The hospitality industry reaches far and wide. Whether it is a restaurant or a big box store or a funeral home, one thing reigns consistent: customers want to be treated fairly, professionally, and with respect.
Consumers have high expectations for customer service. If those expectations are not met, boom – they’re gone, never to come back again. There are simply too many options out there to not perform at your best every. single. time. And their discontinued patronage may not be your only problem; social media these days can take one person’s bad experience and make it known to the masses. It’s safe to say that most instances like the one above occur in ordinary, everyday interactions. But what about industries where the customer is under more than unusual stress? Leonard L. Berry, Scott W. Davis &Jody Wilmet write in the Harvard Business Review, that “customers are often stressed in situations where they are not familiar with the type of service, where there are significant consequences if something goes wrong, or where the service is complex.”
A perfect example of a segment within the hospitality industry that must deal consistently with highly-stressed customers is funeral homes. A funeral home’s staff is confronted on a daily basis with customers who may be dealing with the funeral planning process for the first time, while simultaneously coping with the loss of a loved one. Leonard L. Berry and his colleagues have identified four key insights designed to give an advantage to businesses that deal with customers under stress: 1. Identify emotional triggers, 2. Respond early to intense emotions, 3. Enhance customers’ control, and 4. Hire and rigorously train people who can communicate respectfully. Here are how these insights play out in our funeral home example:
- Identify emotional triggers
Problem: Emotional trigger number one: your customer just lost a loved one. Emotional trigger number two: they now need to plan that loved one’s funeral. Emotions are running high as this is the most vulnerable a person can get. ANY negative performance from staff will likely only enhance negative emotions.
Solution: Now is THE time to exceed the customers’ expectations. Determining their needs, being an active listener, and showing empathy will improve their experience. Simply, treat them the way you would want to be treated in this same situation.
- Respond early to intense emotions
Problem: It is too often that staff in the death care industry are normalized, or desensitized to these types of situations, as this is a subject matter they deal with every day. The potential danger of this is a failure to implement the most basic of responses: offering empathy and compassion.
Solution: Offering empathy and compassion immediately and inviting the customer to meet in person to discuss the matter personally brings comfort to those who may feel they have no control, or are angry or fearful of what happens next.
- Enhance customers’ control
Problem: Funeral customers are likely dealing with something they have never encountered before. This inevitably results in countless questions and concerns about your service.
Solution: In order to foster customer control, ensure that the customer has a direct contact to someone on your staff in case there are any questions. Encourage staff to offer a follow up call or meeting with the customer so they know you are available to see their concerns through.
- Hire and rigorously train people who can communicate respectively
Problem: While unfortunate, the death care industry still has many people unfit for their positions, be it lack of empathy, subject matter, or just plain disdain for their jobs.
Solution: Employers in the death care industry must develop a customized training and monitoring program for their staff. By providing them with specialized training, they will be more confident in their communication abilities and be ready to engage with customers under stress.
So, how can a funeral home help your business? It is likely that your business deals with customers under stress. Most likely not the level of stress encountered by those in the funeral home industry. But the same four insights that are applied to the funeral home industry above can work for your business too and can be monitored among your staff and improved upon – with an established mystery shopping program.
Shoppers’ View, a leading mystery shopping provider, has developed a specialized mystery shopping program that aligns itself with these insights and have experienced first-hand it’s impacts on businesses within the funeral home/death care industry. Our unique experience with this most difficult of subject matters makes us uniquely positioned to help those anywhere within the hospitality spectrum.
By using the latest tools to fully record and document customer experiences, staff can receive in-depth reporting showing which key factors were met and how to improve for future engagements. This results in happy customers, repeat customers, and better social media reviews, which we all know is the best advertising you can’t buy.