If that is the case, your first impression can easily go wrong. Say the wrong thing or say the right thing in the wrong way, and you can unwittingly cause confusion or upset.
For the many companies that communicate with people who have been recently bereaved, not dealing with them sensitively can have a long-lasting impact. If their process goes wrong, it is unlikely they will be able to win these people over for a very long time – if ever. They also face reputational damage from negative reviews, word of mouth, and even the media. Get it right, and potential customers could become new customers, and current customers can become greater advocates.
So how can companies ensure their bereavement process is customer-first from the first moment?
1. Treat bereavement differently to other customer queries
The focus for other customer calls is often speed, accuracy and friendliness. With bereavement, there are many more nuances.
Our advice: If you have a high volume of calls of this nature, consider setting up a specialist team that handles bereavement calls. Ensure your process places the customer at the centre and not just the needs of your business.
2. Find the right people to deal with bereavement calls
People who work in bereavement need to have empathy, and an appropriate manner and tone on the phone. They need listening skills of the highest calibre. They also have to want to deal with these types of queries. It should be a choice as not everyone will be comfortable doing it, while others will be keen to be the ones offering exceptional service during difficult times.
Our advice: Identify employees who will really understand and empathise with what callers are going through.
3. Empower your employees
This is not an easy job but many employees actually thrive on it when confident they are doing the right thing.
Our advice: Give employees ongoing training and support. Don’t force them to use a script but encourage them to think for themselves. Provide them with a knowledge bank of resources, archives and bespoke training materials so they have everything they need at their fingertips to do a great job.
4. Treat callers as individuals
Someone may call to update you about a death of a person they barely know from 20 years ago, or a loved one that passed away last week. Or they could be an experienced solicitor who has had half the conversation in their head before they have even picked up the phone. Some people will be upset and want to explain their situation in full. Others will want to share as little information as possible. It is futile guessing how people will behave based on demographics when every single person reacts differently to bereavement.
Our advice: Don’t group people into meaningless segments. Enable call handlers to listen to every single person and treat them as they want to be treated and in a way appropriate to the moment.
5. Don’t set up rigid processes
Someone’s first call could be to close a utilities account or with a much more complex requirement – such as selling a house, dealing with a trust or shareholdings.
Our advice: When there are so many variations, there is no one ‘ideal’ way to deal with a query. Don’t put in place rigid processes that cannot be flexed to the situation. Give the customer choice: choice of how to notify you and just as importantly, when they can notify you.
6. Understand your processes
While rigidity should be avoided, call handlers need to be able to deal with queries efficiently and accurately without reinventing the wheel every time.
Our advice: Make sure employees know what all the options are, where callers can get more information if they need to, what buttons to select in each standard scenario and how to produce accurate letters to go to the customer.
At the same time, teach them everything about your process, your products and the possible scenarios they will face. They need to be able to imagine the full end-to-end way of doing things in your business, so they can start seeing how everything works together and how they fit in. Then when queries aren’t standard, they can work out how to adapt the process appropriately.
Updating the way you deal with bereavement in these ways ensures customers and potential customers receive exemplary service. And there are other business benefits too. Repeat calls are reduced because issues have been dealt with thoroughly. Staff retention increases because people enjoy their jobs more as they can be themselves.
Every moment with customers contributes to their overall perception of your business. But the first time that they get in contact during the bereavement process is one of the moments when the service you offer can make the greatest impact – so make sure it’s positive every time.