How to Build Communication Skills & Empathy at Your Funeral Home

Posted September 27, 2017

8 min read

We recently sat down with Kevin Czachor, Vice President and owner of ASD – Answering Service for Directors to talk about effective communication strategies and practices. (As a strategic partner of CRäKN, ASD – Answering Service for Directors is the only answering service exclusively dedicated to serving funeral professionals.)

Czachor has helped to develop custom telecommunication strategies for more than 30 percent of all funeral homes across America. With more than two decades of experience, Czachor meets with funeral directors regularly to share his expertise on utilizing mobile technology to streamline their tasks, enhance communication, and increase their productivity.

Besides writing on the topic, he also regularly delivers seminars on how mobile solutions can help funeral professionals conduct their business on the go without sacrificing service quality.

This breadth and depth of experience explains why we wanted to sit down with him to talk about the most up-to-date, best practices of funeral directors who are great communicators.

Teaching Your Team Emotional Intelligence

It’s true that every funeral home will have its own norms, culture, and way of communicating with families and your local community, but many times employees or new team members have room to grow when it comes to their communication skills.

Don’t shy away from coaching team members to provide feedback, and to ultimately grow, their interpersonal skills. Think of it this way: you’re helping team members grow their emotional intelligence—a skill that will be useful for them for in life, not just at work.

Here are 5 tips to get started when it comes to phone etiquette specifically, which will be a major part of your team members’ communication with families:

1. Providing compassion is much more about listening than speaking. “Active listening requires strong patience and focus – you must be able to pay attention not only to the words of the caller but also unspoken cues, such as long pauses, to get a full sense of their emotional state,” explains Czachor.

If a caller’s responses are brief, try using open-ended questions to demonstrate your interest and to elicit a more detailed answer. “Encourage [team members to] take thorough notes and always repeat important specifics back to callers.” This lets families know you are listening and ensures all of your data is correct, explains Czachor.

2. Be extremely conscious of tone. Communicating over the phone can pose challenges since body language cannot be used to emphasize a point. “This is why tonality should always be considered—your voice may be the very first thing a family member hears after the loss of a loved one,” explains Czachor.

Conveying empathy and emotion with your voice is essential as the vocal inflection will set the tone of the call. It will also determine how comfortable a caller feels explaining their situation to you, says Czachor.

3. Continually work to eliminate distractions. One of the major barriers funeral directors have when communicating over the phone is eliminating distractions. Half the battle is just recognizing that you need to consciously work to eliminate those distractions, however.

“When speaking to a family about a sensitive matter, consider the location carefully. A caller is likely to feel you are unconcerned with their privacy if you speak to them from a crowded room,” explains Czachor. While it’s not always possible for funeral directors to control where they are at when a call first call comes in, you can make every effort to find a more appropriate setting. It’s more about your consistent behavior over time, and catching yourself when you allow yourself to be distracted.

4. Aim to be as responsive as possible. Of course, answering a call in a bad environment is still preferable to letting the call go to voicemail, which may lead the person to think you are unresponsive to the needs of families. “This is why 80 percent of callers who hear a voicemail will hang up without leaving a message,” explains Czachor.

“Family members should also never hear a busy signal or perpetually ringing phone as their first impression of a funeral home. There is no reason for this to occur today with the advents in communication technology,” he says. Funeral professionals who use smart phones, call forwarding, and an answering service have a major competitive advantage over those who do not simply because their callers can always reach them. This is merely one way—but a critical one—where technology can support your employees’ communication skills.

5. Record calls for accountability and feedback. Czachor explains that while many funeral professionals recognize the importance of protecting their calls, they often lack the proper tools to evaluate how their staff represents the business. “Using a phone system that allows you to record your calls is certainly helpful for monitoring your funeral home’s communication. This also provides a unique training opportunity where funeral home employees can meet to discuss best practices for telephone etiquette,” says Czachor.

If they know the focus is on improvement, they’ll be open to getting feedback. “Listen to examples of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ calls to help employees recognize areas that are in need of improvement. This type of training session will help ensure everyone is on the same page and representing the funeral home properly,” says Czachor.

Helping to Build Empathy

An often overlooked business skill is that of harnessing empathy. Empathy can be used to improve how you listen, to better connect with families, and to see opportunities in how your funeral home operates once you see things from someone else’s perspective.

But how do you build empathy in your employees?

First, be sure to show that you value curiosity. After all, curiosity is often the foundation for seeing things in a new light or for exploring someone else’s point of view. If an employee tends to ask a lot of questions about things, don’t discourage that behavior. Instead, encourage such behaviors knowing it helps to expand empathy.

Second, it is essential for team members to recognize not every person processes grief the same way. “We hear this everyday at ASD. While one person may cry inconsolably while reporting a passing, another might relay the information in the same casual tone they would use to tell you about the weather outside.” Making sure that employees have education around grief helps to set the foundation for them being more empathetic towards the different emotions a person may have.

Czachor says it’s also important to coach or teach employees about how those various emotions can translate to behaviors over the phone.

It may be second nature to those who have been in the profession for years, but it could be harder to listen and to decipher underlying emotions and meaning for newer team members.

For example, a lot of callers will not come out and state that someone passed away because they are still in denial or simply unable to speak the words. “With so many different reactions to death, it’s important to never make assumptions about a relative’s emotional state or their relationship with the deceased,” explains Czachor.

Ultimately, to demonstrate empathy, you must respect the fact that we as human beings can never fully comprehend what another human being is going through.

“We can only try our best to imagine things from their perspective. This is important to remember because you don’t ever want to make a person feel as though their way of grieving is wrong or lacking in some way,” he says.

That’s why one of the most effective ways to convey this to families is to change your approach depending on whom you are interacting with. It may seem obvious, but the insight is critical. “Bereaved family members don’t want to hear a script or standardized response–they don’t want you to talk to them like they are all the same person,” says Czachor.

“To be empathetic and compassionate, you must be able to recognize the individual needs of everyone you serve.”

Have more questions about funeral home communication? Czachor will be speaking at the 2017 NFDA Convention in Boston, Massachusetts on October 31, 2017.

Simplify Your Resource Planning & Customer Management

CRäKN is a tool that simplifies how you manage all your day-to-day activities. With our new partnership and integration with ASD – Answering Service for Directors, it’s never been easier—every step of the way—to collect, track, and fully leverage all data on your families. 

Did a new family call your funeral home? All the information ASD has collected for you is also available in real-time in CRäKN. Did a family member call with questions about the service? ASD has access to all the information in CRäKN so they can easily answer questions. Click here to request a demo today.

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