Great customer service is an art, and Walmart wants to create masterpieces. The company announced plans to incorporate virtual reality into its employee training by the end of the year.
Already crushing it in terms of employee training, Walmart has 200 “Walmart Academy” training centers around the country. These centers host two to six week courses to teach Walmart employees advanced retail skills and set them up for career advancement.
They’re now taking orientation to the next level, partnering with Strivr, the VR company that has previously helped NFL players train.
The curriculum will involve new Walmart employees donning Oculus Rift headsets while navigating various real-world scenarios.
Employees will have to make simple choices based on their encounters.
While virtual reality training simulators aren’t a new concept — they’re frequently used in military training or industrial labor — they are new to the retail world, and could be quite a game-changer for the industry. Customer-facing roles involve endless unpredictable interactions that can make or break a brand’s reputation. Retail customer experience is a fluorescently-lit battlefield.
With VR training, newbies can get real-world experience without compromising operations or pissing off real-world customers.
During VR training, employees will be faced with scenarios like spills or overwhelming Black Friday crowds that would be wasteful and expensive to physically re-create. Not only are their decisions recorded — computer vision maps their every move, so management will know if an employee is looking in the right places and has actually seen the stimuli they are supposed to respond to.
In an example scenario, an employee must survey an area, locate a spill, and answer a multiple-choice question about the possible consequences the spill could cause in the store.
The program will begin as a pilot, but Walmart intends to eventually expand the training not just to its training centers, but its 5000+ stores, as well. Why not roll out VR training across the board right away?
The equipment costs too much and takes up too much space. This limitations make a large scale program difficult to pull off, even for an industry leader like Walmart. Therefore, the training process supports only one person at a time, with other people watching on a flat screen.
Each session ranges from 5 to 20 minutes.
Every employee will get to experience the VR over the course of the training, which lasts two weeks. VR will just be a small, really cool part of a larger overall training program, for now.
Potential for necessity
However, as VR technology advances and becomes more accessible, it could become an integral part of Walmart store operations. Strivr CEO Derek Belch has high hopes for a day when every store is equipped with mobile headsets, and employees undergo monthly trainings with VR modules.
Once Walmart kicks off its VR initiatives, other retail companies are sure to follow suit. Pretty soon, employees won’t dread Black Friday — they’ll cruise through it with ease, for it’s the video game they’ve been rigorously to beat.