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Practice makes perfect: Real-world use cases of VR soft skills training

Written BY

Emily Friedman

February 16, 2022

For most companies (and employees), soft skills, diversity and inclusion (D&I or DEI), anti-harassment, and other HR trainings are about checking a box, not really about driving behavioral change or improving workplace culture. But there is a strong business case for improving and investing in this kind of training. Consider that employers paid out a record $68.2 million to employees alleging harassment in 2019 (EEOC), or that ethical companies tend to be more profitable than their peers. Is virtual reality (VR) the key to getting customer service, DEI, and similar training programs to “stick?”

Immersive training involves the trainee or employee interacting with one or more avatars to practice skills in a simulated (virtual) work environment. The trainee may wear a virtual reality headset or access the training via WebXR. Why does it work? VR is essentially a safe place to fail with unlimited do-overs. Emotion is heightened as the realism increases, leading to higher retention. Scaling is also easier, as headsets can be shipped to employees all over the world. Today, companies like Verizon and Walmart are turning to VR for new hire onboarding, empathy training, de-escalation training, sales training, leadership development, conflict resolution training, and even fraud protection. Read about some real-world use cases:  

Best Western – Travel & Hospitality

The international hotel chain turned to Mursion to train front-desk staff at 380 locations. After identifying a correlation between customer relationships and the front-desk personnel’s ability to resolve problems, Best Western decided to try virtual training. VR simulations of five to fifteen minutes were developed based on actual guest reviews, giving employees the opportunity to interact with avatars in scenarios from real life. In one simulation, for instance, trainees were instructed to express empathy for a tired and frustrated traveler/avatar. According to Best Western, the average cost of the program turned out to be less than $165 per hotel--a small price to pay for the highest short-term customer satisfaction gains in the hotel’s recent history.

Farmers Insurance – Insurance

The insurance company worked with Talespin to create VR experiences for employees to practice interpersonal skills. Using AI-powered virtual human tech featuring speech recognition, natural language processing, and realistic body language, Talespin simulated critical workplace conversations. The first app or module focused on vendor collaboration and customer communication, giving Farmers employees a safe space to hone their communication skills as a complement to – not a replacement for – existing training curriculum. Farmers had previously partnered with Talespin to create virtual training for claims representatives to practice home damage assessments.  

H&R Block – Financial Services

Every year, global tax preparation firm H&R Block onboards 5,000 new call center agents, including a rush of new hires to meet demand in the second half of the tax season. Virtually upon starting at H&R Block, these employees are expected to field complex calls, oftentimes with angry or otherwise emotionally charged customers. The job tests their customer service skills, but perhaps dealing with an irate human isn’t the best way to learn to stay calm under pressure. H&R worked with Mursion to take call center onboarding virtual: Employees now role play with digital avatars of different customer profiles using a VR headset or laptop to build confidence in handling difficult situations. So far, H&R Block has seen a 50% decrease in dissatisfied customers along with faster handling times.

MGM Resorts – Travel & Hospitality

The global hospitality and entertainment company uses virtual reality to vet job candidates. In an effort to address the “great resignation” and reduce employee attrition, MGM applicants are able to try out typical casino and hotel jobs in VR, both the positive and negative aspects of different roles. In one module created by Strivr, for instance, users must interact with difficult guests, the number of which has multiplied in the COVID era. VR does a better job of showing candidates what to expect working in a hotel or casino than a video can. Interviewers, too, get a sense of whether someone is right for a particular role. MGM plans to bring the immersive experience to its offices and career fairs.

T-Mobile – Telecommunications

As it prepared to merge with Sprint in 2018, T-Mobile used virtual reality to build leaders’ change management skills. Employees could complete virtual scenarios created by Mursion in 30-minute increments whenever and wherever it suited them. In one scenario, the trainee was challenged to get buy-in from an influential but resistant team member. The impact was undeniable: Nearly 90% of virtual learners showed competency in change management scenarios following the VR training, prompting T-Mobile to expand the program to training for difficult team meetings and supporting an employee through incidents of racial injustice.

Verizon – Telecommunications

Verizon has implemented VR customer service training for dealing with disaffected and aggressive callers in its call centers. In addition, Verizon teamed up with Strivr to offer virtual store robbery training to its 22,000 retail store employees. VR enables associates to experience a high-risk, potentially dangerous situation like an armed robbery with no real danger to their person. A variety of realistically simulated snatch-and-grab scenarios based on real security-camera footage teach Verizon staff what to do in the event of a robbery, giving them the kind of exposure uniquely possible with virtual reality.

Walmart – Retail

Walmart has been updating its training programs with VR for several years now, beginning at its Walmart Academies. In 2018, the retail giant announced plans to expand VR training across the nation, bringing VR to more than one million U.S. store associates. Working with Strivr, Walmart is implementing VR training for soft skills, compliance, and the rolling out of new tech. Its BeKind VR de-escalation training module is one example, training workers to respond to upset customers by placing them in simulations with an agitated avatar. Prompts remind the user to keep calm and introduce herself, as she gains insight into why the customer is upset. Trainees can even witness interactions from the customer’s point of view. Though it wasn’t mandatory, 100% of employees adopted the BeKind training. Walmart also used VR to prepare employees for Black Friday back in 2018.  

Conclusion

There are many more use cases: HPE Financial Services uses VR to evaluate sales reps in conversation with C-level customers; Coca-Cola uses virtual role play scenarios to enhance managers’ leadership skills; and on and on. Companies are increasingly recognizing why immersive training stands apart from all other methods of training: The ability to practice a scenario over and over, to make mistakes and learn by doing, until the trainee feels confident, without damaging relationships with colleagues or customers.

Next: Meet the Companies Advancing Immersive Learning for Leadership, Customer Service, DEI, and More

Image source: Farmers Insurance/Talespin

Further Reading
Beyond the Tape: How One Manufacturer is Creating a Skilled Workforce with Augmented Reality
May 27, 2022
Solving the Skills Crisis with Augmented Reality
May 25, 2022
The skills gap has become a skills crisis. Augmented Reality is helping industrial organizations enable on-the-job training, capture and scale expertise, recruit younger workers, and close the skills gap.