Aug 25, 2016
ASD Vice President and Family-Member Owner, Kevin Czachor, was recently interviewed by Selected Independent Funeral Homes for or the September-October issue of The Bulletin magazine. In the interview, Kevin discusses the evolution of funeral home answering services, the way technology is changing the way funeral professionals do business and more.
Superior Technology and Highly-Trained Staff are Key to Award-Winning Telephone Answering Services
Kevin Czachor heads the sales and marketing team at Answering Service for Directors (ASD), a Selected Premier Preferred Partner. Family owned and operated since 1972, ASD is the only answering service that exclusively serves the funeral profession. It now works with more than 7,000 funeral homes in North America. Kevin recently spoke to The Bulletin about his company and some key answering service concepts.
Are there common misconceptions you hear about answering services?
“Yes. One of the biggest assumptions by funeral directors is that the way their calls are handled doesn’t really make that much of an impact on their business. It is assumed that calls can be answered in the way the firm has been doing for many years. It’s usually not until it’s discovered that a significant number of calls are not being converted that there’s a realization a problem exists.
“Something that few funeral directors may know is that most answering services handle many different types of businesses. This means their staff is constantly switching back and forth between trains of thought and presentation styles. Within minutes they may be answering for a doctor’s office, a towing company or a funeral home. It can be a problem if they are unable to quickly discern the nature of the different calls, because it’s often the tone of the conversation and insight into the needs of the caller that are crucial.
“In today’s market, it is more important than ever for an answering service to be in tune with callers, because there are so many more shopper calls. Having the expertise to effectively handle those kinds of calls can give a funeral home a real advantage in the marketplace.
“Another big challenge for some answering services is that call volume can fluctuate dramatically. There are very slow times and others that can be incredibly demanding. If there is not enough staff available to handle all the calls, they will not be handled properly, no matter how nice the operators are. Solving this staff balancing issue, as well as ensuring proper training, are essential for a successful answering service.”
How do you train your call staff?
“A new employee who joins us may have a great conversational style but know very little about the funeral service profession. That’s understandable. So we have a six-month training process where we really refine the way our people handle calls in a delicate, sensitive way.
“When we hire, we don’t look for answering service experience. As a matter of fact, we avoid that. We look for people who are compassionate, have a gentle voice and can listen well. We can help people to improve their communication skills, but compassion can’t be taught. It has to be natural.
“As part of the interview process, we ask candidates to leave a recorded phone message. They are instructed to give their name, their phone number twice and then to tell a bit about themselves and why they’d be a good fit for our company. If somebody leaves this recording but doesn’t give their phone number twice, we know the person isn’t cut out for us. Attention to detail and the ability to follow the instructions are very important.
“It’s also important to us to invest time in our employees up front. Once somebody makes it through our training process, they are going to be with us for a long time. Our turnover rate for staff after the training period is almost nonexistent. Within the answering service business, turnover is another critical component. In many companies, it’s a revolving door. At our firm, we have more than 50 employees who have been with us for seven years or longer. The key is finding the great people, treating them right, paying them well and creating an environment in which they can excel.
“I often hear funeral home owners talk about how hard it is to find good people. One of the things we have found that helps attract the right kind of employee is by offering a career path. Meaning, a company like ours is growing, and they’re not going to be stuck in an entry-level position. Once someone proves themselves, they very quickly have opportunities to advance within our business. That’s one of the things applicants look for, not just good pay and being treated well.”
What are some of your key technological advantages?
“We hold now six patents for solutions we’ve created to help funeral professionals. And we have three in the pending stage right now. Development of our technologies and resources is critical, and it’s a very large investment for us.
“Our real-time mobile app has changed things dramatically for funeral professionals. Last year, we won the NFDA’s Innovation Award for a feature that allows our funeral directors to call families back directly from their cell phones. However, instead of seeing the cellphone caller ID, the family sees the funeral home’s ID. Funeral directors have been very excited about this feature.
“We understand the ins and outs of the profession and are constantly looking for ways to augment and enhance the services we provide. Another recent thing we’ve been able to do is not only record the incoming call, but if it’s a shopper call that is connected to the funeral home staff, that portion of the call is recorded as well. Clients are using those recordings as training tools for their staff to help them better turn shoppers into customers.”
Are you able to tailor your services for a particular client’s needs?
“Absolutely. For example, if there is a Spanish-speaking caller, we have a group of more than 30 employees who are bilingual and able to help those callers. We never want to be a reason for the client to lose business.
“Our approach is truly listening to what funeral directors tell us they need, understanding how they operate and figuring out how we can help them accomplish their goals with available and emerging technologies—things they might not even know exist.
“We recently developed a feature that goes beyond the answering service to empower a funeral home’s website with a web chat capability. Some families may not want to call the funeral home. Their loved one may be in the room, and they have questions they don’t want overheard. Our web chat feature allows them to start a private conversation, initially with our staff. The funeral home is immediately alerted, and a funeral director can actually join in through their smartphone or computer to provide further assistance. This feature just won one of the ICCFA’s KIP awards.
“Bottom line: we want ASD to change people’s lives—to make it easier for funeral professionals to communicate with and care for the families they serve.”
Should all calls be recorded?
“Yes, a modern answering service should be recording all calls, and just about everyone is doing that. But more important is whether the answering service gives funeral directors access to those recordings. And if so, do funeral directors take the time to actually listen to the recordings? At ASD, we record calls from start to finish and make those recordings easily accessible to clients. We also let them know the number of rings on which the call is answered.”
Are there things you recommend funeral directors do to help improve their answering services?
“Client feedback is very important to us. It’s like the old adage, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. We want our clients to feel free to tell us if a situation or opportunity for improvement arises. That way, we can work to bring forth an effective solution. We place high value on client feedback and have created a special CareTracker™ System. With it, our clients can send a message that immediately goes to our supervisors for attention. This can be used for concerns as well as positive feedback.
“There are about 1,000 answering services operating in North America, so there are plenty of choices. The trick is finding the right solution–determining the truth behind a service. Are they everything that they promote themselves to be? As I said, our company works only with the funeral service profession, so everything we have built is, from the ground up, just for the funeral homes we serve. The features we offer are not available at other services, because we’ve had to create them ourselves.
“We believe in absolute transparency, and our family values integrity more than anything else. That means we believe in saying the right thing and following it up by doing the right thing. Being a family-owned company, one of the things that drew us to Selected is the independent, family-owned nature of its members. So I can truly relate to the discussions I have with these multi-generational firms. My sister, my brother, and my parents who started the business, figured out how to work together and to make sure, no matter what, that we protect our clients’ reputation for excellence. And in doing so, we protect our own reputation.”
ASD offers a 30-day, no-risk trial?
“Yes, but for Selected members, we offer at least eight weeks of trial service in which my family can prove we are a good fit, not only for the funeral home but also for the community it serves. There’s no commitment necessary, and we don’t have contracts that lock a client in, so there’s no need to cancel an existing service. They can just forward their phones to a trial account. We’ll create a special phone number just for their firm, and they can try us out. In addition, we waive our setup fees for Selected members.”
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