Service personnel is responsible for all of the service related activities on the train platforms. Being dressed representative they also form a landmark and thus a point of contact for other travellers in need of train-departures and arrivals information. Amongst one of their responsibilities is the provision of assistance to passengers with disabilities in getting safely on and off board the trains. Not something to take light-heartedly, since it enables all people, no matter their limitations or disability, to independently travel throughout the Netherlands. Wheelchair- and mobility scooter-users are absolutely dependent on company assistance to get on and off board the train, since a special bridge needs to be installed on top of the train steps for them to safely access or leave the train. Service-employees have to pay attention to correctly install bridge and give assistance with on/off boarding, while being alert as to what happens on the platform. An excellent opportunity to practice customer service and communication skills under pressure.
In the VR-based training for NS-service personnel there are three levels. In the first level you will get acquainted with the smart, interactive virtual actor, played by Anna, a nice lady in a wheel chair, that is a tad nervous for her journey. This level is all about getting comfortable with the procedure of onboarding a wheelchair-user. You can move around in the scene, talk to Anna and place the wheelchair bridge when the train has arrived. Anna understands what you say and will talk back and reacts to what you say and do. Or don’t say and do!
In the second level you have to get Anna safe and happy on board of the train again, following the safety procedures. At the same time your service-communication skills are assessed; do you set her at ease, show your interest and keep the conversation going? Do you tell her what you are about to do before acting on it? Practicing your service oriented skills in a VR environment will make you experience the context ‘as if you are there for real’.
The third and highest level requires you to go through the same scenario; you will have to get Anna safe, sound and happy on board of the train. This time though you will be faced with some challenges: The train is late, causing Anna to get a bit anxious. You need to reassure her so she does not get upset. Meanwhile in the background your colleagues are requesting assistance for an emergency call elsewhere when suddenly you are startled by another traveller who is lost and approaches you for some travelling information. You should not get distracted from your initial task, to get Anna safe on the train, but beware: you have to stay friendly to all the virtual actors along the way!
In all levels of the training you will receive personal feedback from Anna and tips from a virtual coach how to improve. Anna will never get tired, so you can practise until you feel like a master of communicating under pressure!
”Anna will never get tired, so you can practise until you feel like a master of communicating
In August 2020, a pilot evaluation of the training system has been conducted in collaboration with Radboud University and TNO. During three sessions, a total of 30 employees of NS have tested the system, and both qualitative and quantitative feedback was gathered. The preliminary conclusion is that participants were generally very positive about the system, and even though they signalled various points for improvement they were particularly enthusiastic about the ability to engage with the virtual agents in an ‘open’ conversation using free speech. Furthermore, they confirmed that this type of training offers promising possibilities for training their personnel, in particular for new employees.
NS Travel assistance is an example of Iva; a platform for VR Communication Training. Natural speech recognition, non-verbal input, pose and gesture detection, AI controlled virtual humans; state of the art technology with the sole purpose of creating immersive conversations, to effectively train communication skills. Meet Iva.