How Farmers Insurance is Using Virtual Reality to Train Employees

In this article, we speak with Farmers Insurance about their virtual reality training program to train claims representatives for home damage assessments.

Practical VR Training

Photo: iStock

Farmers Insurance announced its deployment of a virtual reality training program to train claims representatives for home damage assessments on October 25th, 2017. We spoke with Jessica DeCanio, Head of the University of Farmers - Claims at Farmers Insurance who was part of the project team that developed the VR program.

Why did Farmers Insurance begin using VR to train employees?

One of the biggest challenges that we have with learning to become a claims adjuster is collecting enough experiences and getting through enough situations to a point that you’re able to apply that experience to the job. Technology has finally gotten to a point where we’re able to help that process with virtual reality.

We’re using virtual reality because of that combination of a real need to get claims adjusters as much experience as they can possibly get and then really staying aware of innovation in the technology sector. We have a group here at Farmers that run our Innovation Lab and they keep their eye on the horizon with all things going on with technology and how we can apply it at Farmers. We also keep an eye on what’s happening in the learning and development space.

Virtual reality in the training world has been snowballing over the last twelve months since we’ve been engaged in this project so those things came together at the right time. We decided to not just dip our feet in the water, but to dip our whole body in the pool to say: ‘’Let’s really try this.’’ It ended up working out well.

Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with the Innovation Lab and what that collaboration was like?

They’re an internal team within Farmers and they were seeing the advances in technology and applications around virtual reality. They knew the different equipment that you could use and they also had a finger on the pulse of the different organizations that were leading in this space, in addition to the price-point. They were keeping an eye on this landscape and they reached out to the University of Farmers, Claims and said: ‘’We think that we should partner here and see if this is a place where it makes sense for us to bring virtual reality to the organization.’’ We were two internal teams finding that match. They’ve been part of that project the entire way through. The project has been a combination between the Innovation Lab, the University of Farmers, our property claims business professionals and the external group, Talespin, a virtual reality software development company, that helped us with the build out.

Can you describe how you developed the program with them? What criteria did you use to choose a good technology partner?

For me, from the learning perspective, there were three things that were important. One, was that the organization could help us give the training the most realistic as possible environment that mimicked the real world. Since this is a hands-on job where claims representatives are going into people’s homes, we didn’t want it to be a distraction if they went into a virtual reality world that was cartoonish. We wanted it to be as realistic as possible so that they would feel that they were in a customer’s home.

Secondly, working with someone that would understand how complex it is in the claims decision-making process and that they would be willing to work with us to understand how we work.
The third thing we needed was a partner to help us build a sustainable program that can grow and evolve with the advances in technology because the technology keeps changing faster and faster it seems like every time I stick my head out, something has changed in this space. We really wanted to have a platform that would be able to grow and evolve with the technology. That’s what we’ve received with working with Talespin.

How are employees responding to VR learning? Have you been on the ground seeing how property claims representatives interact with it?

We have. We’ve been demoing it throughout the entire build so that employees could see what we’re building. We started using it fully for training this month, so we’ve had employees in Kansas City, the southern California area, and the Chicago area all use the VR module in their training program. We’ve received feedback from three different groups in particular that would be interested for an L&D audience. Supervisors have been exposed to it in order for them to see what their new hires would be experiencing.

The water-loss is the module we’ve developed teaching how you identify and decide how to mitigate a water- loss if you’re in a customer’s home. If the water- loss in the scenario that you enter is under the tub, if you’re in the virtual reality module, learners have to literally get down on their knees and look under the tub just as they would if they were in a home. Or if there is a water-leak under the cabinets in the kitchen, they have to open the cabinet door, bend down and look under the sink. It’s very realistic. Our supervisors were happy to see that there weren’t any shortcuts.

From our employees, probably the one word we heard the most was: ‘’Wow.’’ From a learning perspective, I was happy to hear that they wished that they had had this training earlier. For these pilot groups, we’re working with employees who have been on the job for about six to nine months and they gave us a lot of feedback about how they wished they could have had it as sooner in their training. They appreciated the opportunity to be able to slow down, think more about the decisions they were making, and also be able to ask questions in the moment.

We’ll continue to have a lot of field rides where trainees can go out with experienced claims reps on the job but the difficulty is that they’re in the customer's home, so they can’t ask a ton of questions right in the moment about why that claims rep is doing what they’re doing. They have to hold questions and ask a lot of them in the car. With virtual reality, as they’re going through the training, they’re able to pause and ask questions. That was something that we were happy to hear, that this module was helping them with that critical thinking process. The decisions that they’re making, the impacts that those could have on the customer, the impact that that could have on the quality, I think we’re getting into a much deeper thinking around the decisions that they’re making.

The third audience are facilitators. It’s not a stand-alone where we’re putting people in the headsets and saying: ‘’Go learn!’’ They still have someone facilitating the learning process. The facilitators have been excited about the ability to get into those deeper conversations about why you’re making the decisions that you’re making and to be able to answer more questions. To be a more well-built experience for them.

Currently we have two locations one in Grand Rapids and one in California where we have actual full-built physical environments that claims reps are able to go into. The difficulty with those is that it’s the same house every time and we damage it the same way every time. With the virtual reality platform, they can go into a different scenario every single time and we can have the water-leak be in a different room every single time. They’re getting much more of a collection of experiences before they ever go out into a customer’s home.

I noted from your press release that you worked with a team of property claims employees. Could you talk a bit about the importance of including staff who are knowledgeable on the subject area in the VR training development process?

We’ve had our property professionals involved in every aspect of building the module. They were involved in identifying even what type of training area we would develop. In fact, we settled on starting with water losses because that was a high enough training need that it made sense for us to use this new technology to address it.

They were part of the project team. They were involved throughout the entire build because when you’re building a virtual reality scenario, it’s similar to a video game and so you have to think through every single scenario that learners might approach and if they make one decision how does that impact what happens next? We had to have our employees involved in that design process so that we made sure we got it as close to reality as possible. And then it was a very agile build. So we would work with Talespin, get a version of it, and then we would pull our business partners back in and have them go through every iteration and keep on testing it until we got to a place where we felt comfortable using as a learning tool with our employees.

How will you evaluate the success of your VR training projects and what positive outcomes are you looking for?

We’re looking to shorten that learning curve. Virtual reality can help shorten how long it takes us to collect enough experiences. We’re also partnering with our quality team to look at the difference between people who aren’t using this technology and people who are. Since we’re just now piloting it, it’s a great opportunity for us to look at those two different audiences in an analytical way.
Also, as we look at bringing more and more millennials into our organization, they’re becoming more and more used to this type of platform in their day-to-day life as virtual reality becomes more mainstream. We’re making sure that we develop more cutting-edge, innovative ways for employees to learn. I think that will be huge in helping attract top talent.

Do you have any plans to develop any other VR training programs in the future?

The short answer is - yes. We are taking our time and rolling out this module and testing it to see if it yields the results that we think it will. We’re starting to brainstorm with different parts of the organization to see if there other learning needs that we can address with this tool.

This interview is part of the U.S. L&D Report 2018.

Download the full report below:

L&D report

What's included?

  • The employee training budgets, training topics, and training methods of organizations in 2018.
  • Practical advice from L&D leaders to help you adopt new technologies, nurture a learning culture, and measure and promote the value of workplace learning.
  • How learning professionals rate the executive engagement in learning, assess the impact of training and more!

U.S. L&D Report: 2018
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