Dealing with the loss of a loved one can be one of the most difficult and challenging times a family will ever have to face. As well as the emotional impact, many will find themselves in a place they have never been before with many aspects of what to do and how to do it unknown.
EQ Benefactor was originally conceived to ensure we continually look to improve the experience of the 300,000 or so family members and friends that contact us each year due to bereavement. Over time, we have extended the solutions we provide to our clients to help them improve the way they approach bereavement. This also led to us being chosen to develop, deliver and manage the new Death Notification Service approximately 3 years ago.
As well as the knowledge we have gained from our own experience, we have also spent lots of time working with businesses of difference sizes across different sectors, seeking to understand how their bereavement processes work and to obtain new ideas and share best practice.
This has not only further highlighted how difficult a time it is for the family and friends of those experiencing a sad loss but also the huge impact it has on the teams who interact with them on a daily basis. Every organisation we have spent time with has great people trying to do their best and wanting to place the need of the customer at the centre of what they do, despite the incredible emotional impact many are facing. Working on a bereavement department is one of the most challenging roles anyone will ever have.
We have listened to customer feedback, the employees of the companies we have worked with and have identified 3 key areas of the process which appear to cause the biggest issues for those having to contact businesses due to a bereavement.
1. Making it difficult to contact you
As many as 1 in 3 notifications we receive through DNS are made outside of office opening hours.
Do you offer notifiers a channel of choice? Are you dictating by default how you can be contacted?
The most common method of contacting a business to notify them of a bereavement is by phone. In many cases this is because it is the only contact method available. Given on average 21 different organisations will need to be contacted this can be a huge task, particularly having to repeat the same difficult conversation over and over again. In many cases there is not even a dedicated phone number for this and the notifier has to use a generic customer service contact number. This can result in not just lengthy calls but the notifier having to repeat themselves over and over again as they get transferred from one department to another. Using the telephone is also restrictive in the times when you can be contacted, with many businesses only offering traditional core office opening times. Our experience shows us that as many as 1 in 3 of the notifications that we receive through the DNS are made outside of office opening hours.
Some businesses may offer some form of digital channel or email contact option. Usually this will be to arrange a follow up contact and will not actually be to take the notification and a call would still be needed at some stage.
Options to improve the experience
- Offer notifiers channel of choice. Let them decide how they want to contact you and just as importantly when.
- Ensure you have a dedicated contact number for bereavement that is easy to find and don’t make notifiers use a generic customer service number.
- Develop a digital solution that is simple and easy to use. A solution that isn’t just about arranging a call back but actually is a notification solution that reduces the need for further contact and phone calls.
2. Asking too much detail and sharing to much information with the notifier
We need to consider the impact bereavement can have and the potential vulnerability aspects associated when engaging with the recently bereaved
On many occasions, the notifier will just want to let you know about the death when they contact you. From the time we have spent with businesses listening to calls, we have seen call lengths vary from a few minutes up to in excess of 30 minutes. We need to consider the impact bereavement can have and the potential vulnerability aspects associated when engaging with the recently bereaved. Plus the fact they will be speaking to lots of other businesses at the same time they are with you. It’s vital to consider if today is the right time to be having detailed conversations around the products they hold with you? Do they need to decide today what they want to do or can it wait until another day when they have more time and potentially less emotion to deal with?
Options to improve the experience
Consider what it is you actually need from the notifier today. In most cases, it will be as simple as who is dealing with the administration moving forward and how can you reach them. Maybe it is simply changing the name of the product/account?
When sharing information about next steps, keep it simple and in plain English. Avoid the use of jargon and don’t expect the notifier to be able to retain every piece of detail you share with them. At EQ we always capture an email address which allows us to keep the details we share on the call brief. We then follow up with an easy to read next steps guide, making it much easier for the notifier and also ensuring they have a document to refer to, rather than notes they have had to make on what can be up to 20 plus contacts they have had to make. By taking this approach, we have seen a significant reduction in the volume repeat calls that we receive as the notifier is better informed.
3. Try to see things from the customer side
The customer experience with you will make up potentially less than 5% of the contact process
Many businesses we speak with will believe they have developed an excellent bereavement experience. Unfortunately, this is in many cases based upon the assumption they are the only organisation the notifier will have to contact. As previously mentioned, there is a need on average to contact 21 different organisations. This means the customer experience with you will make up potentially less than 5% on the contact process. You will not know if you are the first contact being made today, or the 5th, 10th or even 20th! From the side of the notifier, you could actually be a very small part of their bereavement experience, yet one of the most complex or time consuming. Friends and family will need to be made aware of the sad loss. Employers contacted, funerals arranged and a whole host of other personal matters to attend to. The notifier may be feeling vulnerable and struggling to come to terms with their loss. Whilst it is important for every business to have a solution that delivers against the needs of the business, building the customer journey around this alone will result in a poor experience.
Options to improve the experience
The simple solution here is to ensure when you build your bereavement journey it takes into account the entire customer experience, not just that from the interaction with you. Train staff to be aware of the bigger picture and what the notifier could be going through. Understand you are a small part of what is a big and emotional time for someone. Think about what the real priorities are today for the notifier. How can you make the time that they interact with you as short and simple as possible? Does a customer really need to make a big decision today? Allow them to just let you know and move at their pace.
- Give them choices of how and when to contact you.
- Don’t ask too much or share too much detail on the call.
- Allow time and space to deal with what is the priority.
Dealing with bereavement will always be one of the hardest aspects to get right. Understanding the bigger picture and providing options and the appropriate level of training to employees is the key.
We know from speaking with existing DNS clients, that the service makes all of the above much easier for both customers and employees. There is also the added opportunity to share and learn from each other and improve the overall experience.
We always welcome interest in the Death Notification Service from potential clients across all sectors and from businesses of all sizes. Please feel free to get in touch with us if you want to know more or even if you just want to have a conversation about how you could improve your current operating model.