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by Mark Allen, CEO/Executive Director, OGR

Phone shoppers get a bad rap. But let’s face it—they’re simply trying to educate themselves about something they most likely know little about. Pricing is something everyone is familiar with, so it makes sense that most people will start in that area. Your job as a funeral professional is to get them curious about how different funerals can be from what they’ve experienced in the past. Granted, some phone shoppers will shut you down. That’s okay. Let them go. The worst they can say about your funeral home is that you tried to offer suggestions for an amazing and meaningful memorial experience.

Aside from face-to-face contact, telephone and email are the most likely means of communicating with prospective customers. Back in the days when I designed and conducted market research studies for OGR members, one of the most common complaints I heard was that funeral professionals are wonderful in person but are not always perceived as caring or helpful by telephone. The following are tips I’ve found that can help improve your chances of creating a bond with potential customers who call your funeral home. Most will also apply to email messages. 

  1. Set expectations among all staff

Anyone who represents your funeral home should know what the expectations are for communicating with members of the public in person or otherwise. If it’s possible that a staff member will answer the phone, train them to answer the phone in a way that puts your funeral home’s best foot forward.

  1. End your greeting with your name

Not so many years ago, funeral directors thought that answering the phone with “Hello, this is XYZ Funeral Home” was insensitive because it indicated that a funeral home was a business. People are well aware that funeral homes are businesses, so include the funeral home’s name, but begin establishing a personal connection from the start. Business communications expert The Telephone Doctor recommends the following greeting:

“Hello, XYZ Funeral Home. This is Mary.”

People are more likely to remember your name if it’s the last word in your greeting. If the caller fails to mention his or her name, ask,

“And I’m speaking with…?”

  1. Be an expert

People want assurance that the person they speak with has the expertise they need. Taking control of the conversation will let them know you have what it takes to guide them through an unfamiliar experience. Communicate that helping families arrange meaningful and appropriate tributes to people they love is what you do every day.  Include your title if it reflects the information the price shopper needs.  For example, if a shopper asks for information about the cost of cremation, say,

“Ms. Johnson, you have questions regarding cremation. Let me connect you to our Cremation Care Specialist.” Or, “Hi Ms. Johnson, let me introduce myself, I’m Jessica, the Cremation Care Specialist for XYZ funeral home.”

  1. If you have to transfer a call, do it warmly.

Everyone hates repeating the reason they’re calling each time they’re transferred. If it’s necessary to transfer a call, first ask the caller for permission to transfer them and provide an explanation.

“Mr. Johnson is a funeral director who will be able to answer your questions. May I put you on hold while I see if he’s available?” 

If you transfer a call, make sure you pass along any information the caller told you. If a call is transferred to you, begin with something like,

“Hello, this is Barney. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been given bad news about your grandfather. I’ll be glad to tell you how I can help your family plan a wonderful tribute to him.”

  1. Respond! Respond! Respond!

With the dawning of the Internet, people are accustomed to getting answers to their questions almost instantaneously. If you’re the person a caller needs to talk to and were unavailable when he or she called, call them back as soon as possible, but never longer than two hoursRespond as soon as possible to general questions sent by email, but never longer than 12 hours.

  1. Never say “I don’t know”

People may perceive “I don’t know” as a sign of indifference, or worse, as incompetence. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say “I’ll check on that for you.” It assures callers that they will receive the information they need because you accepted the responsibility of providing it to them. It works the same with email communications.

  1. Choose your words wisely

The #1 rule of word selection is to avoid professional jargon such as “GPL”, “cremains” and “basic service fee”. Instead, use descriptive words such as “list of our prices”, “your mother” and “our fee for handling the details of funeral arrangements”. Use inclusive words such as “our” and “we” that imply the caller is already connected to the funeral home’s team. When talking to or emailing someone who has lost a loved one or who recently received bad news, never end the conversation with “have a nice day”.

  1. Answer a question with a question—but answer it!

Price shoppers are notorious for demanding to know “the price” of “a funeral”. Avoid responding with, “I can’t answer that question without more information.” Instead, counter with something like, “I’ll be happy to give you that information. To help me provide the most accurate information, can you first tell me…” Never divert the caller to another topic or pretend he or she didn’t ask a question you don’t want to answer.

  1. Ask for more information

You’d be surprised at how many funeral professionals end a conversation with a prospective client without offering to send him or her more information or asking for their contact information. This is your permission to follow up. So do it!

OGR’s new Golden Rule Road to Success Series offers programs to help Golden Rule funeral homes assess how well their staffs respond to price shoppers as well as offer suggestions for improvement. A half-day on-site training program provides an opportunity to raise the bar on staff’s performances. An option is available to assess a competitor’s evaluation. Contact Laine Phillips, OGR Member Resources Director, at (800) 637-8030 for more information.