Alex Jones Funeral Directors

Independent Alex Jones Funeral Directors chose us to take care of out-of-hours telephone answering while maintaining their reputation for customer care and a personal touch.

The client

Alex Jones Funeral Directors is an independent, family-owned firm of funeral directors based in Lingfield, Surrey. Founded in 1996, the firm has steadily expanded to a team of 21 people, opening satellite branches in Oxted, Forest Row and Edenbridge (Kent), plus three more in Chelsea.

A general trend towards consolidation has left Alex Jones as one of just two independent funeral directors in the area. A larger firm can mean a more rigid, less personal service, which means an opportunity for Alex Jones to shine. ‘If people have financial problems, we can sometimes help out on the price, and we don’t have to refer it upwards first,’ explains Paul Harber, General Manager. ‘You only get one chance to arrange a funeral for a family, so we take care of all the little details, and we’re picky about who we employ. As a result of that, our reputation’s grown, and we often get requests from further afield.’

What they needed

Alex Jones had an out-of-hours call-answering service in place, but it wasn’t serving the firm’s reputation. ‘We’d worked with a Merseyside firm for years, but we had several issues,’ explains Paul. ‘Calls went unanswered or weren’t forwarded, losing us business, for which we were never compensated. Operators had Liverpool accents, which wasn’t reassuring for a southern firm, and despite repeated requests there was often loud music or talking in the background. Finally, the call script wasn’t always followed, and operators weren’t guiding callers through the process. We knew we needed to change, but we had to find the right company.’

When Alex heard about Frontline’s work for other funeral directors at a trade event, he and Paul decided to visit our Portsmouth HQ to see our operation first-hand. ‘The minute we walked out, we said to each other, “We have to do this!”’ recalls Paul. ‘We liked the fact we could choose our own script, and we were pleased there was a specialist funeral team – and if the Co-op were using them, we knew they had to be good.’

What we did

The background music and the northern accents went at a stroke, but there was a lot more we could do for Alex Jones. Drawing on our experience with other funeral directors, we created a phone script especially for them, and identified ways we could save them time.

‘Frontline’s operators filter calls by asking if the enquiry can wait, so our staff aren’t bothered or woken needlessly – they just get an email,’ explains Paul. ‘If a family calls before a doctor has certified the death, we’re not notified until that’s actually happened. And if it is urgent, Frontline phone through so we can take a few minutes to prepare – essential when you’ve been woken at 3am. Basically, they have the knowledge to ask the same questions we would, which really helps.’

Frontline’s computer systems record what happens with every call, and the firm provides a report each morning. ‘So far, I don’t think we’ve had a single dropped call, and it’s always been very prompt,’ says Paul.

How we helped

For Alex Jones, switching to Frontline has meant a much better out-of-hours presence, and a safeguarded reputation. ‘If someone called our old provider and then Frontline, I have no doubt which one they’d choose,’ says Paul. ‘We sound much more professional than before. It’s also saved our staff time and energy, simply because they’re not disturbed at night so often.

‘I’d certainly recommend Frontline to other firms,’ he adds. ‘In fact, I was speaking to a colleague in another firm the other day who uses our old provider. I told him, “Please, get in touch with Frontline and change. They’re fantastic!”’

Midcounties Co-operative Funeralcare

Midcounties, the UK’s largest Co-op, chose us to handle all out-of-hours calls to its very busy funeralcare division.

The client

The Midcounties Co-op opened its first store in 1853, and has grown into the largest independent Co-operative in the UK, with gross sales of over £1bn and almost 9000 staff members.

Today’s Midcounties was formed by the merger of the West Midlands and Oxford, Swindon and Gloucester Co-ops. Like all Co-operatives, it is owned by its members, not shareholders, and its profits are shared with members, invested in community projects or reinvested in the business.

The Co-operative sector (comprising all local independent Co-ops) serves 25% of the total funerals in Britain. For its part, Midcounties conducts around 7500 funerals per year (or over 20 a day, on average) and has 80 branches, over half of which are in the Black Country, north-west of Birmingham.

What they needed

Midcounties’ first approach to Frontline was prompted by a legal issue that arose around 2003. ‘When it came to out-of-hours cover, the Working Time Directive was a grey area for us – did being available for a phone call constitute working?’ explains Mark Adams, Head of Funeral Services. ‘To make sure we were legally compliant, our Group General Manager, Simon Fisher, decided to outsource that whole function.’

However, there was also a business need to set up something more robust. ‘We open 9–5 Monday to Friday, but the perception is that people are in all 80 of our offices 24 hours a day,’ says Mark. ‘There isn’t an “out of hours” number – people simply call the number of their nearest branch. Ten years ago, we had all our phones going into one person’s home telephone number, as many independent funeral directors still do. At busy times, such as Saturday mornings, we could easily have been missing calls – and, of course, a home can easily have a barking dog in the background, or a child who likes to answer the phone.’

What we did

Fortunately, Midcounties’ requirement coincided with our own growing interest in serving the funeral sector. ‘Although I was working for another Co-operative at the time, I knew Frontline through a funeral trade association, and took a keen interest in what they were doing,’ says Mark. ‘They realised the funeral sector was special, and appointed internal “champions” to develop teams exclusively devoted to funeral clients.’

When our sales brochure hit Simon’s desk, he decided to get in touch. The orgnisation ran a trial with us initially, before switching over completely around 2005.

At the end of the working day, Co-op staff simply pass their branch’s phone line to Frontline for answering, and take it back again in the morning. Frontline email each branch with a roundup of the previous night’s enquiries, or simply a confirmation that no calls were received. Most calls come through between 5pm and 7.30pm.

‘Simon developed our own script for Frontline’s operators to use, and Frontline have been brilliant at sticking to it,’ says Mark. ‘At the moment, we encourage people to call back next working day, but we’re thinking of offering the option for a callback from a duty funeral director straight away – and we know Frontline could handle that. Ideally, we’d give them access to our customer records, so they could confirm whether we’re handling a particular funeral or not, which is a common question – but there are data protection issues.’

How we helped

There were a few unavoidable regionalisation issues in the early days, such as our Portsmouth operators not knowing how to pronounce some Midlands place names. ‘But whenever we offered feedback, it was always acted upon,’ notes Mark. ‘And because they are the funeral team, they have accumulated knowledge about the way to use our script and deal with enquiries.’

Two of the key benefits for Midcounties has been visibility and consistency. ‘At the highest level, we know what call volumes we’re receiving, and we know they’re being answered,’ explains Mark. ‘Our branches really appreciate the emails in the morning, which is far better than waiting for the duty funeral director to arrive with their notes of last night’s messages. Finally, we can rest assured that every call is being answered in a professional way.’

Ten years on, Midcounties remain happy with our service and have no plans to look at other providers. ‘I would definitely recommend Frontline for larger organisations, which is why I invited them to the trade event where they originally met Simon,’ affirms Mark. ‘They’ve proved that they’re a major player.’

Jason Maiden, Funeral Director - Chelsea Funeral Directors

Jason Maiden, Funeral Director - Chelsea Funeral Directors

Chelsea Funeral Directors

The challenges of running a business in Central London are complex: Travelling to and from work, one dips in and out of phone reception, which created gaps in the service that could not be prevented without some drastic changes to the way of life for our funeral team.

The client

Chelsea Funeral Directors are an independent funeral service based in and around the Central London area. Proud of a long and established presence in the Chelsea, Westminster and Fulham areas, they have remained a family owned business for over 130 years.

What they needed

A family’s ‘first touch’, when they first reach out to a funeral director colours their whole perception and experience of the service. But funeral directors know that when you are woken by a call in the middle of the night from a family in distress, you are not always alert enough to deliver the most professional and understanding response and it is from this perspective of the work-life balance that Jason Malden, Funeral Director from Chelsea Funeral Directors makes his case for the Frontline service.

‘It is good to be able to go out for dinner and know that the calls will be answered in a few rings and in a consistent manner.’ Historically the business diverted calls to employees mobile phones out of hours but the results weren't consistent: ‘It got to the point where we were avoiding situations – e.g. travelling on the tube – due to the issues with reception’ says Jason. This went on to impact simple things like choice of route home and transportation at the end of a busy and demanding day.

To combat this, Jason and the team had used another contact centre but their experience was poor. The centre had a clear deficit of knowledge and experience in handling funeral calls. Frontline seemed like a logical partner, having provided similar services to a number of funeral businesses for many years. The first meeting with the Frontline team inspired confidence in the comprehensive manner in which the Frontline team handle these sensitive calls. Jason says: ‘They presented to us a call flow which broke down how we handle calls. This was extremely useful because we had previously never given much thought to the process we follow ourselves- we just did it. The processes developed with Frontline were so well thought out and comprehensive that they are now used as part of the training for our internal staff.’

What we did

Using basic templates we worked with Jason and Alun to hone the call-taking process and emulate the procedures used within office hours. The first iteration was a very close fit to the service required though there of course areas that needed ‘tweaking’ to fit their individual needs, which can always be expected with a new client. Each issue was dealt with in a speedy and positive manner: ‘The team were quick to respond and rectify issues’ explains Jason.

It is this personal attention from the Frontline team that underpins the greatest value in a business-to-business relationship. Affiliation with Frontline means having a professional but personal partner who can maintain and improve the most important aspect of your business- customer communication.

How we helped

Saving the on-duty Funeral Director a call gives them time to relax and disconnect after a long day’s work. ‘We’re incredibly confident in the service that you provide, we know that there are so many questions that you can answer’ says Jason.

Frontline have given the office team with the tools to have informed conversations with the families. ‘The morning reports fill the team with reassurance, they feel empowered by the detail of the information provided by the Frontline team,’ he says confidently.

‘Communication within the business has improved, as has the quality of service that our customers experience when they call us outside of office hours.’