The idea of providing good customer service in the context of a funeral home isn’t as cut-and-dried as it is in other industries. No matter how attentive your staff members are or how thoughtful your service arrangements might be, families facing devastating losses might still leave your business unhappy — and understandably so!
But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be concerned about the customer experience you’re providing. The rise of online reviews means that what customers perceive as bad service can be splashed around the internet, potentially harming your reputation and — consequently — your ability to generate new business.
As a result, you’ve got to make customer service a higher priority — and there’s no better company to learn from than Zappos. The online retailer is widely regarded for its customer-centric practices, leading to the following seven lessons you can apply to your funeral home today:
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Lesson #1 — Start by Hiring Right
According to founder Tony Hsieh, “One of our interview questions is, ‘On a scale of one to ten, how lucky are you?’” If that seems silly, there’s some science behind it, according to one study that found that people who reported themselves as being lucky were more likely to pick up on clues to help solve a task they were given. In effect, their disposition helped them outperform a group that perceived itself as being naturally unlucky.
This question might not be the right fit for your funeral home, but what it has allowed Zappos to do is identify people who will be more naturally inclined to help solve customer issues. Carefully think through the qualities and characteristics that will make an employee successful in your organization from a customer service standpoint, then tailor your interview process correctly to capture these individuals.
Lesson #2 — Develop a Company Culture
The Zappos “family” follows ten core values, including things like “Embrace and Drive Change,” “Pursue Growth and Learning,” and “Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication.” In fact, Hsieh is so passionate about these principles that he’ll pay new hires $2,000 to leave the company after their first week if they feel they won’t be able to live up to these ideals.
The ability to provide great customer service depends on an environment that nurtures these actions. And while most funeral directors would agree that principles like these are important, far too many of them keep their visions locked up inside their heads. Instead, develop a company culture that creates positive customer interactions by defining your core values and living them in everything you do at your funeral home.
Lesson #3 — Invest From the Top Down
At Zappos, all new hires must spend time working the customer service call lines — whether they’ve been hired on as call center reps or executive team members. Not only does this create shared experiences that bind the team together, but it also helps all employees to remember to prioritize the customer with every action and decision.
Unlike some of the others in this article, this lesson can be applied directly to your funeral home. If senior members of your staff have moved away from more customer-intensive interactions, have them rotate time on the phones or with families in arrangement conferences to keep the “customer comes first” mentality at the front of their minds.
Lesson #4 — Create “Wow” Moments
What exactly is a “wow” moment? Check out the following Zappos interaction, shared by blogger Jules Pieri:
“Since my mom doesn’t use her computer right now (her hands are also numb, making it hard to type), she called Zappos to get instructions on returning the shoes she didn’t want to keep. Being a friendly Midwesterner, one thing led to another, and before she knew it she’d had a long, warm conversation with the Zappos employee. She learned that the Zappos person’s father had similar neurological effects from diabetes, my mom revealed she was widowed and that my dad also died of diabetes-related issues, and the Zappos person gently inquired about my mom’s current health battles. The Zappos person ended the call with a promise to pray for my mom.”
And that’s not even the end of the story…
“Two days later, [my mom] called again, saying that the “lovely” Zappos person had sent her an enormous bouquet of lilies and roses, to let her know she was thinking of her.”
Can your funeral home afford to send floral bouquets to every customer it works with? Probably not. But never fear! There are plenty of ways to impress your customers, as well as budget-friendly options that can help you create positive experiences when memorializing their loved ones.
Lesson #5 — Reward Good Service
Creating policies that encourage good customer service isn’t enough — you’ve got to reward it when you see it and offer coaching when service falls below expectations. Again, Zappos does this well. Each call center representative is expected to spend at least 80% of his or her time interacting with customers. Reps that achieve this target get a chance to spin the “Wheel of Happiness” to win gift cards and other prizes, while those that don’t are mentored on ways to improve.
Maybe your funeral home doesn’t have a “Wheel of Happiness” to reward directors and assistants that maintain positive customer relations. But even making a point to say “thank you” when you see exceptional customer service being carried out can be enough to make employees feel that their efforts are appreciated and encourage further positive interactions in the future.