Is the Customer Always Right?
Despite some newer philosophies that suggest that the employee comes first, when it comes to the funeral service industry, it’s all about customer satisfaction. When providing burial at sea services, the customer's perception is often a romanticized image of a beautiful sunset as the cremated remains are released. However in practice, the time of departure is after the daily scheduled charters, often late afternoon. When it comes to an ash scattering service as with any funeral arrangement, the family only has one chance to say goodbye, anything less than excellence is not acceptable.
An ocean burial is all about the living and catering to their needs, starting with securing availability on what could be a fully booked vessel. The industry standard is the use of fishing and sightseeing vessels because they are Coast Guard inspected for safety and affordable. That said, as with any means of transportation and working with the public, delays occur. Having a group of mourners waiting on a dock with an urn in hand is not a good situation. While it’s not my intention to list the many things that can and have gone wrong through the years, it’s Bill Gates quote that states it best : “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Each misunderstanding or unfortunate event has prompted a proactive approach for better communication with clients and captains. In addition, managing client expectations by explaining what to expect dispels myths and provides a more realistic framework for them to understand. There are some customers that simply can’t be satisfied whether due to heightened emotions, misconceptions of the process, stress, or all of the above. Rather than book the charter and face an inevitable barrage of complaints, it’s sometimes best to decline to serve. An example of one such turn-away is the story of one woman who frequently flew on Southwest Airlines. She wrote a letter of complaint after each of her flights coming to be known as the “Pen Pal”. Her complaints included non-assigned seats, the absence of a first-class section; no meals in flight and the boarding procedure. Her last letter, reciting a litany of other complaints, caused customer relations staff to bump it up to Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest at the time, with a note: "This one’s yours." In moments Kelleher wrote back and said, ‘Dear Mrs. Noplease, We will miss you. Love, Herb.’”
I’m happy to say that 99.9% of charters go as planned with most exceeding expectations on behalf of the captain, crew and the overall experience of a burial at sea. I’m always touched by the letters of thanks and appreciation. Providing the best level of customer service means going the extra mile to make it happen. Sometimes it means pressing a captain to move his schedule around to accommodate a family that needs to travel. Other times it's researching nearby ports because the family had their heart set on a specific and meaningful day. Regardless of the ease or difficulty of assisting a family, all have my undivided attention. I couldn't provide this service without the cooperation and level of commitment from my captains. I must say, I have the pleasure of working with men and woman who are mindful, sensitive and compassionate to my families. At the end of day I’m always honored to be entrusted to plan such a significant moment and know the event will be memorable.