Exploring virtual reality for empathy training

By Adam Schouela

Sam, a Fidelity associate in one of the phone centers, removed the headset and handed it back to me. I had just taken him through our latest virtual reality (VR) prototype, which uses empathy training to guide new employees through a virtual phone call with a Fidelity customer.

My fellow colleague was able to understand the full picture of what the customer was going through, and he was able to give the customer an excellent customer experience.

Learning, Visually

Immerse yourself in the experience: Put on the headset and transport to a desk in a busy Fidelity call center. Look around and you can hear and see other employees and then the phone rings…

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.

Working with STRIVR, an immersive training company, we are testing empathy training with these associates that handle incoming customer calls. The training is a choose-your-own-adventure experience, bringing the trainee into a virtual call center to help understand the impact of listening and helping the Fidelity customer through real-life scenarios. Throughout the training, the Fidelity employee is “transported” between the call center and the customer’s living room to view the environment, facial expressions and personal perspective.

In Sam’s situation, he was able to observe what happened immediately following their phone call. The customer calls her adult daughter, who is either happy to hear the outcome of her mother’s call, or is upset that Sam didn’t provide certain options. The trainee is able to quickly sense the impact of the help he provided and observe the feelings that are created as a result. He is transported back to his desk to assess and re-evaluate certain steps he made in the conversation.

More than Simulation

Simulations have been used in training across a variety of industries, but virtual reality now provides us with the tools to build empathy into this experience. We recently took this on the road to test with different Fidelity teams.

Would this expedite the training process? Would this help these critical Fidelity employees help the people who use Fidelity’s services find better outcomes to each phone call?

Nothing beats real experience when talking with investors, but being exposed to specific scenarios in a virtual environment, may help prepare new employees for various situations.

Positive Feedback

Our team has taken a few Fidelity phone teams through this prototype. 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.

Our VR Journey

Some of the most compelling experiments we’ve tried in VR/AR/MR have been with applications to help consumers explore and manage their finances.

In 2014 we created StockCity for Oculus, combining virtual reality with data visualization to transform an investor’s stock portfolio into a city where building size indicates volume and price data. More recently we introduced a virtual reality experience for employers. The user can assess the impact of elements such as age, tenure and asset allocation on its workforce.

Empathy Building

Employees in Fidelity’s phone centers work with a variety of customers throughout the day. Sometimes callers have a simple question or need help with a transaction. Other times, the conversation can be very complex, with the Fidelity employee and the customer discussing a variety of scenarios and potential decisions.

Emotion is often a big factor in these conversations. Navigating the complex array of decisions and potential money moves requires understanding not only of the different Fidelity products and services available, but also empathy for the caller’s personal situation.

I am eager to test this with additional Fidelity teams.