Since its inception in 1984, Virgin Atlantic Airways has always been known for two things above all else: technological innovation and customer service. The first airline to break the traditional three-tier “class” structure, Virgin was also the first to offer no-smoking flights — complete with oxygen concentrators for patients with lung ailments. Upper-class suites, the biggest in-flight beds, even that little TV in the back of the headrest on the seat in front of you — all Virgin.
It makes perfect sense, then, that Virgin would jump at the chance to experiment with a technology as new, as little-understood and as controversial as Google Glass — and experiment it has.
For eight intense weeks, Virgin studied the effect of Google’s groundbreaking wearable technology on its already legendary customer-service program.
Google Glass-equipped Virgin representatives met Upper Class passengers upon their arrival at the airport, and were beamed the passenger’s name, flight number and status — even the current weather in the passenger’s destination city.
Virgin says that Glass is here to stay, and insists that not a single passenger objected to the polarizing technology or asked that it be turned off.
The Potential — and Potential Pitfalls — of Customer Service with Google Glass
Virgin has undoubtedly found the benefit of Glass as a customer-service innovation — and countless publications have speculated on what it means for Glass as a business tool. But an article in Forbes analyzed the realities of Glass in customer service better than perhaps any other post-Virgin-experiment study.
Forbes points out that there are two sides to customer service: the transactional side and the hospitality side. The transactional side is cold and calculated — the customer’s information, their details, the order of priorities, their history with the company. The hospitality side deals with feeling and emotion — making the customer feel like they’re valued, that they’re recognized, that their business is appreciated.
Google Glass, it seems, holds real, true promise when it comes to the transactional side of customer service. The hospitality side, however, always runs the risk of becoming corrupted by cold technology — especially in an area where human beings could have done it better themselves. Press-one-for-this automated telephone systems are the epitome of technology mechanizing the charm of hospitality. Google Glass runs the risk of falling into this trap.
An experiment with a wealthy, trendy airline can give a sliver of insight. But the reality of Google Glass as a legitimate customer-service tool is best revealed by looking at the dozens and dozens of other companies — both large and small — that have tried similar experiments. Here are just a few:
- Wallaby: Personal finance firm Wallaby has a Google Glass initiative called Pay with Wallaby that helps users choose exactly which card to pay with in any given situation to maximize rewards and points.
- Mercedes Benz: The luxury automaker’s experiment integrates Google Glass with its own navigation system. Enter an address and the nav system will get you there while you’re driving. When you park, Google Glass takes over for the final walking directions.
- Las Vegas Air Conditioning: To give customers peace of mind when strangers are working in their home, this Nevada HVAC company sends technicians out on service calls equipped with Google Glass. This way, customer can watch everything from the tech’s point of view — as they work, in real time — from a laptop or tablet.
- Procore: This construction management software firm’s experiment envisions managers virtually walking through construction sites across the globe without ever leaving the office.
- Kansas City Symphony: The ensemble used Google Glass to show patrons how a concert looks, feels and sounds from the perspective of the musicians.
- Sherwin-Williams: The paint company’s ColorSnap app harnesses Google Glass to let customers profile potential color schemes by analyzing the prime colors that homeowners are considering.
- The Philadelphia Eagles: The first team in the NFL to undertake such an experiment, the Eagles are hoping Glass can enhance the fan experience at Philly’s Lincoln Financial Field.
Would you rather carry an mp3 player, an e-reader, a laptop, a cell phone, a camera, a camcorder and a gaming system — or a single device that performs all those functions plus many more?
That question has been answered by the meteoric rise of smartphones and tablets since Apple released the first iPhone just 7 years ago.
Unified communications — the incorporation of many mediums (chat, video, voice, data, etc.) into a single platform — has been an elusive goal since one of the first voicemail companies offered a brand new technology called an e-mail reader in conjunction with their voice-messaging machine in the 1980s. There were many other watershed moments since those primitive days: The release of the RIM Blackberry in 1999, Skype’s video-chat service in 2004 and, of course, the iPhone in 2007 — and now, UC is mainstream.
But Google Glass takes things a step further than even the all-knowing, all-doing rectangle in your pocket or purse.
As one study pointed out, it is not just the UC revolution, but also the Internet of Things and the bring-your-own-device movements that Google Glass — and all wearables — should have in its sites. Once household items are connected to the same device that you use both recreationally and at work, true unified communications will be achieved — far beyond anything that could have been imagined by the makers of e-mail readers in the 1980s.
Virgin Atlantic answered about Google Glass the same fundamental question that had been asked when tablets first emerged: Is this just a plaything or will it prove to have some practical business application? Undoubtedly, the answer is yes. The role it will play is uncertain, but Google Glass is here to stay both as a tool for customer service and as a lynchpin in the future of unified communications.