There are few times in life when customer service is as important as when someone has to make funeral arrangements for a loved one. Service Corporation International (SCI) understands this as well as, if not better than, any other organization.
During the early 21st century, SCI—the nation’s largest owner of funeral homes and cemeteries, with more than 2,300 locations throughout the United States and Canada—acquired a number of individual locations and smaller competitors, most of which were family owned with deep roots in the communities they served. With a service-based culture, SCI is “dedicated to supporting families at one of the most difficult times, while celebrating the significance of the lives lived with dignity and honor.”
Although aware that providing the highest level of service during every customer interaction is paramount to maintaining loyalty, advocacy, and future success, SCI had no consistent Voice of the Customer program in place to effectively measure this across their enterprise, so they contacted J.D. Power to help find a solution.
J.D. Power began by deploying a proprietary benchmark study to quantify the impact of customer satisfaction on their business, establish a benchmark index model, and provide a financial correlation with providing exceptional customer service.
The J.D. Power team discovered that there was indeed substantial return on investment to the business via two avenues: (1) as services are being provided—through incremental options and upgrades—and (2) afterwards, via referrals to family and friends through loyalty and advocacy. J.D. Power examined four key episodes: first call, arrangement visit, funeral service or cremation, and follow up. SCI immediately identified major gaps between its highest- and lowest-performing locations and began to implement corrective actions to close the gap.
Among the most important actions was launching a training program for all employees on how to handle a customer’s first call. The ability for any employee to handle the first call to SCI with sensitivity and respect is critical to the success of the entire process. Since any employee can receive such a call anytime day or night, this type of training would serve as a fundamental first step in performance improvement. Other practices identified as drivers of satisfaction and revenue during a service included offering customers help in making such other arrangements as catering and flowers, providing bereavement travel counseling, and following up with an aftercare call within 48 hours.
The results of managing to the metrics are striking. SCI consistently performs above 900 (on a 1,000-point scale), which is the highest score achieved across all the industries and companies J.D. Power measures. It’s even more impressive considering the large number of locations SCI manages. This unparalleled accomplishment is also reflected in SCI’s consistent revenue growth since the inception of the tracking program—a tangible illustration of how measuring and managing performance can drive real business results.