VR to usher in the age of ‘empathy training’

Businesses are built on relationships between employees and customers, but it is the quality of those relationships that can be the difference between growth and stagnation.

A business that cannot create and sustain positive relationships with the people it relies on to give it money is not likely to last long. This has led a lot of companies to try and give their employees the tools they need to build fruitful relationships.

Now, it looks like VR could be a crucial tool in empathy-building game.

Empathy training is the process of developing an employee’s ability to connect with customers and clients on a more human basis. The best kind of customer service is that which is built upon a foundation of understanding, where company representatives have a feel for the perspectives, emotions and motivations of their customers.

It can be difficult to train empathy for a number of reasons. Firstly, it can be difficult to get this kind of information on customers. Unless your customer base is unusually uniform or part of the customer experience process involves asking them questions about their motivations, most transactions do not allow a lot of time for the actors to get to know each other.

Secondly, it is often hard for employees to get themselves in the right frame of mind. High volume service jobs are draining on both a person’s physically and mental energy, but they can also be trying on their patience. The commercial aspects of the job, such as targets, average customer times, etc, may also act to de-incentivise employees to really try to get to know their customers.

Training for empathy

To see how companies could use VR to empathy train their employees, Fidelity is providing an early adoption use case that could prove useful model.

The company runs a number of call-centres where employees have to interact with customers, where conversations can range from simple questions to long, complex transactions. The company is using VR to give employees a better picture of how their interactions with the company affect them after the call is over.

An example of how the training works is outlined in a company blog, where the employee Sam is undergoing training:

“Using Fidelity Labs’ newest VR prototype built on the Google Daydream headset, Sam is virtually transported from his desk into the kitchen of a Fidelity customer’s home. There, Sam observes the customer is staring at a pile of medical bills. In the background is a pair of crutches, and he can see she appears stressed and frustrated.

“He is then presented with a series of options of what to do next, and applies what he learned about this customer’s situation to guide her through the transaction.”

The training was created in conjunction with STRIVR, the immersive training company that is redefining training in professional sports. It works in a similar way to a choose-your-own adventure, where the employee is transported back and forth between the call centre and the home of the customer. This allows them to see the reactions and effects that the employee’s actions create.  

Among the initial employees that have experienced the training had positive things to say. Again, from the blog:

“We heard from some that they were quickly reminded there are always real people on the other side, facing real challenges. This feedback has inspired us to keep working and refine the different types of empathy-building moments that make this sort of training so powerful.”

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