This article was originally published in Field Technologies Online

Albert Einstein once said that opportunity lies in the middle of difficulty. The “new normal” of business that emerged in a highly disruptive 2020 demonstrated the growing potential to make workplaces in nearly every industry safer, more efficient and more responsive to customer needs.

There is no question we have arrived in this new era more quickly than expected. For example, one study by management consultant McKinsey & Company noted that while roughly 33% of customer interactions were digital in December 2019, this figure had increased to 58% in July of 2020. Set against previous trends, this amounted to a three-year acceleration in just six months.

It is intuitive that if employees and workers are set to interact with more customers digitally in the future, their training should also be digital. But there’s much more to it than that. Our clients at SightCall have found that augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven training empowers workers to gain hands-on skills, validating research that technology-driven, experiential learning can improve retention rates up to 75%. Cultivating more self-sufficient workers cut down on multiple visits to a job site, allowing them to be guided by a remote expert through solutions in real time. A more immediate, cost-effective training model emerges as a result, all by incorporating the single technological solution of an integrated video calling platform.

To start, there is ample evidence to suggest immersive instruction offers greater benefits than traditional, classroom-based teaching, unleashing more confident, agile employees. One consultant who has worked with small and mid-sized manufacturers shared with IndustryWeek that, regardless of the learning style of the engineers, machinists and assembly technicians he trained, classroom instruction frequently resulted in distractions and low information retention. In order for the concepts to penetrate the brain’s frontal cortex, he said, workers needed to go to a machine in the shop and learn kinesthetically. The consultant called it “learning by doing.”

Indeed, the more that technicians can learn skills on the job, the less time they need to spend in classroom instruction or buried in training manuals. As Training magazine observed in 2017, the average small business spent up to $1 million a year on training budgets, with some $1,886 spent per worker. Significant potential exists for companies to overcome the negative effect on their bottom lines and get back to more productive activities while turning to technology.

In early 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic raging, movements restricted and safety concerns paramount, industrial fire protection manufacturer Fike partnered with us through their Salesforce customer relationship manager to remotely train junior technicians. Using SightCall’s high-definition video calling sessions launched through Salesforce work orders, expert technicians guided their peers through troubleshooting issues on machines. With universal reliability and ease-of-use, even skeptics of the idea of virtual assistance found great satisfaction in completing work orders quickly – and in getting the job done themselves. Furthermore, Fike increased the size and scale of their technician workforce and improved service results.

The experience of GE Healthcare, which is integrated with ServiceMax CRM, offers another example. This company employs SightCall in multiple geographic regions to maintain and repair product families of medical imaging and ultrasound machines, which a trial had found were most responsive to remote-guided repairs. Even relatively-inexperienced technicians could troubleshoot machines in a matter of hours – rather than days prior to SightCall’s implementation – with the aid of touchless capabilities, high-definition picture and optical character recognition that reads and feeds back data to the work order or internal product search engine. With a reduction of repetitive tasks, toggling back and forth between several devices and repeat trips, workers’ minds absorb the details of a job that matter, and take away pivotal lessons for next time.

Streamlined processes and smarter workers produce a greater engagement within companies, and drive results that reinforce the bottom line. There is no better place to start than at the beginning, and introducing AI and AR into training processes prepares businesses and their workers for the exciting digital future upon us.