7 Tips for Selling The Value Of Your Funeral Service Over the Phone

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When a person calls your funeral home, they can’t see how much time and thought has gone into creating a comforting environment. They can’t touch all of the different products and memorial items available or experience the personal care of your staff. Their first impression is defined by one thing and one thing only—how well you can communicate the value of your service over the phone. Learning how to capture someone’s attention and earn their trust without physically being in their presence is an essential skill funeral directors must work to refine.

For more than a decade, I have answered calls for funeral homes that forward their lines to ASD – Answering Service for Directors. During this time, there has been a continual increase in the number of calls that involve pricing, cremation or pre-need inquiries.  In the past, most families would visit in person to make their funeral decisions, but today many consumers will base these choices on a single phone call. The old time loyalty of yesterday has slowly been eroded as more and more families are living in different regions and must often make arrangements from out of town.

For many people, arranging a funeral service is one of the largest expenditures they will ever make. Therefore, it is even more crucial to truly connect and build a relationship with at-need and pre-need callers. Here are some tips for doing just that:

1. Prepare in Advance

It is always advantageous to begin a telephone conversation when you are prepared and rehearsed rather than trying to wing it. This is true in every profession, but it is especially applicable to funeral home callers who are often emotional and under stress. Write down a list of questions you are often asked by your callers and then create responses that focus on the value your funeral home can offer.  Study your answers in advance so you are prepared, but avoid reading from a script, as this may be perceived as sounding insincere or robotic to a caller.

If you are concerned about your tonality, use a voice recorder to evaluate your telephone voice and speech mannerism. This will also help you to identify and correct any communication habits. For instance, at ASD we regularly calibrate calls for issues such as slang, heavy breathing or repeated words so each Call Specialist can continually improve their telephone etiquette. Taking time to listen to your calls can make it much easier to recognize areas in need of improvement.

2. Establish Trust

How can I make this caller feel more at ease?”

This fundamental question should be central to your thought process when answering a phone call to your funeral home. If you can make a person feel understood and reassured, they will be much more willing to open up to you. Here are a few ways to achieve this:

o   Introduce yourself: Let callers know they can call you by your first name and use their name throughout the conversation. This will help build a relationship. After stating your name, mention what your role is at the funeral home and a bit about your experience to give confidence to callers they are speaking to the right person. Be sure to tell them to ask for you when they call again. This lets families know their needs are a high priority to you and they won’t have to speak to a different person every time they call.

o   Ask discovery questions: Showing an interest in your callers will encourage them to share more with you about their situation. This is especially true if the person is price shopping and calling multiple funeral homes. Many callers come on the line very abruptly with a statement such as, “I need to know how much you charge to cremate someone.” Rather than just offering a price, provide a range and then follow up by asking, “Did your loved one have any specific funeral wishes?” or “Has anyone taken the time to explain to you the different options?” Every family is different and the more information you can obtain, the better you will be able to sell the value of your funeral home.

o   Listen carefully: As a funeral director, you know death can be complicated. Therefore, it is common for families to want to share lengthy stories or detailed descriptions at the beginning of a call. I once handled a call during which a woman did not reveal her mother had passed until after speaking for several minutes about a funeral she attended in the past.  Exhibiting patience without interrupting encourages callers to trust you. If a caller perceives you may be busy or preoccupied, they are likely to shut down and may be less willing to share with you. Families should never get the impression they called at a bad time.

o   Watch your tone: When a person does not want to be on the phone, that unspoken attitude is evident beneath every word. Funeral home callers are often under stress and very emotional which makes it even more imperative to convey empathy with your voice. Your vocal inflection sets the tone of the call and will determine how comfortable the caller feels throughout the conversation.

o   Ask for permission to explain options: There are many different funeral options that exist today. While you may be eager to share this information with callers, never assume you know what a family wants. Ask for permission before providing the specifics on packages and products. This will help you steer the call in the right direction without wasting your time or the caller’s.

3. Help Families Visualize Your Funeral Home

Without being in the physical presence of a family member, you must be more creative when describing what your funeral home can offer. Use descriptive words to help families visualize your facility, chapel rooms and products. Try to create a picture in the family’s mind to help them imagine what a service at your funeral home would look like. If the caller is near a computer, ask them if they wouldn’t mind pulling up the funeral home’s website to view photographs. Help them to navigate to pages or images highlighting the quality and experience your funeral home can provide.

Avoid using funeral terms and jargon that some families may not understand. One of the most common phrases we hear at ASD is, “that thing”…as in, “I am interested in that thing that lets you plan your funeral in advance” or “I want to know about that thing where you have someone’s ashes buried in a cemetery.” We speak to callers every day who are unfamiliar with terms such as irrevocable trust, pre-arrangements and interment.  Remember to define these phrases completely if you use them to avoid alienating callers who have never planned a funeral before.

4. Keep a detailed record of urgent telephone calls

When obtaining information from callers, don’t forget to write down notes for future reference and make a thorough record of your conversations. Keeping a log will allow you to track your pre-need and pricing calls in the future. This makes it simpler for you and your staff to know when a follow-up call should be made or if materials should be mailed. Documenting your telephone conversations also helps build relationships. Families are more likely to remember your funeral home over others if you take time to get to know them and their unique needs.

In addition to taking notes, always repeat important details for accuracy. This reassures callers you are listening while guaranteeing any vital information you transcribe will be correct.  Take a look at your notes during the call and wait for an opening to communicate the value of your services. For instance, if the caller mentioned their loved one is a veteran, you can reference this later in the call by asking, “And you said he was a veteran?” When the caller confirms this, it creates an opportunity for you to mention the different benefits and memorialization options available to veterans.

5. Avoid Background Noise and Distractions

Consider your environment carefully before speaking to a family about a sensitive matter. A caller may feel you are preoccupied or unconcerned about their privacy if it sounds as though you are speaking to them from a crowded room. Urgent calls can occur at any time. Despite the fact that it may not be possible to control your surroundings, you can make every effort to locate a more appropriate setting to handle the call. Family members will be more inclined to show patience if you ask them to wait a moment while you find a discreet location than if they feel like they are competing for your attention.

6. Obtain Contact Information

Before disconnecting, confirm the caller’s understanding of the information by summarizing the major topics you discussed. This will provide an opportunity for them to ask any additional questions.  Be sure to thank the person for calling and ask if you can follow up with them at a later time either by offering to schedule an appointment or by obtaining their mailing address and email address. Having this on file will make it easier to reconnect with those who are difficult to reach. Always confirm how and when you plan to follow up in the future so callers know exactly what to expect.

7. Protect the Calls You Can’t Answer

During times when you know you might be unavailable or preoccupied, it is unwise to try to answer every incoming call yourself.  Embrace technology that provides you with back-up protection to ensure calls are not dropped or sent to voicemail. Funeral professionals who use call forwarding, mobile technology and an answering service have a major competitive advantage over those who do not simply because their callers can always get through to them. Forwarding your phone lines to a secondary number also provides you with additional time to find an appropriate environment to return urgent calls to families.

Jess FowlerJessica Fowler is the Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer at ASD – Answering Service for Directors. Jessica has answered the calls of funeral homes nationwide for more than 10 years. In that time, she has fielded more than 350,000 calls and 16,000 first calls. Jessica 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 and funeral trends.To learn more about the call forwarding options mentioned in this article, or to learn more about what ASD does, you can contact Jessica at 800-868-9950

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  1. Jeff Harbeson

    Well done young lady! #thefuneralcommander

  2. Natasha Allen

    thanks very great article

  3. Marie

    Hello, do you have any material or information about how to offer funeral services in advance by phone?