A customer enters a well-appointed room with walls painted in a soothing grey colour. To the customer’s right is a large window from which he can see the Mumbai skyline. Ahead of him is a young lady sitting behind a desk who greets him pleasantly and asks how she can help him, like any service executive in any insurance company.
Except this isn’t a regular room in a bank, and this isn’t your normal service executive.
The ‘room’ is an immersive virtual world that PNB MetLife customers can enter through a VR headset. The lady is a virtual customer service avatar named “Khushi”. The interface known as conVRse, has been developed by PNB MetLife and is one of the first Virtual Reality based customer service platforms for financial services in the world.
Virtual reality (VR) is on the cusp of becoming the next significant digital interface. Google’s Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear, and PlayStation VR are already major players in a market burgeoning with possibilities. VR allows for a truly immersive experience where users can be exposed to different environments. Gaming was one of the first industries to see its vast potential as gamers were transported to new, life like worlds which they could interact with. Today, VR has applications across diverse industries. In healthcare, for example, it is being used by psychiatrists to treat patients with phobias by exposing them to their fears in the virtual environment. It is even being used by NASA to train astronauts.
Goldman Sachs pegs it at an estimated $80 billion industry by 2025 with applications in multiple industries. For PNB MetLife, the aim was to revolutionize customer service by transporting its customers to another world. The idea for conVRse was originated by the team from PNB MetLife during the MetLife Asia Mobile Challenge. The team eventually won the Challenge for their virtual reality based customer engagement project. They further collaborated with LumenLab, MetLife’s Singapore-based innovation center, to develop and enhance the proposition and launched the conVRse platform in India in December 2016.
Any customer visiting a PNB MetLife branch that is VR enabled will be able to try on the VR headset and experience this. On wearing the headset, the customer is transported to a virtual environment and can talk to the virtual avatar Khushi and interact with various elements in the room. A screen in front of the customer shows them the various policy related services that Khushi offers. Khushi (operated and voiced by a remote customer service executive) can capture images of documents through the phone camera for KYC, verify personal information and even change policy details in real time. The environment also includes virtual panels providing information about PNB MetLife and its products. Just looking at a part of the panel can enlarge it to provide more information.
Creating this platform involved two major aspects: the content and the design. To determine the kind of queries Khushi could solve, the conVRse team sat with every department in the company to understand the most common complaints and service requests from consumers. At every step of development, the product was tested with consumers and feedback was integrated.
The second aspect was to create the virtual avatar and the environment. The team spent almost a month at Imaginate, a VR and AR start up based in Hyderabad to design Khushi. They began by designing the nose and painstakingly went through thousands of shapes for every different part of the face till they arrived at a satisfactory one for Khushi. After this was done, they used Intel® RealSense™, a face mapping technology, to mimic the facial movements of real people, so that Khushi’s expressions would be as lifelike as possible. The room in which Khushi sits also evolved to include realistic and interactive elements.
The feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive. From the 900 or so customers who have experienced ‘conVRse’ at branches, 95% of them have rated the experience highly. Customers are intrigued by the experience of the virtual environment and spend an average of 8 minutes exploring its various functions. The top requests Khushi services are nominee changes, address or phone number changes and retrieving fund information.
While only 15 special branches in India currently have the service, there are plans to scale up. PNB MetLife is also exploring setting up conVRse zones at ATMs. They eventually intend to equip their sales team with VR devices to educate customers about their products. Abhishek Rathi, Head Marketing, Digital and Analytics says that the final aim of the project is “To simplify insurance, simplify learning and help the customer get the right information about insurance”.
Abhishek identifies the major challenges facing the widespread adoption of VR technology as internet coverage and speeds, the cost of buying VR headsets and their lack of standardisation. However rapid strides are being made in all these areas. Data penetration and network quality is increasing across the country. Along with this, VR headsets that cost as little as Rs. 150 are also being developed. For PNB MetLife, the eventual objective of the conVRse project is to integrate VR with their mobile app. This will enable all their customers to bank from home with the help of Khushi instead of visiting the branch.
If you’d like to interact with Khushi, you can see the experience zones for conVRse here. To know more about Khushi and conVRse, watch the video below.
This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of PNB MetLife and not by the Scroll editorial team.