How Farmers Insurance Transformed Its Employee-Training Program Using Virtual Reality

By harnessing virtual reality, businesses are saving thousands in training-related costs. Read how Farmers Insurance is using VR to train claims representatives, giving them "hands-on" practice while saving thousands in travel costs.

Employee training is a significant expense, especially within large organizations. But by harnessing the latest technologies, such as virtual reality (VR), businesses are saving thousands in training-related costs.

One company going all in on virtual reality is Farmers Insurance. In just 10 months, the organization has invested $400,000 in VR-training technology. And with more than 50 new hires successfully trained it may have set a new precedent. As the program rolls out, the insurance giant expects to save up to $300,000 per year in travel costs.

Here’s a look at how and why Farmers is taking the VR leap.

Accelerating Buy-In

According to Jessica Decanio, Farmers’ director of claims training, C-suite buy-in was surprisingly simple. By involving stakeholders from the onset, key executives in the claims and finance departments could see how the training technology would generate benefits far beyond just cutting costs.

Once they saw it as a differentiator in the market and an opportunity to maintain a competitive advantage, “it wasn’t too hard of a sell for them,” Decanio said.

The insurance giant began looking at VR as a training option in 2015, when the technology was generating buzz but opted out due to the prohibitive cost. Yet two years later, when one of Farmers’ internal departments, the Innovation Lab, came to the team at the company’s University of Farmers Claims training center to reopen VR talks, executives were more open to the idea — and its necessary investment.

“We always thought it would be a tool to accelerate our learning curve for the claims reps,” Decanio said. “The time was right to invest in and try a new method of training.”

For Decanio and her team, VR training was an optimal way for claims reps to quickly gain hands-on practice. “A key part of the learning curve is to collect experiences, get out in the field, and see more and handle more,” Decanio said. “Every claim is another experience that helps the next claim.”

From a training and development standpoint, anything Decanio and her team could use to help the claims representatives capture experiences faster would ultimately serve as a higher return-on-training investment.

Delivering the “Wow” Factor

Farmers’ VR training, developed by Talespin, allows prospective claims adjusters to “experience” a visit to a client’s home and assess potential damages, such as water leaks or fire wreckage.

By strapping on a VR headset, trainees are transported to a simulated house where they can investigate damages. “To see the water on the bathroom floor,” Decanio explained, “you have to literally get down on your knees and bend down near the tub to see where the water is coming from.”

The best part for the training administrators? “There are no shortcuts in the module; you have to do everything you would do as if you were in the customer’s house,” Decanio explained.

The VR training is comprised of six different floor plans and more than 500 damage combinations, resulting in thousands of potential claims scenarios. In each, adjusters can pause in the middle of the training and ask their managers questions.

Part of what keeps trainees engaged is the gamification experience built into the program. “There’s a fun aspect of having something that people want to engage in while learning at the same time,” Decanio said. There are different settings based on the level of claims knowledge, as well as scores on performance.

Those in the training program will even find Easter eggs — hidden objects or jokes found throughout the house if they look hard enough. Trainees can discover something new each time they go through a scenario, such as a book with a funny title or a pair of headphones on a table that, if they put their ears to it, will play that catchy Farmers jingle.

Decanio reported that the most common reaction from anyone undertaking the training is simply, “Wow.”

“There’s a fun aspect of having something that people want to engage in while learning at the same time.”
— Jessica Decanio, Farmers Insurance’s director of claims training

Leveling Up

With the success of the training program so far, Farmers is beginning to explore how virtual reality can influence other parts of the organization. For instance, recruitment teams could enable prospective employees to experience what the job is like before they’re hired.

Yet, for now, Decanio and her team are happy to explore not only how the technology better arms Farmers employees but also how this preparation impacts those filing claims.

“This technology helps our claims reps when they’re on the job,” Decanio said. “[And that] has a big impact on the customer experience.”