At Central, our top priority is maintaining positive relationships with our agents, policyholders, and employees. Every move we make is an effort to improve the experience of these vital individuals. Whether we’re honing our product offerings to meet policyholders’ changing needs, re-configuring employee benefits to exceed evolving industry standards, or adjusting our catalog of services to better align with our agents’ preferred areas of business, Central is dedicated to a business model based in exceptional customer service.
While this dedication has been the crux of our business model since Central’s inception in 1876, the practice of heightened customer service is becoming a crucial component of business-consumer relationships across industries today.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, 50% of U.S. consumers report prioritizing customer service more highly than before when deciding whether or not they want to do business with a brand. Similarly, 80% of consumers generally feel more emotionally connected to brands with customer service teams dedicated to solving their problems.
So how can you start investing in customer service within your organization?
In this article, we explore the H.E.A.T. model of customer service—a tried and true method for tackling a difficult customer service situation—and offer some expert tips for improving customer service in your business.
The H.E.A.T. Customer Service Model: 4 Steps to Success
The first step in the H.E.A.T. approach is to “Hear” the customer out.
Though this isn’t always easy to do, the customer will feel better in the end because you gave them time to voice their concerns. Letting someone vent and listening to what they’re upset about is also key to making a connection and getting the customer to work with rather than against you to find a solution.
Try to “Empathize” with the customer and put yourself in their shoes. Look beyond their words to what they’re feeling in the moment.
Practice naming their emotions and repeating them back to the customer so they recognize you are taking the time to understand their perspective. Try: “I understand you’re frustrated, and I can see why. I would be too.”
By showing your customer you relate to their mindset, you can begin to defuse the situation.
After empathizing, the H.E.A.T model suggests “Apologizing” to the customer.
This is an important step to remember, even if you did not personally create the situation that’s making the customer angry. You must do your best to apologize on behalf of the organization while also taking on ownership of the mistake.
Keep in mind that while you didn’t do whatever it is that’s bothering them, your company did, and you’re a team.
Heaslip adds, “a simple ‘I’m sorry’ can go a long way in smoothing over situations like these. Stand united, and take the H.E.A.T. for your team. Hopefully, your team members will do the same for you when the tables are turned. After all, we all make mistakes.”
The final and perhaps most crucial step in the H.E.A.T. customer service model is “Taking Action.” Always make sure you have an action plan ready to follow your apology.
How are you going to fix the problem? What can the customer expect next?
Even if you can’t promise their issue will be fully resolved, be sure you let them know the steps you plan to take to try and help, who they can expect to hear from next, and what they can do in the meantime.
Customer Service Tips for Insurance Carriers
Unlike customer service for a product or brand, “the customer service team at Central typically interacts with customers who have an urgent need or are in some kind of trouble,” says Heidi Smith, commercial lines services supervisor at Central Insurance.
Whether they’ve experienced a car accident, house fire, natural catastrophe, or another form of loss, these individuals often face time-sensitive, unexpected circumstances that are causing distress or high emotion.
For that reason, customer service teams need to be prepared to handle these conversations with the utmost care and sensitivity.
Always remember to be kind, clear, and direct with the customer in these situations, as they are likely feeling overwhelmed by the scope of the problem at hand. You should also demonstrate your investment in their safety and care by providing clear and actionable next steps and following up as often as possible to ensure their needs are being met.
Finally, remember to treat every customer like a person. If you feel so inclined, extend your condolences as you would to anyone you’ve encountered who has just suffered a loss. Be sure to note the tone of the response, and adjust your future interactions as needed.
The Central Difference
Hospitality and excellence are two of Central’s core values, and our customer service team works to embody those values with every customer interaction.
“We are here for the customer when they need us the most,” Smith says. “Insurance is not something tangible. They can’t feel what they’re paying for. But when they need us, they call, and that’s where we can step in and show them our value.”
In many cases, this value includes being a comforting ear for someone experiencing an issue, but may also require the team to be proactive.
“In order to be exceptional we need to anticipate,” Smith says. “We know whoever’s on the line needs something, but we want to go beyond what they called for that day and anticipate what that next step might be.”
Suppose a customer calls expressing frustration with the mailing billing system, for example. In that case, the customer service team is ready to provide solutions, including directing them to Central’s extensive online billing and policy options.
“Our staff is trained to evaluate the situation at hand and consider what the next step might be, then execute on that in a way that will best benefit the customer,” Smith says.
Note: This article was originally published in July 2015. It has since been updated for accuracy.