For some it is the future. For others it is simply a passing fad.  Yet, the rise of a new virtual economy called the Metaverse and the global buzz that has been generated in recent years has become increasingly difficult to ignore. By 2026, it is expected that at least one in four people people will spend a minimum of one hour every day in the metaverse for different purposes like work, shopping, education, and even entertainment.

“At Shaffra, we see the metaverse as an enhancement basically of reality,” says Alfred Manasseh, Co-founder & Chief Metaverse Officer of Shaffra, a startup which recently launched in the UAE in line with Dubai’s Metaverse Strategy, announced by the government last year.

“We don’t see it as a replacement of the physical spaces or physical experiences. We really see it as the enhancement or the add-on to this. The Metaverse presence, or let’s call it the immersive presence, is really a way of creating the next phase of the internet, giving a more dynamic engagement for customers and employees.”

Shaffra has already begun to roll out the next wave of virtual experiences, giving government entities and large corporates, in particular, the tools to create a platform where users can interact with each other and digital assets in real-time. Certain telecommunications companies, for example, are already using its 3D engine to operate their own metaverse to train people from different cities, branches and countries at the same time.

“Now, what’s the benefit for the user?” Manasseh says. “Today, let’s say you go into a shop. Maybe you go in at peak time have to wait up to one hour to get served. Then you go through the services to understand what you need to do, and basically your engagement with the customer service representative is a fraction of the time you waited. The way the customer service agent is serving you is very generic.

“So here’s where we combine different technologies. One thing that we’re doing with this telecom company is we’re enabling an AI customer service agent that would be run within their world, within their platform, where instead of talking with their robo call agent, or instead of waiting for an agent to be available, those avatars or those AI customer service agents will be able to serve the customers immediately, as if they were alking to a real customer agent.”

In the case of real estate development the benefits are perhaps even more striking. For developers of off plan properties, the virtual environment allows them to convert that customer experience of viewing the site and the work that has been completed. It means customers can virtually walk around the development that is being built, experience the development as it actually is and close all the deals and the transactions while experiencing that world.

Engaging the customer?

“It’s a much more engaging experience,” Manasseh says, before pointing out the importance of brands resonating with their customers from the very beginning.

“In the first phase, to approach their audience, they need to compel their customers by ensuring that they remain who they are in the physical world. To do that, they need to follow what they already do. They need to be authentic and true to their core values,” he says.

“Most brands already understand their target audience. They have already researched and identified the interests and needs of their customers. In the same way, the virtual world is replicating and identifying really what the customer is looking for. However you do it virtually, needs to align to what you do physically.”

In terms of government, Shaffra is currently working on a proof-of-concept platform for the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism. It is aiming to create an environment where residents and citizens can access a range of government services in one place, in a more engaging, interactive way. It is this potential that Manasseh sees as the true difference between the two worlds.

“In terms of the virtual, brands really need to engage at another level with their customers. They need to offer them more content that is more immersive and more engaging and that appeals to the interests that they have identified. The experiences that they can offer to their customers are basically limitless compared to the physical world.”

He adds:  “Brands need to be able to create virtual hubs that resonate with their customers and that cater to individual desires. Basically, what you can do in the Metaverse is you can attract and enable your customer to access your world anytime, anywhere, and at whatever time they wish. By being in the metaverse, creating deeper connection with your customers directly or indirectly becomes easier.”