacking?

NBC and Samsung took a leap with their VR coverage of the Summer Olympics in Brazil. Was it cool that they could offer the experience? Absolutely. Was the experience a good one? Yes and no. Acknowledging the novelty cool factor and the sheer courage at testing it on an event as big as the Olympics, the picture quality and timeliness of content was lacking making the experience just ok.

Early adopters of technology tend to see beyond initial limitations to the potential of a technology. Just look to the evolution of VCRs to DVDs to HD streaming; or the brick phone to the flip phone to the smart phone as examples. Think of the NBC/Samsung Summer Olympics effort as the VCR of VR, with opportunity watching VR’s growth trajectory on its smart watch from the horizon.

The biggest CX issues included time delay (opening ceremonies available the next day) and picture quality. The VR coverage was delivered using recorded footage from many (but for a superior CX experience not enough) 3-D cameras to show the events from many vantage points. All provided via the Samsung Gear VR headset (another ding on CX for those with gear outside of the Samsung brand).

Moore’s Law will steady march us toward new, better wearable, VR and augmented reality devices, giving companies increasing opportunity to innovate around content and customer experience. Many VR ventures are overcoming device exclusivity and increasing mobility by offering mobile applications that do not require headgear. Disney, Lionsgate and Lucasfilm have expressed interest in implementing VR to attract an early adopter audience of thrill-seekers and adventurers beyond gaming platforms. Netflix and The New York Times, too. The projected growth estimate is around $18 billion by 2018 and $80 billion by 2025, with tech giants Google and Facebook fully on-board.

Companies are already being creative in their attempts to leverage VR. Universities are using it for campus visits for students that can’t travel. Retailers can provide in-home ‘dressing rooms’. Broadcasters can literally put you courtside, ringside, fieldside sporting events and movie makers and advertisers can put the audience in the middle of a video experience.

Success in leveraging VR’s positive impact on customer experience, now and down the road, will need significant investment and commitment from the content producers, as well as partnerships with device makers like Oculus Rift and their Samsung Gear VR, PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, or Google Cardboard. Not to mention much faster Internet speeds; better battery life; smaller, better headsets (or no headsets); and better 360-degree camera equipment with higher resolution picture quality.

The decision to pursue now or later is one that Capto always returns to – what is your business case? Is it first-mover advantage to get the kinks out while early adopters are still forgiving? Can you increase advertising ‘stickiness’ by a factor large enough to entice new advertisers? Does the C Suite simply want to be at the bleeding edge of technology? Whatever the reason, a business case supported by both money and talent, are needed to create the best customer experience.