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ASD’s 10 Most Challenging Funeral Home Phone Calls of 2015

Jan 01, 2016

Every week, ASD recognizes one of our Call Specialists with the “Sensitive Save of the Week” Award for going above and beyond on a call to ensure a family in need can connect with a funeral director. This award 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 challenging calls answered in 2015 to create this list of ASD’s Top 10 Most Challenging Calls of 2015:

1. At ASD, our Call Specialists understand that listening to callers is about more than the actual words stated. It is about filling in the blanks, hearing what isn’t being said and relying on intuition to determine if a call is related to a passing. Earlier this year, our Training Specialist, Kim, handled an early morning call from a woman asking for the funeral home’s office hours. Kim responded by stating, “They are usually in at 8am. May I ask what it is concerning?” The woman hesitated and then said her call was related to “a new person.” This unusual response led Kim to inquire if someone had just passed. The caller answered, “Someone did but I would rather go in at 8.” To encourage the woman to leave her contact information, Kim responded, “Due to the nature of the business, it is good just to let them know in advance that you are coming. What is your phone number please?” The caller then relayed her information to Kim who was able to notify the on-call director without delay. Kim received our “Sensitive Save of the Week” award for paying close attention to unspoken cues from the caller and persuading her to leave her contact information.

2. When a death occurs, it is common for there to be a lot of activity at the residence of the family as multiple relatives and friends will stop by to provide support. In January, our Call Specialist, Randall, answered a call from a woman inquiring when the funeral home would be open. Randell could hear a great deal of noise in the background, and after relaying the funeral home’s office hours he immediately stated, “but the directors are always available to speak with. Has someone passed or is this regarding a service?” The caller stated that someone had passed and began to provide details. Then suddenly, she said, “but it’s actually my friend’s dad who died. Hold on.” Randell was then put on the line with the daughter of the deceased who was much more upset on the phone. The family had many visitors over and while it was difficult to hear at times, Randell spoke gently to the caller and read back the information he was given to confirm everything was correct. He was recognized by ASD for handling the challenges of this call professionally and compassionately while ensuring the complete accuracy of the information obtained for the funeral director.

3. At ASD, we will always respect the privacy of our clients. Our Call Specialists are trained to never give out a director’s personal number unless instructed to do so by our client. Earlier this year, our Call Specialist, Valerie, answered a call from a gentleman who identified himself as a close friend of the director. The caller asked Valerie if she could provide him with the director’s cell phone number. Valerie explained that while she couldn’t give this information out, she would be happy to help him. When the caller hesitated, she followed up by saying, “I’m sorry to ask, but has someone passed away?” The caller then revealed that a relative had passed away out of town but that he wanted to talk to the director about it because of their close friendship. Valerie asked the caller if he could provide his contact information so that the director could get right back to him. After the caller provided this, Valerie assured him that his friend, the director, would be in touch shortly to assist him further. She was given our “Sensitive Save of the Week” award for maintaining the privacy of this client while ensuring he was notified without any delay about his friend’s call.

4. One of the most important qualities an ASD Call Specialist must possess is intuition. Our employees are trained to listen for certain key phrases and indicators that reveal that the call is about a recent death. In March, our Training Specialist, Lauren, answered a call from a gentleman who stated he was calling about a ship out and would try back later. Lauren recognized this phrase and asked if the gentleman was calling from another funeral home about a passing. The caller stated that he was and that the hospital would be calling with all the details. He said he would call back later but Lauren immediately followed up by asking, “What is your contact information so I can give the director a heads up about the call?” Lauren’s understanding of funeral director terminology and phrases helped her to both identify the situation at hand and persuade the caller to provide more details. She was given our “Sensitive Save of the Week” award for demonstrating intuition and expertise throughout this challenging call.

5. At ASD, our Call Specialists are trained to recognize certain questions as indictors that someone has passed or may be passing away soon. Questions such as, “Do you accept credit cards?” or “Do you have an onsite crematory” are rarely asked unless the person asking has an imminent need. In many instances, callers may not want to reveal any details until they have an answer to their question and our Call Specialists will obtain the caller’s contact information so the director can assist further. Earlier this year, our Training Specialist, Lorenzo, handled a call from a woman who stated, “I am trying to find out how many people your chapel can accommodate.” When Lorenzo asked the caller if someone passed, the woman responded by saying, “Yes, but I want to know about your chapel space. I need to know that before I go any further.” Lorenzo recognized that this caller did not want to provide any specific details. He assured her that a director would be able to answer her questions and requested her name and phone number. Lorenzo received ASD’s “Sensitive Save of the Week” award for respecting the caller’s privacy and ensuring the funeral home had the information needed to follow up with her.

6. When contacting a funeral home, it is fairly common for family members to use speakerphone so that multiple relatives can make calls together and stay on the same page. In September, our Training Specialist, Karen, answered a call from a gentleman who wanted the funeral home office hours. Karen provided the funeral home office hours and assured the caller that someone was always available. Suddenly, a female voice began speaking and stated that she needed the funeral director right away. Karen then inquired if someone had passed and the woman responded, “Yes, our mother just passed a short while ago.” When Karen asked for contact details, both callers began speaking at once. This continued to happen throughout the call, so Karen listened very carefully and read back information to ensure accuracy. Despite the sound issues created by speakerphone, Karen was able to rise to the occasion during this challenging call. Karen was recognized by ASD for her expert listening and communication skills.

7. Sometimes, the loss of a loved one can lead to feelings of extreme frustration. ASD Call Specialists are specifically trained to defuse upset callers by responding to agitation with understanding and compassion. Earlier this year, Call Specialist, Rosa, answered a late night call from a woman who stated she needed prices on cremation. The caller was very upset because her loved one had passed overnight and she wasn’t expecting to have to make arrangements so late. Initially, the caller did not want to provide her contact information because she feared she would not hear back from anyone until the morning. Rosa listened to the caller’s concerns and then gently reassured her that a director would be able to assist her without delay. The caller then provided her information and thanked Rosa before hanging up. Rosa was recognized by ASD for the patience and understanding she exhibited throughout this extremely difficult call.

8. Health issues like brain tumors and Parkinson’s disease can have a major impact on the speech mannerisms of a person, making it incredibly difficult to communicate. Last month, our Call Specialist, Eric, answered a call from a gentleman who had trouble speaking on the phone. Initially, the caller sounded very frustrated that he could not articulate what he needed. Eric responded to the caller by listening carefully and then repeating back information so the gentleman knew that he was being understood correctly. By setting the right tone on this call, Eric was able to gain the caller’s trust and he was eventually able to verbalize that he needed to make prearrangements for himself. Eric listened without interrupting while the caller explained the situation. He then read back the spelling of the caller’s name and his phone number carefully to ensure the director had all of the correct information when following up. Eric received our “Sensitive Save of the Week” award for the gentle patience he exhibited throughout this challenging call.

9. Reporting a passing over the phone can be extremely difficult for many family members. In February, our Call Specialist, Amanda, answered a call from a woman who came on the line and stated, “I am having someone handle…arrangements.” The caller’s tone and the long pause in her voice led Amanda to immediately ask if someone passed. The caller answered that someone had but sounded short of breath. After relaying her condolences, Amanda gently told the caller, “I am just going to gather a little information from you and then have a director call you right back. If at any moment you feel you need to take a break or to pause while I am asking questions, just let me know okay?” Amanda’s compassionate tone helped the caller gain her composure and relay the information about her father who had just passed. She was given our “Sensitive Save of the Week” award for her conveying empathy with her words and tone to comfort this upset caller.

10. There are a multitude of different reasons why a person calling a funeral home might not directly state that someone has passed. They could be unsure of the terminology to use, afraid to disclose too much information or simply in a state of shock. In August, our Assistant Supervisor, Bill, answered a call for a gentleman who asked for a specific director. After Bill obtained his contact information, the caller stated that the director knew him personally. When Bill asked what the call was concerning, the caller responded, “I do carpet cleaning for him.” When Bill followed up by asking the caller if he needed to schedule work at the funeral home, the gentleman hesitated a moment and then said, “I need to talk to him about services.” Rather than assuming this call was related to carpet cleaning services, Bill gently asked if someone passed. It turned out the caller’s brother had just died unexpectedly. He was well acquainted with the director through his carpet business and needed to find out what steps to take next. By asking the correct follow up questions, Bill was able to ensure the director was notified immediately of the call. Bill was recognized by ASD for helping the family and the funeral director connect without delay.

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 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

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