Sam, a Fidelity Investments associate in one of the customer contact 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.

After this exercise, my colleague was able to understand the full picture of what the customer was going through, and he was able to provide an excellent customer experience.

Learning, Viscerally

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 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 about 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, Fidelity is testing empathy training employees who handle incoming customer calls. The training is a choose-your-own-adventure experience, bringing the trainee into a virtual contact center to help understand the impact of listening and help the Fidelity customer through real-life scenarios. Throughout the training, the Fidelity employee is “transported” between the contact 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. While Fidelity Investments has always included empathy training for employees, this cutting-edge technology brings the training to life. 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. Initial customer survey responses from contacts with employees who have undergone the VR training saw a boost in positive interaction scores.  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 virtual reality augmented reality and mixed reality 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 contact 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.

Adam is Vice President of Product Management, Emerging Technologies, for Fidelity Investments’ Fidelity Labs. In this role, he illustrates the power and potential of these early-stage technologies to help Fidelity make strategic decisions. Adam leads an international team of technologists who focus on rapidly building proofs of concept and working closely with Fidelity’s business units to identify use cases for promising ideas.