How Fidelity Investments is using VR to train its customer service employees

Cases like call center training could show how virtual reality, augmented reality, and other emerging technology can be used for business needs.

VR and AR: What are they and what makes them different?

Fidelity Investments is testing virtual reality (VR) technology as a training mechanism, signaling a shift toward VR being taken seriously a business tool.

Fidelity Labs, the company's innovation arm, used the Google Daydream headset and worked with immersive training company STRIVR to offer call center employees empathy training. Fidelity is the first financial services company to use the Google technology in this way, according to a Friday blog post from Adam Schouela, vice president of product management and emerging technology at Fidelity Labs.

SEE: Research: Virtual and augmented reality in the enterprise (Tech Pro Research)

Described as a "choose-your-own-adventure experience," the prototype training simulates a customer call, transporting an employee inside the home of the caller, and allowing them to glimpse into the customer's situation. In one case, this meant seeing a stack of medical bills, a set of crutches, and one distressed customer, according to the post. The employee then uses what he learned about the customer's situation to provide a more tailored transaction.

The prototype garnered positive feedback from Fidelity phone teams, Schouela wrote in the post. The team plans to "refine the different types of empathy-building moments" used to continue to make the training powerful.

The announcement shows a way businesses can view and use VR as a business tool rather than a gaming offshoot. Companies that don't have a clear tie to VR, like Fidelity, can leverage the technology for product demonstrations and facility tours. The emerging technology can also potentially replicate other types of training.

"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," Schouela wrote in the post.

This isn't the first time Fidelity has dabbled in VR technology. Last year, they created a human resources app to track retirement plans for the HTC Vive headset. In 2014, they made an app to keep track of investors' portfolios for the Oculus Rift headset. Such apps use visuals to make complex topics easier to digest.

The announcement comes days after Facebook-owned Oculus announced a new business-focused product bundle to help companies begin using VR.

Fidelity did not announce how much it has invested in the training set-up, nor did it give a timeframe for establishing it company-wide.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

1. Fidelity Labs, the innovation arm of Fidelity Investments, announced it is testing using virtual reality to train call center employees.

2. Using VR, the empathy training process allows the trainee to visualize a customer's situation and tailor the experience. If implemented, the process may increase customer satisfaction.

3. The test suggests businesses are beginning to see ways VR can be a business and training tool.

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Image: Fidelity Labs