The potential of VR for training retail workers is tremendous when it comes to both everyday customer service and rare but critical scenarios that have traditionally been nearly impossible to train for — like snatch-and-grab robberies or armed robbery of a store. Immersive Learning scenarios place employees in realistic scenarios that allow them to practice in-the-moment reactions and receive feedback on their response.
As VP of Global Learning and Development at Verizon, Lou Tedrick teamed up with Strivr to create a robust Immersive Learning program for Verizon store leaders across the country. As a result of the initial efforts of Tedrick and her team, Verizon is now integrating VR training into all of its employee learning and development. Rich Wang, Vice President Customer Success, Strivr, sat down with Tedrick to talk innovation at Verizon and why it’s so important to train employees on scenarios that may or may not ever happen on their watch.
Welcome, Lou. First thing’s first — why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role?
I am the VP of Global Learning and Development for Verizon. I manage all of our frontline rep training, our leadership training, and the infrastructure for learning — pretty much soup to nuts. At this time, we’re a little over 800 employees worldwide supporting learners inside the company. And we have a very large population of folks outside of our organization, such as resellers and contractors.
Talk about an impact. Could you tell us more about what things looked like at Verizon before Strivr? What was going on that led you to want to explore new solutions?
A year ago, we as a learning organization decided that we wanted to start looking at opportunities for AR and VR for learning. This was being driven by our need to feel like we were advancing technology for learning, but also, as a company that was moving into 5G, we want to be one of the first to use our own technology for ourselves. So we held a design-thinking hackathon for AR and VR use cases for learning. We landed on two different AR solutions and two VR solutions that we wanted to explore with Strivr, specifically addressing issues we were having on safety training for our stores experiencing robberies. That was the genesis of it.
Sounds like a very innovative approach that’s in line with your culture of looking at technologies and making sure you’re part of that, which is really exciting. And it sounds like even with the hackathon, there was a selection process. What stood out to you about Strivr?
When we decided that we were going to embark on this training, we had a very specific need in mind. We talked to a couple of different partners in the space. In the first couple of meetings that we had with Strivr, we were able to experience some applications that you were doing with other organizations that looked a lot like what we were trying to do.
You were also able to meet our requirements fairly quickly and economically. We had talked to some other folks, and had even looked at our team inside of our organization that was doing VR work, and their speed to a prototype solution was three times as long as Strivr’s. We made the decision to go with you folks because we felt like you were leading in this space. This wasn’t the first time you were doing it, and you could get us there fairly quickly.
I’d love to sort of kick a little bit more specifically around the partnership between the Learning & Development organization and the Safety organization, particularly around designing and building the curriculum. I know it’s of interest of all development divisions across any Fortune 500 company to understand how partnerships with the business unit happen. Maybe you could shed some light for us.
One of the things I think is important to understand is why we are concerned about robberies in our retail stores. Not everyone knows that there is a proliferation of robberies with wireless carriers; Verizon is not alone in this, and it really is because of the value of the devices that we sell. So we are a target across the country for those devices. We had been doing a variety of classroom-type training and video training, and we found that our leaders running the stores still did not have the confidence. When faced with a robbery, they weren’t always remembering what they needed to do. So even with lots of training, and a binder, you kind of froze and didn’t necessarily know what to do.
That was a problem that our HR business partners, our Head of Safety and Security and I wanted to tackle together. Through all the work that we had done, understanding the power of VR, we thought this was a perfect scenario to build the muscle memory and confidence.
We could never really replicate in a traditional instructor-led training the robbery experience in a way that didn’t feel phony. Folks would laugh. You just couldn’t act like a real robbery. So we thought this had all the ingredients for VR.
We engaged HR business partners who helped us with the scenarios. Our Head of Safety and Security was also heavily involved with his staff. We use a video footage that we had from real robberies to create the different types of scenarios.
We looked for the most common types of scenarios and decided to spend our time, money, and effort on educating for three areas store openings, store closings and mid-day snatch-and-grab types of robbery. It’s really based on all the data and the real things we were experiencing that we created an approach to learning.
That’s great. I’d love to switch gears a little bit and understand more about the impact to your employees themselves. I’m sure it’s a wide demographic, a lot of different folks, especially on the retail side. Can you talk about the rollout plan that you use to drive maximum employee engagement?
We started with a trial as we were rolling out a large leadership academy for our retail store leaders. We decided to couple their safety training with the VR experience. We had about 1500 of them involved in the face-to-face experience. They got some instructional content; then they experienced the VR. We’d stop and have them debrief what they learned.
The overall reaction was very interesting.
They could feel their hearts were racing. They felt like they had experienced a robbery.
In the first instance, many of them recognized, “I wasn’t completely following what I should have. I missed certain things that I should have been looking for.” But by the time they got to the third one, the amount of confidence that they gained was astronomical, because they had three experiences to apply what they were learning. They can feel themselves getting more confident as each one progresses.
That was really one of the things that we were looking for. What’s the confidence that you have? You don’t have time in those situations to really stop and think about what you need to do. We saw great growth in terms of confidence, and we also saw that they were doing the right things with each progressive scenario.
As they debriefed, they talked about what we should focus on. We know we should focus on the safety of ourselves, our team members, and our customers — not the inventory. We wanted to make sure that they knew that the inventory is replaceable, but you’re not.
It was incredibly high impact. We don’t want to have to have a robbery to know if we achieve the desired results. The measure of success for us is the confidence and the ability to apply it if you had to, along with seeing progression of them doing the right things.
I would agree that measuring the confidence and sentiment for employees is really kind of the key in leveraging experiences like this. Any other practices or tips that you kind of learned along the way?
For us, it was trialing it to make sure that it works. Before I endeavor into something massive, I would want to try it out. We try to do that with just about everything that we do, so we can work the kinks out. We thought we might just be using this with leaders going forward. But to a leader they said, we’ve got to do this with our frontline reps as well. So that is actually our plan. We are now building kits that we will be sending to our stores.
We’ve worked really closely with your team, and we have a learning logistics team who have been building the kits that will get delivered to our stores. We have local learning delivery teams that will work with them as they receive the kits, but it should be pretty straightforward how to use the equipment, then box it back up and send it back. There have been a lot of logistics involved in making that happen. We’re not yet ready to have a VR headset or two sitting inside every store, so these are going to be traveling tests. As we continue to expand the use of VR for various things within our doors, we’ll look at whether we’re at the point where we’ll just always have equipment in the stores. We should be hitting in the tens of thousands of employees, and all of our retail locations, between May and the end of the year with this training.
Last question for you. What’s been the impact of Strivr to you personally?
Working with Strivr’s been a wonderful experience. We feel like we’re working with one of the best in the industry and advancing this technology for learning. I had been on a mission internally and also externally to ensure that we use VR and AR and for all the right reasons. I do not want VR to become the next new learning, where we just overuse it or use it for the wrong thing. I think there are very specific instances in which VR is a tremendous solution. And I’m advocating for keeping us all pretty pure inside my business, but also as an industry.