You’ve just begun work for the day as a frontline employee when an emotional customer flags you down at the front of the store.
With an agitated tone and body language, the customer says, “This is my neighborhood store, and I’ve shopped here for twelve years. I deserve respect as much as anyone else who shops here. The people that work here need to be held responsible for their actions!”
He pauses and points at you as he demands: “What are you going to do about it?”
With no context into what happened, you’re caught off guard. It’s easy to get defensive or match his anger. So what do you do?
De-escalation training begins with empathy
While this type of scenario might seem extreme, it’s entirely within the realm of what retail associates experience on the job all the time. That’s why, for customer-facing roles at Walmart and other retail operations, training on empathy is so necessary.
If an associate cannot see the situation from the customer’s point of view and apply kindness to their response, it’s nearly impossible to effectively de-escalate.
De-escalation training is critical for frontline workers to master, but it can be one of the most challenging things to learn through traditional training methods. Only by having real conversations with customers can associates gain the practice and confidence they need to respond with kindness, calmness, and empathy.
These soft skills can’t simply be gained with paper tests or traditional e-learning scenarios. But ideally, associates must master them before they start working with actual customers.
Walmart addressed this by adding a VR training component to its beKIND model, both to teach and measure empathy in customer service. Within this new Immersive Learning de-escalation training, associates encounter an upset customer in their headset and have the opportunity to practice a measured and kind response.
Prompts in the headset view remind the learner to “Keep calm and introduce yourself.” Then, as the conversation continues, associates are reminded about keeping calm as they gain more insight into why the customer is upset and witness the interaction from the customer’s point of view.
At first, the associate’s response to the customer might be reactive or inelegant. But with practice, it improves. And this is exactly what Immersive Learning enables — the opportunity to practice a scenario over and over until one has mastered the optimal way to handle it.
Real empathy begins when learners can put themselves in the customer’s shoes. As part of the learning experience, there is a playback feature: learners watch, listen to, and experience their recorded performance to self-evaluate. This kind of self-critique often drives the most behavioral change, since people can see how they present themselves to others.
Within the BeKind VR de-escalation training module, associates experience the conversation from the customer’s perspective and are asked to rate their performance. From “excellent” to “very poor,” they signify how well they believed they performed.
One of the great benefits of de-escalation training in VR is that the experiences feel real – research shows that learners’ brains even treat them as real – but any mistakes that are made don’t result in lost customers or revenue. Essentially, mistakes are “free.”
Rather than learn the hard way and create friction with a real customer, associates build their confidence to handle these rather unpleasant scenarios by making their mistakes in a true learning environment.
The measured effectiveness of de-escalation training
During a time when health, safety, and cultural tensions are high nationwide, this type of de-escalation training initiative can play a significant role in improving employee-customer interactions, not to mention diversity and inclusion efforts.
For Walmart, one of the biggest achievements for the beKIND Immersive Learning module was adoption. Walmart achieved 100% of its adoption goal in just a few weeks, despite not being a mandatory training.
of adoption goal
Because Strivr’s Immersive Learning platform enables new content creation and deployment to support specific business needs, Walmart and Strivr were able to launch the beKIND VR de-escalation training quickly and recruit associates to participate enthusiastically.
With all of its Immersive Learning initiatives, Walmart demonstrates that associates want engaging training on soft skills — and that better skills make them feel more confident on the job.
Customer service positions inherently include occasional difficult conversations. Having the grace and ability to practice kindness and empathy during stressful moments is a crucial part of the job, but it’s also an incredible way to empower employees and improve the customer experience.