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The metaverse is coming and whether you see it as a glorified video game, the next phase of the internet, an abstract idea impossible to explain let alone realise, or simply a buzzword with little relevance to rail owners and operators, it’s highly likely that your customers will be part of it to some extent, which means, you should be too.

This is a follow-on post from our previous blog on disruptive rail-tech and how global operators can harness things like cloud-powered technology to gain a competitive advantage. It’s worth checking that presentation out first before we delve deeper into the metaverse.

So, what is the metaverse?

Possibly the simplest definition of the metaverse is a virtual universe (akin to the internet) with endless possibilities that people can escape into via Extended Reality (XR) – an umbrella term encompassing augmented, virtual, and mixed reality technologies. The metaverse can be thought of as a 3D model of the internet – a place parallel to the physical world where people (including rail passengers, travellers, commuters, etc.) will spend their digital life.

On the operations side, Augmented Reality (AR) enabled devices and wearables are already being used for training exercises and inspections, so it’s likely that the metaverse will also facilitate advances in fault diagnosis, maintenance and design services. It’s certainly worth exploring how the metaverse can be harnessed to make your workforce’s experience safer, more efficient, less stressful and generally, better, but for now, we’ll focus on the passenger experience.

So how can global rail operators leverage the metaverse to design experiences that will keep their customers engaged and enrich their journey from beginning to end? As previously mentioned, the possibilities are potentially endless. Rather than speculating on the specific types of experience you might look to create, we thought it would be more helpful to give you some top-level pointers to consider when crafting a memorable XR experience to improve customer loyalty and build brand equity.

Before we get into the tips, bear in mind that ‘Big Data’ will not only power these experiences in the first place, but you’ll also be able to capture new data from those experiences, which you can leverage to create even more relevant, impactful and meaningful interactions with your customers in a positive feedback loop. But with big data comes big responsibility…

1. Be authentic.
When you craft an experience, the most important thing is to be authentic. It’s a buzzword, but any experience you create should be true to, and consistent with, your brand values and mission. Don’t try to be something you’re not, it’ll confuse your customers.

2. Provide value, not gimmicks.
Your experience must provide value to the user. Passengers want to have their problems solved, get the information they need, or be entertained in some way. Gimmicks and flashy nonsense will get boring very quickly.

3. Put yourself in your passengers’ virtual shoes.
Think about the journey your passengers take from entering your station (including pre-arrival), navigating to the departure platform, boarding the train, the onboard experience, leaving the train and exiting the station. At each potential touchpoint, how could you augment and enrich their travel experience in a meaningful way?

4. Move fast and break things.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with this phrase, attributed to Mark Zuckerberg as the internal motto for Facebook now Meta? While I wouldn’t necessarily focus on breaking things, I think the lesson here is to be agile. Be proactive, but also reactive if your customers want something that you’re not currently giving them.

Don’t get bogged down in paralysis by analysis.

Take risks. Execute ideas quickly and get them out into the real world so you can test, learn and refine.

And don’t be afraid to try things that will push the capabilities of the technology – if you’re not innovating, you’re standing still.

5. Careful what you capture.
Big data will be the driver of most metaverse experiences and data will also be captured via these experiences. However, if people feel that the main purpose of your experience is to capture their data, especially if it’s data they’re not inclined to share or if it’s data that doesn’t seem relevant to the experience, they’ll switch off. Don’t be greedy!

Those are our top tips for designing an impactful metaverse experience for your customers, but we’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions. Please also feel free to share any success stories as your ideas come to life. While we’re by no means experts in the metaverse, we’d be happy to answer any questions you might have, so please get in touch.