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The 10 Most Challenging Funeral Home Phone Calls of 2016

The 10 Most Challenging Funeral Home Phone Calls of 2016

Dec 29, 2016

At ASD, we are often the first point of contact for people who are at their most vulnerable moments. One of the first lessons Call Specialists learn during ASD's six-month training program is the range of emotions they may encounter on a daily basis. We recognize our employees when they go above and beyond on a call to ensure a funeral director is able to connect with a family member or loved one in need. Every week, ASD presents one of our Call Specialists with the “Sensitive Save of the Week” Award for helping to make “life’s most difficult call” a little bit easier for a family contacting a funeral home.

By utilizing their own intuition in combination with the right phrases and follow up questions, our Call Specialists can ensure that a funeral home does not miss an opportunity to serve a family in need. The “Sensitive Save Award” also provides an opportunity to examine difficult calls so our staff can use the transcript as a model going forward.

To kick off the New Year, we've taken a look back at our most difficult calls handled this year to create our list of ASD's 10 Most Challenging Calls of 2016:

1. To be hired by ASD, every employee must pass an auditory recall test that assesses his or her listening skills. This is especially critical at ASD as there are many challenges that could arise on any call. Earlier this year, our Advanced Call Specialist, Corrine, handled an especially difficult call from a gentleman who sounded as though he was in a crowded room. The caller asked Corrine if the funeral home was open and she explained that the office was closed but the directors could always be reached. In a muffled tone, the caller stated he would call back on Monday. Corrine followed up by asking if the call was related to a recent passing. The caller responded after a long pause, “No, not yet, I just need information.” This was barely audible above the voices in the background. The caller began speaking to other people in the room and Corrine could hear words in the background such as “cremation” and “hospice” and inferred that someone was very close to passing. She immediately told the caller, “There is a director available to assist you. What is the phone number where you can be reached right now.” This statement let the caller know that he would be hearing back from someone right away. He then provided his contact information. Corrine was given the “Sensitive Save of the Week” award for the careful listening skills she exhibited throughout this challenging call. Despite the many distractions, she was able to understand the situation immediately and persuade the caller to remain on the line.

2. It is very common for undecided families to go down a list of funeral home names to get pricing information. ASD Call Specialists are trained to anticipate these calls and have learned how to persuade callers to remain on the line to leave their information. In March, our Call Specialist, Stephen, answered a call from a gentleman who stated he needed a price quote. When Stephen explained that the directors were out of the office, but always reachable, the caller said he probably wouldn’t be home to answer the phone since he was going over to the hospice center. Stephen quickly assured the caller, “I can reach someone immediately so you won’t have to wait for a call back. If you could just hold the line for one moment while I get the director on the line.” Stephen then contacted the on-call directly and patched him through to the caller, allowing the funeral home to serve the family without delay. Stephen received the "Sensitive Save of the Week" for recognizing the potential value of this pricing call for the funeral home and taking immediate action to ensure the director could connect with the caller.

3. When a person is grieving, they are often too overwhelmed to know what steps need to be taken, especially if the loss was unexpected. In some cases, it can be hard for close relatives to think rationally. Earlier this year, our Assistant Supervisor, James, handled a call for a gentleman who lost his father. Rather than calling the funeral home directly, the gentleman called the local police department’s non-emergency number because he believed the hospital was going to cremate his father’s body without the family’s consent. After the police dispatcher explained the situation, James asked her to patch him through to the gentleman. When the caller came on the line, it was clear that he was very upset. James gently provided his condolences to the caller and assured him that the funeral director would be able to walk him through everything. The caller was extremely anxious and worried about how to arrange for services, but James helped put him at ease by listening carefully, using a sympathetic voice and providing reassurances throughout the call. James was recognized by ASD for offering care and support throughout this challenging call.

4. At ASD, our Call Specialists know they must be prepared for every type of call and that in some extreme cases, the person calling may be in a state of shock. In May, our Call Specialist, Brenda, answered a call from a gentleman who immediately exclaimed, “I think my brother is dead! He’s on the floor. I don’t know what to do.” The caller was hysterical and Barbara immediately offered her condolences and assurances. After gathering his contact information and a few other details about the situation, she asked the gentleman if he had contacted the police. The caller said he had called 9-1-1 and did not get an answer. Recognizing that this caller was in shock and needed someone to walk him through this process, Barbara asked the caller if he could hold for just a moment while she got the funeral director on the line. She then contacted the on-call director, explained the situation and immediately connected the call. Barbara was given the “Sensitive Save of the Week” award for responding to this distraught caller with compassion and empathy. By recognizing the gravity of this call, she was able to ensure no time was wasted in connecting this gentleman to the director on call.

5. One of the greatest gifts ASD Call Specialists can offer is the gift of reassurance. Many people calling a funeral home just need to be reassured that they are following the right steps and that their needs are a high priority. Two phrases we hear very often during First Calls are “I don’t know what I am doing” and “I don’t want to bother anybody.” Earlier this year, our Training Specialist, Karen, answered a call from a woman who wanted to know when the funeral home would reopen. After providing office hours, the woman said she would call back. This led Karen to inquire if the call was in reference to a passing. The caller responded, “yes it is, but I can wait until 9am.” Karen immediately assured the caller that there were directors on call who were always available to be contacted. The woman then revealed that her mother had passed and that she had never planned a funeral. In a sympathetic tone, Karen assured her that the funeral director was always available for family members and would be able to walk her through everything. Karen was recognized by ASD for earning the trust of this caller, gathering her contact information and helping her understand that her needs were very important to the funeral home.

6. While most deaths in America occur within a medical facility or at a residence, there are some instances when a person will pass away in a public place. Over the summer, our Client Solutions Representative, Margarite, answered an early morning call from a woman wanting to know the funeral home’s office hours. When the caller realized she was on a different time zone, she stated that she would call back, but Margarite quickly assured her that a funeral director was always reachable. The caller then explained that her father had passed away unexpectedly while on an airplane. She was trying to coordinate for his remains to be transported back home, but did not know what steps to take. She also had concerns about making plans from out of state. Margarite helped the caller feel more at ease by explaining that the director would be able to assist her with all of the necessary details and walk her through the process. By providing caring reassurances to the caller, Margarite was able to help make this stressful situation a little easier for the family. She received our “Sensitive Save of the Week” award for the compassion and attentiveness she exhibited throughout this sensitive call.

7. At ASD, our Call Specialists understand the importance of a pricing-related call. Our operators are trained to anticipate these calls and to provide assurances to callers to help them feel comfortable providing their information. Earlier this year, our Call Specialist, Richard, answered a call from a woman who was calling from a crowded room. The caller asked if the funeral home offered payment arrangements. “If I may ask, were you calling to report a passing to the funeral home,” Richard inquired. The caller then revealed her friend’s husband passed at home and she was calling to get information on behalf of the family. Richard assured the caller he understood her needs and that a funeral director would able to assist her without delay. This led the caller to provide all of her contact details. By listening carefully and providing reassurances throughout the call, Richard was able to earn the trust of this caller. He was recognized by ASD for understanding the importance of this pricing call and ensuring the funeral director was made aware immediately.

8. At ASD, our Call Specialist must be able to adapt to challenging telecommunication issues that can make handling calls much more difficult. In September, our Training Specialist, Barbara, handled a call from a woman who had a terrible cell phone connection. The phone was breaking up, so Barbara listened closely to try to identify the woman’s reason for calling. When the caller stated she owned a plot at the funeral home’s onsite cemetery, it led Barbara to inquire if a death had recently occurred. The caller answered yes, and Barbara was able to gather the rest of her information as the telephone connection improved. By listening closely and verifying important information, she was able to gather all of the First Call details for the director. Barbara received our “Sensitive Save of the Week” award for handling the audio challenges of this call with patience and professionalism.

9. At ASD, our Call Specialists are specifically trained to ask critical follow up questions when a caller makes a vague statement that suggests that a death may have recently occurred. Earlier this year, our Call Specialist, Amy, answered a call from a woman who said she needed to speak to someone about life insurance. The caller’s tone sounded very casual and after Amy gathered her contact details, she asked the caller if she needed insurance information for future preplanning. The woman hesitated a moment before responding, “yes, and burial assistance.” This led Amy to inquire if a death had recently occurred and the caller then revealed that her mother had passed away several days ago and she was calling multiple funeral homes to find out if they could assist her. Amy assured the caller that a director could answer her questions immediately. The woman then became very emotional and confided in Amy that her father had also recently passed and she herself was suffering from cancer. Amy gently expressed to the caller how sorry she was to hear she was going through such a difficult time and assured her that someone would be in touch without delay. Amy was recognized by ASD for recognizing the urgency of this call and providing caring reassurances to the bereaved daughter.

10. Many funeral directors operate both a funeral home and a cemetery. A portion of ASD’s extensive training program is dedicated to understanding how to correctly identify which office a caller needs. In many cases, a caller will state that their call is for the cemetery when in reality they need the assistance of a funeral director. Last month, our Training Specialist, Samantha, answered a call from a woman who asked to speak with someone in the cemetery office about payments for a mausoleum she owned. After gathering the caller’s contact information, Samantha gently inquired if someone had recently passed. This led the caller to reveal that her sister had just lost a baby and she was trying to find out the cost of burying an infant. Samantha immediately expressed her condolences and assured the caller that someone would be in touch with her immediately to answer those questions. Samantha received our “Sensitive Save of the Week” award for ensuring the funeral home had an opportunity to connect with the family immediately. Rather than just assuming this was a routine bill payment call for the cemetery, she followed up to confirm the true reason for the call.

Click here to read about last year’s most difficult calls

If you've ever listened to a call by an ASD Call Specialist and wanted to acknowledge him or her for an excellent job, it's easy to leave us feedback and we always appreciate hearing what you think. You can use our CareTracker feature to send us instant feedback on any call. Simply press 7 while listening to the call to leave a recorded message for the Call Specialist. If you're on ASD's website reviewing a message, you'll see an option on the right-hand side to leave a comment for any call we handle, or if you're using ASD Mobile simply tap the Smiley Face icon at the bottom of each message. You can also let a supervisor know anytime if you believe a Call Specialist deserves special recognition for a call.


About The Author

Jess Fowler

Jess Fowler is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD's company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at

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