As the saying goes, death is one of the only certainties in life; however, the way in which we practice death care varies across cultures and time periods. Currently, the death care industry is undergoing drastic changes. According to a 2021 report from the National Funeral Directors Association, rates of cremation are on the rise, people are interested in “green” funeral practices, and over half of people surveyed have attended memorial services in non-traditional environments, that is, neither in a funeral home or house of worship.
The times are quickly changing, and so are the ways in which we honor our loved ones. But before you throw all tradition out the window, it’s important to look at the bigger picture. Trends of taste rarely play out in linear fashions. Moreover, recent funeral home preferences believe the persistent need for conventional services. Bottom line: it’s easy to assume we know what families want, but the truth is a bit more complex.
Here are some of the most common misconceptions about funeral families and what funeral directors should be doing instead.
1. They Only Want Direct Cremation
The data is clear; rates of cremation are on the rise, and they’re expected to nearly double those of traditional burials within the next decade. This has caused widespread worry among death care professionals, many of whom are unsure how to make up for the diminished revenue projections.
While the average price of a funeral varies widely––both by location and the type of arrangement––the 2021 median cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial is $7,848. On the other end of the spectrum, you have direct cremations, which can cost as low as $1,000 and even less from a dedicated crematorium. Although a rise in the popularity of direct cremations seems disheartening in terms of profits, this statistic neglects to account for the number of people who seek services beyond the mere cremation itself.
A Return to Tradition
For a long period of time, the pandemic made it unfeasible––if not outright illegal––for large groups of people to gather. Naturally, this caused the rates of formal funeral services to plunge, at least temporarily. With the arrival of vaccines and the lifting of in-person restrictions, funeral and memorial services can resume; however, we’ve yet to see an uptick in the rate of in-person services compared to cremations.
With that said, Covid has caused an unexpected spike in Americans’ personal faith. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the number of people who view religion as an integral component of a funeral has risen. In 2019, this number was only 35.4%, and by 2021, it rose to 47.3%. These numbers demonstrate the prevalent desire for traditional rituals in the wake of a person’s passing, and there’s no reason that cremation cannot be a part of this.
While the factors contributing to a rise in cremation are multiple and varied, people still have a need for closure through celebrations of life and collective grieving. This is where funeral homes can come into play. Rather than settling for direct cremation, funeral directors can educate the importance of formal services. Imparting to families the need to take time to gather as a group and remember their lost loved ones.
2. They Won’t Take Time to Leave Reviews
As we all know, a key component of running a funeral business is monitoring feedback from families. With that said, when a person is grieving a loss––not to mention navigating the ensuing financial and legal matters––the last thing you’ll want to do is tactlessly demand more of their time with lengthy surveys. When requested carefully and sincerely, however, you can ensure you’ll obtain valuable feedback.
If your funeral reviews are low, it’s likely not because families choose not to leave them, but rather that they’re not being asked properly. Part of aftercare is asking families how they felt about their experience, giving them space to explain which aspects of their services worked for them. These conversations can naturally segue into more in-depth discussions about particular aspects of your funeral business. Additionally, you can consider following up through email with your families. Reach out to check on how they’re doing, provide resources within the community, and politely request their thoughts on your services.
Companies like J3Tech Solutions have automated solutions to the survey process. Their Performance Tracker X software can help you draft and disseminate surveys to families that will be sent through email. It then records the responses and stores them so funeral directors can review, seeing which aspects of the funeral home are working and those that need help.
3. They Will Remain Loyal
There was a time when funeral directors could faithfully rely on the loyalty of the families in their communities. As of 2019, however, there are nearly 20,000 funeral homes in the United States, and that number has remained relatively stable over the past couple of decades, potentially indicating a level of market saturation. With the number of options available and the importance placed on customer experience, families no longer feel the need to stick with a specific funeral home.
93% of people are likely to return to a business that provides excellent customer service. Alternatively, more than half of people won’t return to a business where they encountered poor service. With the increased emotion and stress related to funerals, it doesn’t take much to make a family feel the need to go elsewhere. Considering more than 80% of your business will come from 20% of your loyal clients, it’s crucial to do everything you can to cultivate loyalty.
Here are some strategies to consider to improve the loyalty of your families:
- Customer service that exceeds expectations: While it’s easy to think of customer service in binary terms––Did the customer get what they paid for?––exceptional customer service involves providing the client with something extra through every step of the process. From the initial interactions to your aftercare, your team should anticipate the needs of families and meet them without needing to be asked or paid an extra fee.
- Implementing aftercare initiatives: After the successful completion of a funeral service, you should keep in regular contact with families. In addition to checking in to request feedback, you should also regularly reach out and check how people are coping with the loss of loved ones. The goal here is not to sell additional services but rather to demonstrate your commitment to families and their well-being.
- Engaging with the community: When it comes to keeping your business top of mind, it will benefit your funeral home to become an active participant in the community. This could include attending local fairs and fundraising events––or even hosting one of your own. Much like policemen, firefighters, and teachers, funeral professionals are an integral part of their communities. As such, they should reach out when possible.
- Cultivating personal relationships: Another way to become more active in the community involves creating personal connections with families beyond working relationships. For most people, funeral professionals can come off as aloof or even scary. This is due to the nature of their interactions with funeral directors. If you only see a person in the wake of a loved one’s passing, then this creates a negative association. To combat this, funeral directors should show an interest in people beyond their grief and funeral needs–don’t be afraid to reach out for a coffee, have conversations at community events, send them a holiday card.
With such a quickly changing profession, it’s important to keep up with demands and provide a safe, comfortable, trusting environment for families. Even more important is making sure they know that your services can adapt to a changing landscape. Funerals, cremations, and memorials are not a one-size-fits-all kind of service.
You’ll want to ensure your marketing and communication strategies reflect this, as well. When a person finds your website or consults with one of your agents, are they equipped with the knowledge they need to make the most of your services? Are they informed of all of the options available? To help ensure that your funeral business is prepared for the contemporary challenges of the death care profession, you might want to seek help from experienced consultants.
Johnson Consulting Group is one of the largest consulting firms dedicated to death care businesses. Their team of consultants will partner with you, taking time to understand all facets of your business––its market positioning, its relationships with families, and its employees––in order to determine how to improve your bottom line. If you find your funeral home is struggling to maintain a loyal base of families, then JCG can help you figure out where the problems lie and how to correct them.
STAY AHEAD OF THE CURVE