Randy Vandervaate of Funeral Funds: “Hire employees who prioritize customer satisfaction”

Ask for customer reviews and feedback, and encourage clients and customers to give feedback on every touch point in the sales process. This will give you an idea of your customer’s needs and what may need to be corrected during your customer’s journey. As part of my series about the five things, a business should […]

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Ask for customer reviews and feedback, and encourage clients and customers to give feedback on every touch point in the sales process. This will give you an idea of your customer’s needs and what may need to be corrected during your customer’s journey.

As part of my series about the five things, a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Randy Vandervaate. Randy is the President and Owner of the Funeral Funds life insurance agency. He helps people all over the 50 states get affordable burial, cremation, and final expense life insurance.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I worked in the golf industry before starting my career in life insurance as an agent, eventually becoming a life insurance agency owner.

My first job while in high school was working at a golf course was washing golf carts, and picking up the golf balls from the practice driving range.

After working at the golf course part-time for my first year, I accepted a part-time job on the golf course maintenance crew while attending college full time. I learned to show up to work early, work hard, be responsible, and help people.

My employment journey over the years from that first part-time job eventually led to me accepting a golf course superintendent position.

I worked my way up from that golf course superintendent position to become the Vice President of Agronomy for a golf course management company managing over 90 golf courses throughout the United States.

When another company bought nearly half of our golf course portfolio, our company was cut in size by almost 50% overnight. About half of the company employees were terminated; I was one of them.

After spending my entire life working for other people, I decided that it was time to work for myself and to be in control of my future, for better or worse. It was at this time I started my career in life insurance.

I got my start in the life insurance business working for a national life insurance company. I trained hard, learned fast, worked diligently, and sold enough life insurance to set production and sales records with that company.

Eventually, I decided that it was time for me to move on and create my own business. I started Funeral Funds, a life insurance agency, and began my journey as an entrepreneur, business owner, and employer.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I still remember the first family I helped with life insurance policies. I helped a wonderful husband and wife wanting to protect their mortgage with some life insurance should they die or become disabled. I was new, inexperienced, and in their home, and I was doing my best to help them.

I had all the right papers, but they were in the wrong order (I carried a stapler after that). My pen ran out of ink. I had to call a manager three times to help me with some application and underwriting questions.

It seemed like semi-controlled chaos, but I got them both approved and protected!

I often wonder if they knew how “new” I was, but I am eternally grateful that they were my start in the life insurance industry.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’m grateful for my first boss at the golf course I worked at in high school. I’m thankful that he took a chance on a skinny teenager with no employment history.

I watched him manage and grow his small business into a large and nationally recognized company. I saw him believe in people, invest in people, develop people, and help people succeed.

He passed away many years ago, but I am blessed to have known and worked for him for over a decade.

He was able to sell his business and live a retirement life that most people only dream of living. To this day, I feel blessed that I was to know him, work for him, and learn from his many successes.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

A loyal customer will refer your products and services to their family and friends, and they will be your brand ambassadors for life if you treat them right. Great customer service and great customer experiences are essential to generate goodwill, loyalty, and repeat business.

Great customer experience in the digital era that we live in is mandatory, not optional. People are more likely to write negative reviews than positive reviews. Negative reviews will crush your business if you allow them to.

As a business owner, you need to have processes, systems, and training in place to generate great reviews versus negative reviews.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

There seems to be a disconnect in what employees and business owners think is great customer service. Good customer service is not optional; it is not a part-time affair; it is mandatory 100% of the time.

Good customer experience is as important as the oxygen we breathe for business.

Employees and business owners rationalize that it is OK to have bad customer service day at work once in a while. They rationalize that it’s OK to treat others differently than they want to be treated. They think that good enough is good enough.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

Your company culture and training should be designed to overdeliver and give your customers a positive experience they will never forget.

Brain surgeons and heart surgeons are not allowed to have bad days. When a heart or brain surgeon has a bad day, someone dies. When a customer has a poor experience with a business, part of that business dies.

Poor customer experiences are not part of the cost of doing business. Poor customer experiences are preventable with proper training and the proper business culture!

Don’t ever let your customers have poor experiences!

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer?

A business is either growing or dying, and competition should force businesses to improve customer experience.

Average customer service will get you average results, average revenues, and average business longevity (20% of new businesses fail within two years, 45% fail within five years, 65% fail within ten years).

Average businesses rarely succeed over time.

You must deliver a better customer service experience to have an edge against your competitors. If not, your business will struggle and may not survive.

Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

A bad customer service reputation is hard, if not impossible, to repair. Business reviews are easily accessible to anyone with a computer or cell phone, and most people look for reviews before buying a product or using a service.

Bad reviews can kill your business and revenue fast!

A negative review on Google or social media will influence people’s buying decisions not to buy from your company. It is much easier NOT to get bad reviews than to correct the damage from one bad review.

If you receive one negative review (likely due to that employee that you should have trained or fired a long time ago), you may need at least ten positive reviews to counteract that one negative review.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

Nothing makes a customer say “WOW” more than doing something that no other business will do.

I had a customer who had a bank caused payment error on her life insurance policy that resulted in three non-sufficient funds charges to her bank account. She was retired, and on a fixed income, and she didn’t have the funds to pay the overdraft charges.

I didn’t want to lose my client, and I didn’t want her to have to cancel her coverage. I volunteered to pay the three overdraft charges so that she could keep her coverage in place, and I sent her some extra money to go out and have a nice dinner on me.

I didn’t have to do this, and she didn’t expect it. But she appreciated it, and she remains a loyal client who still has her policy to this day.

Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

My “WOW” client continues to give referrals to this day; this is the best kind of referral we get at Funeral Funds!

There is nothing more exciting to hear someone say, “my friend told me you were her “life insurance guy,” can you help me get some life insurance?”

“WOW’ing” customers is one of the most fun things we do at Funeral Funds!

OK, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Ask for customer reviews and feedback, and encourage clients and customers to give feedback on every touchpoint in the sales process. This will give you an idea of your customer’s needs and what may need to be corrected during your customer’s journey.

Ask for customer reviews, especially if a customer is satisfied with your product or services. Great customer reviews will help you generate more leads, get more repeat business, and grow your income and revenue.

2. Hire employees who prioritize customer satisfaction. Your employees, especially those in the frontlines, are the face of your business.

If your customers find your employees personable and committed to giving them the best customer experience, those customers will be loyal to your brand and will become your brand ambassadors.

3. Train employees to deliver amazing customer service and experiences. Your employees must work towards your mission and goal of providing the WOW customer experiences. Train your managers and employees to give their best with every customer and prospect.

4. Make every touchpoint easy for the customers. Your sales process should be seamless. Every touchpoint should be easy for your customers to do business with you.

If your customer finds a touchpoint to be difficult, they may back out of the sale. For example, we changed our quoting system to enable potential customers to get accurate quotes with minimal effort. This encourages them to ask for more information about our life insurance products.

5. Make sure you provide WOW after-sales service. The sales process does not end after the sale. To give a WOW customer experience, you must provide after-sales service that lets your customers know that you appreciate their business.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

We want the customer journey to be filled with positive touchpoints that have them praising our business, processes, and products.

Customer reviews and referrals are two of the most critical areas that we focus on at Funeral Funds. Our entire business is built around creating WOW moments to earn terrific customer reviews and referrals.

Positive business reviews result in more business for us, and these prospects are almost pre-sold when they call us. These are our best business prospects and leads, and we treasure them. The revenue created by WOW experiences is fantastic for our business.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would start a financial literacy program for seniors. Living on social security is tough for the families I help. I would like to see them enjoy wealth during retirement rather than count their pennies.

If people are smart with their money when they are younger, they won’t struggle financially in their retirement years.

How can our readers follow you on social media?



This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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