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Using Virtual Role-Play to Solve Training Problems
How Do You Train Employees to Think on Their Feet?

By Tonya Goth Simmons / June 2010

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Using Virtual Role-Play to Solve Training Problems

How Do You Train Employees to Think on Their Feet?

June 8, 2010

Recently, Lisa Neal Gualtieri (the editor-in-chief of this publication) posted a blog entry titled "It's a training problem." In the post, she detailed her frustrations with her telecommunications provider, wherein after she was given incorrect information regarding previous outages and the possibility of having to replace her phones, she was told, "It's a training problem."

I actually see two customer service "training problems" here. First, the original representative should have been better trained to properly respond to the problems Lisa was having. Second, the second rep should have also been better trained to respond to Lisa's service complaint. "It's a training problem" is a cop-out response by an employee who didn't know how to handle the situation.

So the question is, how do you train customer service reps or other employees to think on their feet, to provide satisfactory—or even exemplary—service to potentially irate customers? And better yet, how do you know they are applying the training correctly?

Virtual Role-Play
Enter virtual role-playing, where learners can listen to a customer question or comment, record their response to the customer, and then play back the conversation to evaluate their performance.

Used either within an e-learning course or as a supplemental session, these activities can be designed to test learners at several levels. Learners can practice scripted responses to common customer service scenarios, answer a few questions to get help in formulating the appropriate response, or follow prompts about the appropriate points to include or potential pitfalls to avoid and create their own responses. Learners can record and play back their responses as many times as necessary until they feel they can respond appropriately every time. Each attempt by a learner is reported to the learning management system, where a training coach or the learner's supervisor can review them as well.

Although initially developed with call centers in mind, virtual role-playing activities have applications in sales, customer service, employee development, or any situation where learners are being trained to interact verbally with people. Listening to their own recordings and practicing as often as they want gives the learners an opportunity to evaluate their progress. After a few of these sessions, a trainee might say, "Wow, I didn't realize I said 'um' so often," or "That still didn't sound very convincing." Additionally, the coach or supervisor can listen to each attempt and determine if any further practice or training is needed.

How to Develop a Role-Playing Training Session
Developing a virtual role-playing activity is similar to creating most other types of learning sessions.

First, identify skills that the learner needs, for example, handling angry customers, closing a sale, or dealing with a problematic employee. Difficult situations where the learner might be caught off-guard or feel unsure how to respond tend to be ideal for role-playing.

Next, come up with specific situations that the learners are likely to encounter on the job where they will need to use these skills. Particularly for the call center industry, these scenarios could be based on previously recorded interactions with actual customers, both those whom were handled well, which could be presented as "best practice" examples, and those whom were treated poorly, which could be presented to the learner as an opportunity to apply the newly learned skills.

For each situation, define the "right answers" for the skills being taught. This might be a single response or a series of steps (customer interactions) that the learner should take to arrive at the desired outcome: a customer who is happy because a problem has been resolved or a closed sale that meets the customer's need. Also define the answers that a learner might provide, and build in feedback to explain why each answer is either the correct response or not the best way to handle the situation. Feedback might be coaching audio from the narrator or a "real" response from the character, who responds in the same way that an actual customer might.

Often the best virtual role-playing activities include a combination of questions to guide the learner in a particular direction, a record-and-playback segment that gives the learner a chance to practice, and then feedback on what the learner's recording should or should not have included.

Provide an example of how an "expert" might have handled the situation, then give the learners a chance to repeat the interaction so that they can immediately put what they've learned into practice, until they are satisfied with their responses. The activity can even be divided into two sections: one where the learner is guided and prompted to the proper way to handle the scenario, and a second with a similar scenario where the learner must "go it alone" to see if they can apply the lesson without prompting.

Virtual role-playing activities and other business simulations allow trainers to put their employees in learning environments that match the job conditions as closely as possible, which allows them to practice skills in the same way they will be using them on the job. One of our customers' employees attributed his biggest sale ever to the knowledge he gained from e-learning courses, especially those with scenarios where he had to practice.

What elements should a good virtual role play contain to solve your training problems?

About the Author
Tonya Goth Simmons is a project developer at Phasient Learning Technologies in Ames, Iowa, an eLearning company whose eLearning authoring tool includes Virtual Role Play(TM) technology. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.


  • Thu, 08 Oct 2015
    Post by Chandan Dev

    Nice post. i would like to add while using simulations use watch-try-do strategy , where they can watch the steps involved in working with customer, try the steps with online guidance and finally, attempt to perform the task on their own.