Jun 17, 2014
By ASD Vice President and Family-Member Owner, Kevin Czachor.
Originally published in the June 2014 issue of ICCFA Magazine
In 2013, many funeral homes felt the impact of a cautious economic climate on their businesses. According to Citrin Cooperman’s 2013 Funeral Homes Survey of more than 200 funeral directors in the Northeast, there was virtually no change in average price structure between 2012 and 2013. This confirmedthat funeral professionals are cutting expenses and seeking more cost-effective solutions to boost their profitability.
One method funeral professionals are using to streamline operations is to create a comprehensive communication strategy. By taking an in-depth look at your current expenses, monitoring your telephone activity and utilizing technical tools in conjunction with your answering service, you can cut costs and communicate with the public more effectively.
Steps You Can Take
Research has found that the average independent funeral home is paying close to $165 per month for an answering service. Here are some of the ways funeral homes can decrease these costs without sacrificing the level of service families receive.
1. Pay Only for Incoming Calls
When an urgent call is dispatched to your funeral home’s on-call staff, how is the message retrieved? Answering services generally charge for both incoming calls and outgoing dispatches, but directors can greatly reduce or even eliminate outgoing calls from their service with technology.
Most services can send a text, email or push notification with the message details, allowing directors to respond with a few quick taps on their phone. Others provide a web portal or mobile app where all messages are accessible 24/7, giving the director on duty the flexibility to check in periodically rather than being contacted via phone each time a message is received. You can also curtail billable phone calls by updating your on-call instructions on the answering service’s website or mobile app.
For many funeral homes, using technology to retrieve messages and send on-call instructions may require a brief adjustment period. Therefore, it is essential for owners and managers to ensure their on-call employees understand the economic benefit of eliminating unnecessary calls from the answering service.
Some directors prefer to access and transmit information differently depending on their experience and comfort level with new technology. An answering service should be flexible enough to accommodate the needs of both your high-tech and low-tech employees. Scheduling a conference call between your staff and your service may help confirm everyone is on the same page.
2. Create a Strong Online Presence
A typical answering service invoice is determined by the funeral home’s call volume. Consider how often you are contacted with general inquires such as directions, service details or recommended florists. A large percentage of these routine calls can be avoided by creating a comprehensive and user-friendly website with answers to common questions.
According to Search Engine Land’s Local Consumer Review Survey, 85% of consumers are searching for local businesses online. This means that many of the people who call your funeral home have already looked online for the information they need. Designing a website that is mobile-friendly will help those who are on the go to quickly and easily find details they need from their smartphone or tablet. Adding a live chat button to your site will allow you to answer routine questions without requiring visitors to place a phone call. This option also provides you with a new medium for communicating news to the public.
Don’t have a budget for a fully custom-built website? There are several funeral website companies that do not charge anything to create a site and offer online revenue opportunities. Be sure to select a provider that understands funeral professionals and the type of data needed for your site.
Determine how much control you will maintain over the site in case you need to correct information or post an announcement without delay. For instance, if you notice an incorrect service time listed on an obituary, how quickly can you fix that error to prevent a barrage of phone calls from confused and upset family members?
Your website should be a reflection of your customer service, providing support to the public with timely information. Embrace email, social networking and mobile apps that enable you to connect with your community from any location.
3. Use Call Forwarding Tools
When reviewing your answering service budget, evaluate how and when you are forwarding your phone lines to ensure you are utilizing the service cost-effectively. If you’re concerned about your monthly expenditures and need to scale back, one popular option is to forward to the service only as a backup. Your local phone company can set your phone to ring a predetermined number of times at the funeral home before diverting the call to your answering service or cell phone.
These features, known as No Answer Call Forwarding and Cell Phone Back Up Call Forwarding, provide you with the flexibility to decide where the call should be answered while protecting your phone lines at all times. No Answer and Cell Phone Backup Call Forwarding can help reduce your operating costs in one of two ways. Directors can cut down their answering service call volume by handling more calls in the office without losing their backup protection. They can also save on overhead expenses by forwarding to a cell phone rather than overstaffing the funeral home. This option allows you to reduce staffing costs without affecting the level of service families receive.
4. Audit Your Answering Service
By law, funeral directors must furnish a general price list to the public. As a funeral professional, you are required to be transparent in your business dealings. It is important to select vendors that adopt a similar philosophy.
When you receive an invoice from your answering service, you should be able to access a detailed list of billable phone calls. Every call answered for your funeral home should be recorded and made available to you. Answering services that lack the technology to record and track your calls have little accountability and can inflate charges without your knowledge. Monitoring your usage and invoices will guard against paying more than you should.
5. Block Solicitors
Is there anything more frustrating than picking up the phone only to hear an automated recording? Yes, being charged by your answering service to handle such a call. Too often calls from telemarketers and recorded solicitations tie up phone lines, waste time and prevent critical calls from getting through. Your answering service should be able to automatically block most of these spam calls. Your answering service should also be able to take a list you provide of specific numbers you would like blocked when your lines are transferred. This helps to ensure you are not charged for unwanted calls.
6. Change your Call Plan
Funeral directors require flexibility from the vendors they conduct business with because the needs of the business may vary from month to month. For instance, funeral homes statistically receive more calls around the holidays due to both a spike in the death rate and because of phone calls related to holiday remembrance services.
If you do not monitor your call volume while your lines are forwarded, there is little way to know if your call plan is more than you need. Your answering service should be proactively reaching out to you if your account’s plan is too high. Funeral homes statistically receive fewer phone calls today than in the past due to the emergence of websites and mobile technology. If you have not reviewed your plan recently and your answering service does not notify you when the call volume decreases, you may be overpaying for services.
7. Avoid Term Contracts
A business owner’s freedom of choice should rarely be sacrificed. An answering service may offer a discount in exchange for your signature on a long-term contract, but this gamble might not pay off in the long run. The funeral profession is inherently unpredictable and your fiscal needs can change unexpectedly. Therefore, when you are choosing among different answering services, consider the benefits of a less rigid contractual agreement.
An answering service is like an extension of your staff; you wouldn’t give one of your employees the power to dictate your business decisions, so why should a vendor expect such a privilege? An answering service that offers adjustable terms is likely to understand the changing needs of the funeral profession. Choosing a more flexible arrangement gives you the freedom to explore other options if you are dissatisfied at any point in the future.
8. Refer other customers
Good word of mouth is priceless to any business. Many vendors offer referral plans that benefit you each time you refer another funeral director. If you work with an answering service you highly recommend, see if they offer any special incentives for referring other directors. This is an indicator of the answering service’s approach to business. Companies that reward positive word of mouth strongly value their relationships with current clients.
The Hidden Cost Of Not Monitoring Your Answering Service
There are a variety of ways to use an answering service more efficiently and increase your bottom line. However, these efforts may be futile if you do not select a service that truly safeguards new business opportunities for your funeral home.
Statistically, your answering service should be able to span your entire career without losing business for your funeral home. A single mishandled phone call can greatly damage your reputation and cost you the trust of a family your firm has worked with for generations.
A missed business opportunity can result from a combination of different reasons. Here are just a few:
- Calls are not being answered promptly
- Operators are not comfortable speaking to funeral home callers
- Messages are not dispatched quickly
- Callers are often placed on hold for long periods of time
- Sensitivity and compassion is not conveyed
- Calls are not answered properly (for example, the operator mangle’s the pronunciation of the funeral home’s name)
The only way to identify these fatal flaws is to monitor your calls regularly. Evaluating your answering service on a consistent basis ensures your families receive the attention and sensitivity they expect when calling your funeral home.
Kevin R. Czachor, Vice President & Family Member Owner of ASD – Answering Service for Directors, has helped develop telecommunication strategies for 25 percent of funeral homes located in North America. With a visionary approach to business, the ASD team has redefined the way Funeral Directors serve their families through combining unparalleled levels of training and advanced technology. Kevin can be reached at 800-868-9950 or via email at Kevin@myASD.com.
About The Author
Jess Farren (Fowler)
Jess Farren (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 Jess@myASD.com