Jun 08, 2017
This article was written by ASD Vice President and Family-Member Owner, Kevin Czachor, and was originally published in the June 2017 issue of ICCFA Magazine. The article explains why funeral homes should develop a competitive approach for handling shopper calls. Kevin provides practical tips on evaluating staff performance on these calls and includes information on different resources available.
Do you remember how differently we made purchasing decisions in the days before the Internet? If you needed something, you went to the store, found the aisle, compared prices and features between the different items, made a selection and you headed for the cash register to check out.
Now, for every major purchase we make, we spend countless hours researching options, comparing prices (and promo code deals), and obsessing over online reviews—even the ones that sound like they were written by a 10 year old! Websites have given us a window to see all that is possible beyond a limited number of items that can fit on a store shelf. For better or worse, as a result society has become much more discerning about the products and services they choose to use.
Consider the fact that 81% of shoppers now conduct online research before making a purchase, according to a study conducted by GE Capital Retail Bank. The study also found that consumers spend an average of 79 days gathering information before making a major purchase.
As a funeral professional, you may be asking yourself, “How does this affect me? I provide a service, I don’t sell a product.” Many funeral home owners are hesitant to put increased focus on shoppers because they are afraid of coming off like pushy salespeople. However, there is a major difference between pushing your services on someone and accurately answering questions about what you offer. Ignoring these calls or failing to fully respond to questions will only lead shoppers to perceive your funeral home as being intentionally vague – an error that will drive families in droves to the nearest competitor.
Funeral homes that recognize how the consumer mindset has changed will be better equipped to handle any shopper calls with confidence and expertise. The majority of Americans are used to researching options and weighing their purchasing decisions carefully. Understanding this new mentality can be instrumental in helping you to grow your funeral home and improve on your shopper call close rate.
Many funeral directors dismiss these calls as simple pricing inquiries, but shoppers want to know more than just your lowest price point. They are shopping for service options and specific funeral home characteristics. Recognizing the potential value of these calls and taking steps to ensure shoppers are treated with patience, understanding and compassion can make a big difference to your funeral home’s bottom line.
Evaluate what you’re doing now
- Take a moment to consider what the typical customer service experience would be for someone calling your funeral home to gather pricing or other information.
- How long would that person have to wait before speaking to someone qualified? Which of your employees would be tasked with responding to the shopper call, an experienced director or an apprentice?
- What information would be communicated to the caller? Is the value that your funeral home provides addressed during the call?
- What information would you expect your employee to gather from the caller?
- How would the call be tracked or documented?
Lack of consistency on these calls has made it next to impossible for many funeral homes to even calculate how much business they may be losing. No matter how busy things get at the funeral home, shopper calls should always be treated as an opportunity, not as an afterthought. This should be true for every employee who is responsible for answering or following up on these calls.
Your funeral home’s marketing is centered on convincing those in your community to call you during their time of need. However, spending thousands of dollars on advertising won’t do a thing to grow your funeral home business if you have not considered a competitive approach for handling shopper calls.
Following are several effective tactics that can help you improve your funeral home’s shopper close rate
1. Utilize a mystery phone shopper service
Many funeral home owners and managers recognize the importance of protecting shopper calls but have little way to evaluate how their staff is representing them on the phone. Have you ever been curious how your directors might respond to specific types of shopper call scenarios? If so, you are not alone. In fact, an entire industry now exists to help business owners evaluate their staff’s telephone performance on shopper calls.
Using a Mystery Phone Shopper Service, you can routinely test your employees to monitor how they respond to challenging shopper questions. The service will contact your funeral home and pretend to be a shopper. After the call, the service will supply you with a report based on their interaction with your staff.
Using a Mystery Phone Shopper Service can give you a more defined picture of what a family’s experience might be like when they call your funeral home for information. Perhaps you receive a great deal of shopper calls each month and you need to evaluate why some employees seem to do a better job conveying the value of your firm over others. Maybe your funeral home rarely receives any shopper calls and you want to ensure your staff receives practice and training for when a shopper does call.
In some situations, using a Mystery Phone Shopper Service may help you discover that your pricing, funeral packages or memorial products need to be updated. Examining what works on these calls, and what does not, can help you capture more business and make stronger connections with the people who call you.
Below are a few companies that provide this service:
- Dead Ringers: Founded by ICCFA Cremation Counsel, Poul Lemasters, Esq., and Cole Imperi, CT, the company offers mystery phone shopping of your business and/or a competitor’s business, as well as on-site staff training. For more information, go to www.mysteryfuneralshopper.com
- MKJ Marketing’s Secret Shopper Service: Many expert funeral home owners endorse the marketing and training resources offered by the MKJ team. One of the services offered by MKJ is a Secret Shopping Service that analyzes how the funeral home staff responds to price inquires and the toughest questions and objections. Because MKJ is a funeral home specific company, you will benefit from their experience in providing a service that is customized to your specific needs. Call 888.655.1566 or visit www.mkjmarketing.com to learn more.
- J. A. Burn & Associates, Inc. Julie A. Burn, CCrE, CSE, is a cremation specialist with over 25 years of experience in the funeral profession. Julie has been helping funeral establishments of all sizes with mystery phone shopping for the last seven years. Her unparalleled expertise in this field will give funeral directors who work with her consulting firm a competitive edge. Additionally, Julie can provide a tailored approach to mystery shopping that focuses on your individual needs. For more information, please contact Julie at email@example.com.
“A key component in turning a phone shopper into a client is making the connection, and you only have your voice to do it. Conveying warmth, knowledge and the ability to address whatever the caller needs, will open the door to a successful relationship.”-Julie Burn
- A Closer Look: A Closer Look is a company with a great deal of experience providing Mystery Phone Shopping. The company is known for it’s detailed reporting and thoroughly vetted shoppers. Although A Closer Look works with other industries outside of the funeral profession, the company can customize its programs for funeral homes and offers a complimentary mystery evaluation so you can try them out risk free. Visit www.a-closer-look.com to get a sample report.
2. Utilize Call Tracking Through Lead Conversion Services
Monitoring your staff’s telephone skills can be a time consuming process and many funeral home managers simply do not have time to devote to this task. If you didn’t have time to handle the call yourself, why would you have time to listen to a recording of every call your staff answers?
In recent years, lead conversion providers have created new solutions to help businesses with call tracking. These companies can track what marketing sources are driving the majority of your phone calls to help you better budget your advertising efforts. Furthermore, they can document every incoming call to your funeral home, giving you the ability to see your complete call history displayed with call recordings and transcripts.
Many of the Call Tracking services offered by Lead Conversion companies now include advanced reporting tools that allow you to review helpful metrics, search keywords, and categorize your telephone history based on the type of message, call time and date, or other details.
These search options enable funeral home owners to easily filter out non-urgent calls in order to analyze their staff’s performance on shopper calls and keep a thorough log of all new leads. Using these call recordings can help you to train your staff and determine what telephone strategies work best for your funeral home. You will also be able to easily identify if an important call was ignored or not returned, giving you an opportunity to follow up without delay.
Some companies that provide this service:
- CallRail – CallRail delivers call analytics to more than 40,000 companies and marketing agencies in North America. The company allows you to measure phone call conversions from your search, digital and offline marketing campaigns. They offers a 14-day free trial.
- ReachLocal – ReachLocal was the first company created specifically to help local businesses solve the unique challenges of their online marketing. The company’s ReachEdge solution tracks phone calls as well as online leads, emails and web chats. They offer a 60-day free trial.
- WhatConverts – WhatConverts provides agency level call tracking with many advanced features, including call recordings and keyword tracking, and offers an easy-to-use interface that can be set up with just a few clicks. They offer a 14-day free trial.
3. Monitor After-Hour Calls Between Your Staff and Families
Lead Conversion companies can help you track and evaluate incoming calls to your funeral home, but what about the calls your staff makes to families from their personal phones? Have you ever considered how your on-call employees might be representing the funeral home at night? What does their tone of voice sound like when they call families back at 3am?
In the past, when a shopper called a funeral home after business hours, the funeral home owner would have no way of knowing how their on-call director handled that conversation. ASD has addressed this problem. When the funeral home’s phone lines are transferred to ASD and a shopper contacts the funeral home, our Call Specialist can immediately connect the call to your staff without allowing the person to disconnect and call a different funeral home.
You can hear a complete recording of the call including any communication that follows after the Call Specialist disconnects from the line. This gives funeral home owners the ability to hear how their directors respond to shopper calls that come in overnight or during the weekend. Funeral home owners can also instruct their on-call staff to dial out to shoppers through ASD’s Mobile app to ensure their conversation with the family is recorded. Using ASD in conjunction with Lead Conversion and Call Tracking services guarantees that you will have a recording of every single shopper call your funeral home handles. Click here to learn more about this exclusive ASD feature.
4. Grade and Document Shopper Calls
One of the most frustrating aspects of handling a shopper call is that you often cannot follow up with the caller later. In most cases, you must wait for the family to call back and confirm they have chosen your funeral home, and if that phone call never comes you are left wondering what could have been handled better.
Carefully reviewing your employees’ shopper calls will help to illuminate these unanswered questions. Once you have taken steps to ensure all shopper calls are recorded, come up with an evaluation system and a list of questions you can ask while reviewing calls.
Image credit: Any IP Ltd
Following are a few key areas to consider when grading your staff’s shopper call performance:
How did your director introduce him or herself? Did they obtain the caller’s name and use it naturally throughout the call? If the caller asked about pricing, did they immediately provide a direct cremation price, or did they ask additional questions and give a price range?
Tone of Voice
Does the funeral director’s voice convey empathy and patience? Is the director speaking clearly and articulating their words well? Are any phrases with slang or jargon used during the call? Is the phone connection clear and free of audio issues? Are there any distracting background noises?
Does the funeral director sound engaged or preoccupied? Is the caller being interrupted? Does the director talk too much and dominate the conversation? Does the director talk too little, forcing the family to lead the call? Are important details repeated for accuracy? Does the funeral director reference questions or statements the caller made early in the conversation to demonstrate their listening skills?
Is the director asking discovery questions to learn more about the caller’s situation? Are funeral options and packages explained in complete detail? Does the director make informed and sensible recommendations to the family? Does the family seem to understand the information offered? Could the information be explained in a better or more concise way?
On average, how many times does the phone ring at the funeral home before it is answered? How often are callers put on hold? How quickly does your staff return after hour calls from families?
Closing the Call
Before disconnecting, does the director do a good job of summarizing the major topics discussed? Did the director ask for permission to follow up later and obtain the caller’s contact information? If you were the family, would this director leave a lasting positive impression in your memory?
For every call, always consider: What about the director’s telephone style or delivery really worked? What could have been handled better? Be sure to document all of your findings so that notes, call recordings and other data on each shopper call is kept organized and connected. Be sure to pay close attention to calls that occur when your lines are forwarded.
It is understandable that funeral home owners would want to maintain the same level of control over their communications when their lines are forwarded to their answering service. In fact, the primary reason funeral home owners choose not to use an answering service because they are concerned they will lose oversight. For this reason, ASD provides real-time dispatch reports, enabling owners and managers to receive shopper call notifications with the complete message details even when others are on-call. Custom features allow you to organize messages into pre-need, at-need and pricing categories online to make performance tracking simpler. These solutions supply funeral home owners with valuable metrics they can examine to keep a finger on the pulse of their operation at all times.
5. Use call recordings as training tools
Operating a funeral home requires a range of different skill sets. From embalming and restorative arts to event planning to finance, there are many different types of tasks that must be accomplished in a funeral home. For this reason, it is not uncommon for a funeral home employee to excel in a particular area, but struggle with another. It is probable that some of your staff members may feel more comfortable handling shopper calls than others do.
This makes it even more imperative for funeral home owners to take time to educate their employees on best practices for handling shopper calls. At some point, everyone is going to handle a call poorly, and your staff needs to know that that’s OK—as long as they can demonstrate their commitment to improving.
While routinely testing your employees with a mystery phone shopper service and evaluating all shopper call recordings will help you understand how to capture more calls, you must work closely with your staff in order to achieve good results. Schedule employee meetings to go over call recordings and difficult scenarios. Find examples of shopper calls that were handled well, and ones that were handled poorly.
Discuss alternative ways to answer common questions. Come up with a few key phrases your on-call directors can use to better communicate the value your firm provides. Invite your staff to share common dilemmas they run into when handling shopper calls and brainstorm solutions as a team. This type of constructive conversation will instill confidence in your staff, help them to recognize areas where they can improve and motivate them to make a lasting connection with callers.
The telephone can play a vital role in shaping a family’s opinion of a funeral home. For many years, funeral directors have focused more on growing their business through personal interactions, but an increasing number of people are using the telephone to narrow down their options before stepping foot into a building.
Funeral home owners have a choice in how they respond to this shift in the consumer mindset. They can develop new business tactics and telephone strategies to meet the needs of shoppers, or repeatedly lose business to their competitors without ever recognizing what is happening.
Either way, the shopper trend is not going away and families will continue to contact multiple firms to gather information. Take steps now to ensure your funeral home is prepared to answer those calls.
Kevin R. Czachor, Vice President & Family Member Owner of ASD, has helped develop telecommunication strategies for 30 percent of funeral homes in North America. With more than two decades of experience, Kevin meets with funeral directors regularly to share his expertise on utilizing mobile technology to streamline tasks, enhance communication and increase productivity. He has written several articles on the subject of communication technology and delivers seminars annually on how mobile solutions can help funeral professionals conduct their business on the go without sacrificing quality of service. Kevin can be reached at 800-868-9950 or via email at Kevin@myASD.com.
RELATED READING: How To Turn Shopper Calls into Families Served
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