Published in Selected Independent Funeral Homes Bulletin (July-August 2014)
By: Steven Crawford
There are very few, if any, sectors of society where first impressions are more important than in the funeral industry. Funeral homes want to convey professionalism, empathy and compassion as the first and lasting impression of their funeral homes. Owners, managers, and funeral directors all continue to strive to exceed expectations on appearance, customer service levels and first impressions.
It was not that very long ago that a nicely decorated building and a professional, caring staff was enough to give a favorable first impression. But as society has evolved with technology and challenging economic times, there are many more “doorways” into your funeral home that represent the professional and caring first impression that you want to convey to the public.
There is a lot to consider in 2014 when it comes to marketing your funeral home. Every one strives to put their best foot forward when someone comes through their front door. We just have to remember that the “front door” now includes your answering service, your social media and your website (and its chat feature). Every one of these “doors” needs to represent the image and reputation that you have worked hard to build and you need make sure that they are maintained – just as you make sure your hearses are washed and detailed.
Answering Service. You need to make sure that your answering service is representing you well. Many callers have never had to call a funeral home before and are not sure what to expect. The person answering your phone is your funeral home to the caller – whether it is your in house staff or the after-hours service. Many answering services allow their clients to monitor the recordings of their calls. But, have you ever monitored your in house staff to see if they meet the same standards? A tried and true business practice is to “inspect what you expect”. Try making a mock call to your answering service or to your in house staff. Watch, listen and encourage your staff as they interact with your families. It is much easier to take a pro-active approach to your image and reputation than it is to react to a bad review from a family that you served.
Social media rapidly is becoming an important door to your funeral home in leaps and bounds. It is astonishing how Facebook, Twitter, Google and others are becoming part of our everyday language. I am learning how many ways you can reach families and future clients by using these new tools. Again, you need to make sure that these portals are truly representing your funeral home’s image.
Website. The funeral home’s website is another door into your
funeral home. Ask your families what they think of it. Is it user friendly? Is it informative? Does it project the image that you want your business to have to the families that you serve and to your community? There are now consumers who research your firm on line before picking up the phone or coming to see you. Websites are continually evolving as well. Consumers can now start their pre-planning on line.
Live Online Chat. Another part of the on line evolution is Live Chat on your website. It allows the public to “chat” with your business. Chat is being offered to try to capture a price shopper or even take first call information. Who would ever have thought that a first call would be taken via a chat function? In today’s mobile and instant society of smart phones, tablets, web surfing, we all need to keep up. I can recall stories of families just going to the funeral home to report the death – now they can “chat” the information and expect the same level of customer service as they would receive face to face. Directors’ Choice is the first funeral home specific answering service to provide the web chat feature exclusively to funeral homes. Dealing with urgent and non-urgent calls constantly, our agents have a naturally empathetic manner of communication with all varieties of customers in the funeral industry, but most importantly, the families. Given the years of experience of all our agents, there is no question that this passion can be conveyed regardless of the method of communication. I personally have seen this develop and it is fast becoming a tool that the general public is looking for. Whether it is for genealogy research or wanting to send flowers or feeling the most comfortable reporting a death this way. It is a cost effective way to instantly look after inquiries. With the live chat option available on a website, potential customers are given as many ways to get in touch with your funeral home as possible. Questions can be answered in real time, giving the customer a sense of being taken care of rather than forcing them to pick up the phone, visit the location, or try to locate the answer themselves on the website (an answer that may not be there). Live chat is more effective than e-mail as the customer does not have to wait an uncertain amount of time for a response; they have a virtual representative assisting them immediately. Most chat services are only available during “business hours”. Others, like ours, are available 24/7. The chats are even recorded and emailed to your phone/computer.
This industry has seen some exponential changes over the past few years – what will the future bring? We cannot lose sight of the basics of customer service – the customer still wants to feel looked after. You can have all of the technology and gadgets available and still fall short if it does not reflect your commitment to excellent customer care. Your first impression at the “front door” should always show your commitment to your families and that you can look after them in their time of need.
Steven Crawford is originally from Norton, New Brunswick and has worked with Directors’ Choice in Saint John, New Brunswick for the past 15 years. Steven has worked many roles at the award winning funeral industry answering service: CSR, Supervisor, Training Manager, Recruiting Manager and in the Marketing department.