By Charles Kanet; Click the PDF icon to view the original article.
Cal Wilkerson, vice president of sales and marketing for U.S. Cremation Equipment, admits he has an obsession. And it has spread to his colleagues, too. The obsession? Providing unmatched customer service. He readily admits that at his company, which for cemeteries, mortuaries, funeral homes and crematories in the domestic and international markets, customer service is much more than a slogan. It is woven into all phases of this cremator manufacturer business, from sales to installation to servicing of equipment.
U.S. Cremation Equipment is focused not only on the service it painstakingly provides, but on ways in which their products can help current and prospective customers increase service to their customers as well. It is a help-us-help-you approach. Here’s an example:
In August, Mark Arnett established Pinehaven Memorial Gardens in Hattiesburg, MS. When creating his business plan, he considered adding a crematorium on his property. In researching the possibility, he talked with Wilkerson who became an invaluable resource for information. “Cal was willing to answer any question and always went the extra mile,” comments Arnett. “I felt confident that I made the right decision, not just in the model we chose but in adding cremation as a service. I feel that now I am better able to serve the community.”
Because of the rising cremation rate and the Catholic Church’s greater acceptance of cremation, cemeteries are studying how they can better serve their families by adding crematories. Deciding whether to purchase a cremator – and which cremator manufacturer to choose – requires careful consideration. U.S. Cremation Equipment follows an objective sales process that helps prospective customers make that decision. “Our philosophy is simple: We strictly provide accurate technical data,” says Wilkerson. “No pressure, no tricks, no fear tactics.” Danny Losee, president of Perry Mount Park Cemetery in Pontiac, MI, purchased a unit from U.S. Cremation Equipment several years ago, and the sales experience still remains fresh in his mind. “I couldn’t believe how helpful and professional they were, never pushy,” recalls Losee. “They pointed out the features of their unit and never criticized their competitors’ products.
They even encouraged me to check the competition. I did, but no one came close in expertise, support, and customer service.” The U.S. Cremation Equipment’s sales team’s belief that their product is the best gives them the confidence to suggest that buyers consider all options. “Our sales staff strongly encourages the prospective customer to visit facilities where they can see equipment – ours and any competing brand – in operation,” notes Wilkerson. “Our staff always gives this simple advice, ‘Test the cremator before you buy it.”’
Tim Harman, president of Atlantic Crematory in Maryland, learned that piece of advice the hard way. In 2008 he was in the market for crematory equipment for his new business. He bought a unit and quickly discovered it did not provide the output his growing business required and the salesperson had promised. He needed to be operational 24 hours a day but his new equipment was falling far short. “The salesman sold me the model he wanted to sell, not the one I needed,” comments Harman. His experience with U.S. Cremation Equipment restored his faith in the sales process. “They really listened and matched their Classic model to my needs. This is the machine I should have had from the start,” Harman admits.
Pinehaven Memorial Garden’s Arnett says simply, “When I called to talk with other cremator manufacturers, it often took a week to 10 days for them to return my call. I figured if it took that long when I was trying to buy a unit, imagine how long it would take if I had a problem.”
How is this customer-focused sales strategy working for U.S. Cremation Equipment? “Our new equipment sales are at record levels,” reports Wilkerson. It’s a strategy he recommends for companies committed to providing unmatched service.
As a customer service advocate himself, Wilkerson suggests that the true measure of service comes after the contract is signed. Some companies are so focused on selling that they lose sight of the customer’s needs and fail to deliver. If personnel at your cemetery, mortuary, or mausoleum concentrate more on securing business and less on maintaining it, you might find this approach helpful.
Harman recalls that when the Classic was being installed at Atlantic Crematory, the president of U.S. Cremation Equipment, along with technicians, spent nearly a week at his business, ensuring the installation was done to specification. Harman and his staff felt confident and comfortable that everything was operating properly and at optimal performance.
“Our technicians spend at least three days at the site of a new installation,” explains Wilkerson. They adhere to a long list of careful steps, including slow-curing the lining of the high-temperature refractory to extend the life of the refractory; adjusting and testing every system; and performing a few cremations to fine-tune the unit as well as train crematory personnel under actual operating conditions. “We are careful to set up the cremator based on anticipated volume rather than standard settings,” Wilkerson points out. “Our customers range from those doing a few hundred cases a year to those who will handle more than a thousand cremations annually.”
Seek Feedback From Customers
U.S. Cremation Equipment has a step in their service process that’s rather unique. They proactively seek feedback from customers, checking to make certain that the equipment is running as it should and to the customers’ satisfaction. It’s a step they take right from the start. “We recognize that in the first 90 days cremator operators need further training and will be faced with unusual conditions, such as handling obese cases,” notes Wilkerson. “During this period we check on how the equipment is performing and urge them to call us if they have any questions or concerns, regardless of how mundane it seems.”
Reaching the service technicians could not be easier – and getting responses could not be faster. Debby Gray answers most of the service calls and treats each one as an emergency, even if it is a relatively small matter. As standard practice, customers are given cell phone numbers of high-level personnel either for after-hours emergencies or for calls from international customers operating in various time zones. “When it is midnight in Florida, it is 2:00 p.m. in Australia,” notes Wilkerson. “To comply with our promise of 24-hour service, we need to be reachable, so Luis Llorens (U.S. Cremation Equipment’s president) and I keep our cell phones turned on all night.
Keeping in mind that service problems are not only an inconvenience to customers but can be a costly interruption of their workflow, U.S. Cremation Equipment’s goal is to diagnose problems by phone and walk the customer through steps to correct the situation.
Danny Losee of Perry Mount Park Cemetery points out that the key to a fast diagnosis is something that feels nearly firsthand. “They have photographs of all parts of my equipment, so when I call they are looking at exactly what I am. That means a fast and reliable fix, but it also saves me money since I don’t need to arrange an on-site service call.”
Arnett sums up the customer service experience with U.S. Cremation Equipment as this: “They never lose sight of the investment we have in their equipment and always go out of their way to answer our questions quickly and helpfully. Although we bought our first unit in August, we already know that when it’s time for a second one, we know where we’ll go.”
Charles Kanet is president of Ohio-based Kanet Advertising. He has worked with Catholic Cemetery for many years and may be reached at 513.241,2874 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. U.S. Cremation Equipment may be contacted at 321.282.7357.
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