Exploring a connection between grief and customer loyalty.

helpful not helpfuHere’s a typical customer service scenario…

You are calling to touch base with an existing, up-to-date client.  Perhaps you are calling around renewal time and using that as an opportunity to both get feedback from your client and to encourage them to renew or you’re wanting to let the client know about some new service offerings.  The conversation might go something like this:

Can I speak with David* please?

He’s not available.

This is Work It Gym*.  We’d like to speak with David about his annual membership.  When would be a good time to call?

My son David is dead.

What to do now?

The above scenario is a real example (*with names changed).  In the course of the bereavement support work I do, it is not uncommon for me (and the rest of the group) to hear stories about a bereaved person’s experience with companies they have had to connect with in their time of loss.

This is a pivotal moment – Work it Gym has an opportunity to be helpful or unhelpful in how they approach this scenario.

So what did Work It Gym do?  They called back weeks later and again asked for David.  You can imagine that each of those calls triggered a wave of grief for the family member answering the call, reminding them of their loss.  It ended up taking several calls, delivery of a death notice, and multiple family members getting involved in order to have Work It Gym stop calling and asking for David.  And by the way, in one of the calls it was confirmed that there was a note on the company’s file indicating they had been told David was dead, yet the company kept asking for him.  Helpful?  Definitely not.

It can be a challenge for both parties involved to figure a way forward in these types of circumstances particularly because the conversations can be uncomfortable.  The family is most likely in uncharted waters.  It would appear Work it Gym was too, but they didn’t need to be.

Helpful can enhance loyalty

Here’s the thing, Work It Gym could have process and training in place for this type of scenario.  It doesn’t have to be hard.  Acknowledging the loss of the bereaved person they are speaking with is a starting point.  Offering a simple approach with as few and easy steps as possible to take care of any “business” that needs to happen is the follow-up.  This however requires fore-thought.

For David’s family, there was no positive feedback about their experience with Work It Gym.  All of us in the support group that evening heard words to the effect “I would never ever get a membership there.”

While it is a difficult and potentially awkward scenario for all, a little compassion and an easy process to make any necessary updates to an account’s status can go a long way.  From the same family, we heard about another company – one that first and foremost acknowledged the family’s loss and offered a supportive, straightforward process for closing out David’s account.  All positive things were said about the company.  Other family members had accounts with them already and were happy to continue doing so.

Helpful or unhelpful?  A Call to Action…

I’m issuing a call to action.  In your organization answer the following questions.  Think of it as a continuous improvement project.  Make the changes to find yourselves on the helpful side of the customer service equation in the context of grief and loss.

  • What is our current process around clients who die?
  • What needs to happen to the status of an account?
  • What information do we need in order to close/modify an account in the circumstances of death?
  • What happens to billing and/or contract fees?
  • What happens to the information/data we have on that client?
  • What happens in the context of our customer relationship management approaches?  (For example what triggered the call to David in the first place?  David should not be on the call list going forward.)
  • Are there proactive steps we want to take when we set-up a new client that would facilitate the process at time of death?  (For an example Facebook has put in place a number of policies and procedures:  What will happen to my account if I pass away?)
  • What do we want to say to the bereaved person/family we are working with?
  • What might ease in our approach look like from their perspective?
  • Overall, how can we have our administrative needs met, acknowledging that sometimes for privacy and other legal requirement things like a death notice are required, and be compassionate in our approach, acknowledging we are working with a bereaved individual?

Here’s hoping I hear more and more stories in the bereavement support groups about how helpful companies have been at a family’s time of need.

P.S.  If you have a helpful company story from your own loss experience, I encourage you to share it in the comments to offer some examples of positive practices that work.


Text, Images, and Materials Copyright © Dr. Catherine Hajnal  2003-2015