The good, the bad and the ugly – dealing with companies during a bereavement

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been helping my mum notify companies in the UK of the sad passing of my dad.

As anyone who has been through the passing of a family member knows, this is already a stressful, emotional, and challenging time.

The last thing you need is companies adding to the stress with how they manage their bereavement process. Ultimately it comes down to two things: empathetic and caring staff and a simple and quick process.

Here are just three of my experiences that show the good, the bad and the damn right ugly.

The Good:

A big shout out to the bereavement team at O2 who have won a customer for life in my mum. Often phone companies get a bad rap, and I’ve had some terrible experiences in Australia, but credit where it’s due, O2 has created an exceptional customer experience.

The team demonstrated great empathy, care, and kindness throughout the conversations. They showed how much they wanted to help and make it a quick and pain-free experience but what was crucial to the whole experience was that the team was empowered.

They were empowered to make decisions on the spot that benefited the customer and created a quick process.

  • They immediately waived the latest bill
  • They even waived the outstanding balance on the iPhone my dad was buying through them
  • They explained the processes clearly in straightforward language
  • They showed care; “we understand that this is a difficult time, and we do not want to add to that and burden you with a loved one’s outstanding balances.”

Well done to O2 for having a team that cares and is empowered to make decisions that benefit the customer and simplify the process.

The Bad:

Due to the number of bank accounts my parents had we were keen to go into the bank and discuss them face-to-face.

Surely, it’s better done in person than over the phone, right?

An appointment had been made with the local branch 2 weeks prior. However, on the day we were informed by the branch manager, that the staff member we were due to meet was “on the till as we are down a staff member, so I am going to have to do this today” – a great start.

This was followed up with:

  • “You know you could have done this over the phone.”
  • “Talk amongst yourselves, as this will take me a while.”
  • “I should have said condolences on behalf of the bank.”

We were made to feel like an inconvenience and a hassle for the branch manager. The fact that my mum is a long-standing customer with several accounts and was keeping all funds with them was overlooked and whether this was the case or not, we should not have been treated this way.

They had what looked like a great process as we were able to notify all parts of the banking group in one visit and received a printout of all the accounts that would be actioned.

Unfortunately, the manager’s lack of care and consideration was also reflected in how he followed the process. A few days later we still had not received any correspondence from the bank, so I rang the bereavement team to confirm how everything was proceeding.

The bereavement team were fantastic and demonstrated the same level of care and empathy as the O2 team but immediately identified many things that were wrong:

  • The date of death had been recorded incorrectly
  • No instruction had been taken on what to do with the funds on the closed accounts
  • No identification was taken for my mum

They went through everything step by step and were extremely apologetic.

The learning – always deal with the specialist team who have been well trained.

The Ugly:

My dad had worked for his employer for 35 years. He was even active in their pensioner’s group, helping to organise their annual weekend events, so when preparing for his passing (he was a real planner), he was confident that his pension would be easy to sort.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case and has caused our family so much pain, stress, anger and frustration that it is hard to comprehend. My dad would be absolutely devastated that his family have been put through this ordeal.

His employer uses a third party to administer their pension scheme, and they have appalling processes. Although you would expect the staff to deal with bereaved cases regularly, they seemed to have no training whatsoever.

To enact transfer of the pension to my mum they requested the original death, marriage and birth certificate, which was duly sent registered post. A week later, a letter was received returning only the death certificate, with no sign of the birth or marriage certificate.

The letter was also addressed to my dad – and as you can imagine, this immediately caused significant upset.

A phone call later and we were informed that the birth and marriage certificates were never received even though all other documentation is on the system and, therefore, must be lost.

“No need to worry; we will pay for replacements.” was the response.

These were the original 76-year-old birth certificate of my dad and their original 50-year-old marriage certificate which had tremendous sentimental value to my mum. The loss of them was so easily dismissed by the person on the phone, who showed no empathy at all to this fact.

Four phone calls were made over the next week with unanswered requests for a call from a manager. Eventually, once we spoke with a manager, blame was passed to different teams, and we were informed the pension could not be processed until we got copies of the lost certificates that they would still need to sight.

We are still awaiting those copies; therefore, the pension is still in limbo. Unfortunately, a friend has had a similar experience with the same third-party provider following her dad’s passing, and many online comments suggest vast deep-rooted issues with this company.

Broken processes and a lack of care, attention and empathy from staff will result in a truly shambolic customer experience at a time when it’s crucial to get these things right.

Companies must consider how they manage bereavement for customers and employees as they scale. Here are my key takeaways:

  • Create a bereavement team that is empowered and supported by simple processes
  • Train your staff; many are unlikely to have gone through the loss of a loved one, so help them understand the pain and stress at a time of grief
  • Do all you can to promote the use of the bereavement team
  • Don’t forget your employees – consider an internal bereavement team (when scale permits) for your most important asset – your people
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