Innovative Mystery Shopping Program Reveals Cemeteries and Funeral Homes Need Help Making a First Impression

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Lisa Johnston
Canadian Funeral News

In a bustling funeral home or cemetery business, it is sometimes hard to get to the phone and take the time needed to answer questions—while asking your own—in an empathetic manner. Even harder is finding the time to update online media outlets. However, these are the first two contact points with consumers and, according to Dead Ringers, an area that could use improvement. 

Led by Poul Lemasters and Cole Imperi, Dead Ringers launched in October of 2015 with the aim to improve first-call etiquette within North America’s death-care profession. And in today’s society, that first contact is just not over the phone but can also take place via the online world. 

“Mystery shopping is not a new idea but the phone shopping of funeral homes in the past has not been very objective,” says Lemasters, who uses his unique background in funeral service and law to counsel others in the death-care profession. “In comparison, Dead Ringers operates with an objective process while focusing on the regulatory side of things. Using data science, we can pinpoint exactly where a specific firm needs to practice to become better.” 

Funeral homes and cemeteries can enlist Dead Ringers to evaluate and offer suggestions towards improving first-call responsiveness. No business is too large or too small as the team has worked with a single firm to large conglomerates. More recently, they collected provincewide data to present to delegates at the British Columbia Funeral Association conference. No matter the avenue, Dead Ringers fixes first calls while also reviewing a company’s online presence. 

The data revealed in B.C. showed the majority of funeral homes and cemeteries scored low on both their first-call and online experience: only 39 per cent appeared empathetic; 35 per cent sounded nice; 58 per cent conveyed trust; and 20 per cent had a strong online presence. Even worse, 19 per cent did not even answer the phone. 

“When we were presenting the numbers, we talked about the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – and I think those emotions were all reflected in the room,” says Imperi, who also works as a thanatologist and a death doula. “It is not fun to find out that maybe we could be doing things differently. The information is so compelling because it is individual; it is personal. It was not a presentation that spoke generally about the profession; we really zeroed in on each funeral home and that made the experience unique. 

“Even more importantly, it is an opportunity for every single person who gets called or shopped to make a change within their business, and when one business improves, all of death care improves with it.” 

So where are Canadian funeral homes and cemeteries making their mistakes when it comes to the first call? Imperi reveals they often miss the opportunity to engage the consumer by asking questions. 

“If we call a funeral home and ask them if they sell urns, the most common answer is ‘yes,’” explains Imperi. “Your response should not be just ‘yes.’ This is an opportunity to introduce yourself and go into more detail about your offerings. In our phone calls, we rarely saw that happen.” 

Lemasters adds that another vital ingredient is making a connection. “So many people fail to ask the name of the person calling or even more tragically, the name of the person they are calling about. In our B.C. data, only 24 per cent asked for the name and only one person asked why they chose to call their business. This should always be a question as it will let you know whether you have served them before or which of your advertising avenues are working the best.” 

While Dead Ringers only made one call to each funeral home and cemetery in B.C., they generally recommend a minimum of five calls to get an accurate depiction of a company to uncover any weaknesses. However, as in the case of B.C., one can still reveal a great deal of information. 

“We admit it is possible to have one bad call,” says Lemasters. “A lot of people said, ‘Well you must have caught us on a bad day; we are not always like that.’ Our argument is that the consumer is not going to call two, three, four or five times to get you on your good day.” 

The good news: it is easy to improve and help is just a phone call away. Dead Ringers provides a comprehensive in-house hands-on program featuring first-call expert, Nicole Wiedeman. 

“We spent months and months developing a training program that provides actionable steps they can implement the minute they pick up the phone,” says Imperi. “The training program is divided into four sections and covers everything from first engagement to the end of the call. They practice difficult calls and role play. It is like anything: you have to practice to be better.” 

Training also includes an analysis of the company’s online presence. “Websites in death care are really behind the times,” says Lemasters. “People go to a website wanting to find out about services and merchandise and those are the things almost every funeral home and cemetery are not putting on their website.” 

Instead, Imperi adds, they like to include irrelevant data and often have hard-to-find contact information. “Most consumers do not really care about how many generations you have been in business; instead they want information on what is it like to work with you.” 

The trends witnessed in B.C. do not stop at the provincial border but can be seen in every region of Canada. Phone etiquette was also a topic at the Saskatchewan Spring Symposium where NFDA’s Lacy Robinson presented findings after posing as an elderly women asking about cremation options over the phone. Similar to the Dead Ringers data, Robinson found that most calls were answered in an unprofessional and curt manner. She also made suggestions to ask for the caller’s name while expressing condolences. 

Training seems to be the key in providing a positive customer experience, resulting in a better first impression for the entire death-care profession. 

“I tend to be an optimist and I believe we have the opportunity to do better really quickly,” notes Imperi. “Just asking a person’s name when they call is an easy way to really raise the bar in funeral service.” 

Lemasters agrees, “The sad part is these are not overly hard concepts and we know there is a correlation: people who score higher typically have better sales on a day-to-day basis.” 

So the next time the phone rings or someone clicks on a website link, be prepared to present the best first impression possible leading to a win-win situation for both the death-care profession and the families reaching out for assistance.