Immersive empathy training to reduce conflict during disruption in the rail industry





Winner of the ‘People, Skills, and Diversity’ award at the 2024 Rail Innovation Awards

In 2023, we ran our first official CGA Empathy LAB®, an immersive learning approach to building team empathy for customers, in collaboration with Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry and The Rail Delivery Group. The goal was to test the power of empathy training using immersive content and delivery techniques, and to provide staff members with easily applicable skills they could put into practice in potential conflict or emotional situations at work to improve both the staff and customer experience.


98.46% of participants felt more confident in diffusing or preventing potential conflict as a consequence of the Empathy LAB.

-Post training feedback survey 2023



When staff at Chiltern Railways and CrossCountry were asked whether they had ever had to diffuse or prevent conflict at work, most attending the CGA Empathy LAB® said yes. However, few had confidence in what to do in such circumstances.

The complexity of, and the reliance customers have upon the rail network, creates a perfect storm for conflict and confrontation. The nature of the environment means that these incidents are possible at the best of times. However, the current backdrop is one where customers have experienced increasing fares, reduced services, industrial action and wider societal pressures and anxieties. This has an impact both on customer and staff wellbeing.

The goal of the training was to provide staff members with the insights, tools, and skills they need to understand the customers’ perspective with a view to diffusing or avoiding conflict occurrence, making customers feel safe and reassured, and ultimately improving both customer and staff experiences. The desired outcomes were increased customer satisfaction and trust; reduced verbal and physical incidents; reduced complaints and staff absences; as well as improved ratings, employee engagement and staff retention.




The CGA Empathy LAB® was structured around five key topics that could be applied in highly emotional situations, from empathy to self-awareness, active listening to understanding core emotional drivers.

We then used our custom-designed immersive learning approach, balanced with team discussions and human support, to help staff members step into the shoes of different customers. By seeing situations from an alternative perspective they were able to develop the skills to manage their own behaviours, and to control difficult, challenging or emotionally charged situations. These perspectives included those that might be different from their own, for example that of someone with autism, vision impairment, ADHD and Alzheimer’s.

The interactive learning delivery process is designed across a series of workstations to make sure individuals feel they develop the tools and techniques to feel in control of a situation and de-escalate any potential conflict, whilst also leaving customers feeling supported and staff less exposed to abuse or aggression. For example, it included an avatar to allow learners to make decisions, practise their skills and experience how they come across from another person’s perspective.




This was the first time augmented and virtual reality has been used in this way in the rail industry, and we were keen to see the benefits of an atypical learning environment and whether they were superior to traditional learning.

Almost all learners rated augmented and virtual reality as a highlight of the training. They said it felt true to the scenarios they have experienced or could experience at work, and that it gave them a safe way to learn and practice techniques. They also highlighted that it was more engaging and enjoyable than traditional role-play scenarios. Notably, we had learners with ADHD, dyslexia and partial sightedness attend the training, all of whom felt this was a much better approach for them than a typical PowerPoint or classroom-based method.

As a result of the training, many learners identified ways in which they would change the way they handle customers. For example, one staff member said they would: “Respond more empathetically when dealing with distressed customers – manage my judgement of individuals and not respond based on what they look like.”

Overall, 100% of those who attended said they felt engaged throughout the session. Many commented that the training would be especially helpful for new starters. Going forward we will continue to monitor the success of the training over time and across longer-term metrics such as staff absences and incident levels.

It's a way of making our training even more engaging, making it as real as possible and giving colleagues that experience of being in the moment, seeing how they would handle that situation.

Richard AllanManaging Director of Children Railways

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