Cremation Service Adds Telemarketing to Sales Efforts

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The Neptune Society Inc., Burbank, CA, a provider of cremation services, is launching a telemarketing campaign to back up its direct mail efforts and set appointments for its regional sales representatives.


The company, one of the largest providers of cremation services in the country, mails about 3.6 million pieces each year touting its "pre-need" cremation policy, and usually gets a response rate of about 0.75 percent to 1 percent, according to Marco Markin, president and CEO of The Neptune Society.


"We know there are more than 3.4 million people out there that receive our mailers who don't give us a response," said Markin. "We want to phone them up and ask them, 'Have you received our mailers?' "


The company offers a prepaid cremation service for about $1,200, allowing the elderly to plan the disposition of their own remains rather than burden surviving family members. The company sells about 7,000 such contracts each year and has sold about 90,000 such contracts altogether since it launched the pre-need service. The company also provides "at-need" services for surviving relatives to cremate their loved ones.


Markin said his company's research shows that about 80 percent of people over age 65 want to make arrangements for the disposal of their remains ahead of time, but only 0.2 percent have done so.


The call center will not actually sell Neptune's services over the phone and will not make cold calls, Markin said. Instead, it will try to set up appointments for local area representatives by calling those prospects who have received mailings but have not responded within about two to three weeks. The company mails about 30,000 pieces every two weeks.


Markin said the company hopes to double its annual lead-generation rate through the use of the new center.


The call center, which began operating last week in Tempe, AZ, will start with 12 agents but plans to expand to 24 as the service grows to support all of the company's regional offices. Neptune has operations in California, Florida and New York.


Dawn Wretland, the newly hired director of operations for teleservices at The Neptune Society, said that the company expects to grow out of its current facility in about six months if the telemarketing effort goes as planned.


She said the call center's predictive dialer should deliver a live voice to an agent every 10 seconds for eight hours each day, resulting in several thousand outbound calls per day. The script, crafted with the help of some of the company's sales representatives, appears on agent's screens automatically along with the customer's information and a place to set the appointment for the area sales reps.


"It's definitely an emotional sell," said Wretland, who noted that about 75 percent of the respondents to the company's mailers are women.


"Women are the ones making plans; I guess men don't think they're ever going to die," she quipped.


The call center will not handle inbound calls. People who call Neptune in response to the mailings are directed, via the company's home office, to the sales agent in their area.


Markin said he had "no interest whatsoever" in outsourcing the teleservices effort because of the delicate nature of the product.


"We want to control it," he said. "We want to hear what people are saying. We give people a very delicate product and we want to handle it ourselves."


He chose Arizona for the call center because of the time difference -- only two hours from the East Coast, rather than three -- and because it is a relatively low-cost area to operate a call center, he said.
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