Regardless of the industry, any business owner must face the issues of budgets, personnel, and growth. In the funeral profession, however, we face the unique challenges of a small business with emotional weight. Between engaging with our communities, building lasting relationships with families, and standing out from regional competition, it often proves difficult to prioritize properly. Often, this is especially true for funeral home directors, who already have their hands full with the logistics of memorial services.
Luckily, if you’re looking to scale your business, all of this can be broken down into four main pillars: customer service, your workplace, the greater marketplace, and financial management. When balanced properly, this four-pronged approach ensures a business that performs optimally.
One of the most crucial components of your business plan should be customer service. Particularly, in the funeral profession, your interactions with customers––from initial consultation to the post-ceremonial thank-you letter––must demonstrate both tact and professionalism.
Not only are your customers grieving, but they’re also inundated with the financial and legal matters that follow a death. If your services lift some of their burdens, they’ll likely return. Conversely, if your customer service lacks sensitivity, a family will likely turn elsewhere the next time they need funeral arrangements, in addition to passing on their negative comments to friends and loved ones.
Never forget that funeral services center around families, and since your business is inherently local, there is a finite number of families. This is why it’s important to build positive relationships with the families you serve. When performed properly, great customer service can build loyalty that lasts for generations. In fact the most successful funeral businesses often have clients that last for decades, if not centuries.
Evaluate Every Family Touchpoint
When we think of customer service in the funeral business, it’s tempting to only consider the ceremony itself, and while this might be the most important component––in that it is the most technically involved––quality customer service stretches to every part of the family’s experience.
The initial consultation call, coordination with cemeteries, and burial all play heavily into a customer’s perception of your business and their likelihood of returning or recommending your services. For example, an overzealous initial contact with a client––one consisting of pushy sales tactics––can quickly turn off a potential conversion.
Of particular importance is how you interact with a family after the experience, the thank-you letter, follow-up survey, and even subsequent advertisements. Not only is this time your opportunity to solidify a connection, but it’s also a potential source of valuable perspective.
Ask for Feedback
When tactfully implemented, asking clients to complete a survey is a great way to figure out what your business is doing right, and––more importantly––where it stands to improve. With regard to customer service, consider asking questions about each step of the process. For example, you can ask about how the client was greeted, how their needs were met, and how any problems were resolved.
At the Johnson Consulting Group, we offer proprietary tools that not only allow you to build the perfect survey but also keep track of the responses you receive. When looking for areas of growth, it’s important to know where to target your efforts, and our online dashboard makes all of this seamless.
Another free tool at your disposal is Google reviews. While you’ll often find glib (if not downright rude) reviews posted on your Google My Business page, they offer you the chance to reach out to customers. When responding to reviews, particularly negative ones, try to figure out exactly what the customer took issue with, and do your best to ameliorate the situation. While you can’t win back everyone, you’d be surprised how much a genuine apology and some form of discount can convince someone to return.
In addition to personal interactions, you’ll also want to consider the look of your funeral home. In the same way that your staff should be warm, welcoming, and professional, your facilities should convey the same. It goes without saying that your funeral home should be clean, but you could also consider the fine touches of real flowers and tasteful furnishings.
When seeking feedback from families, be sure to also ask questions about the environment. Consider inquiring about cleanliness, decor, and overall feelings about the space. While certain updates can be costly, your priority should be ensuring that your funeral home allows families to relax and feel comfortable during a vulnerable time in their lives.
The funeral business is rooted in care; as such, the people you employ are what make or break your business. While a stellar team can create lasting, significant experiences for your families, a lackluster team––even one sole person––can sour the overall experience. The success of your business depends on both the professionalism and compassion of your workers.
However, cultivating the perfect team requires constant and consistent effort. Hiring the right people is only half the battle. Once you’ve got people with the right skills, you’ll want to be sure that they’re united with a shared mission.
Company culture, that is, the values, ideals, attitudes, and goals of your organization will influence how your employees work. The term company culture is often used when speaking about the unlimited paid time-off and casual attire of silicon valley offices; however, in the funeral business, it will look a bit differently.
Even if you don’t explicitly display the tenets of your company culture––which is not a bad idea––consider drafting up a mission statement that hits on each of these areas. Perhaps at your funeral home, your values are rooted in serving the families of your community. Your attitude is one of warmth, allowing you to accomplish your goal of providing elegant grief services.
Cohesion is key, here. While most funeral homes will likely employ a similar style of service, you’ll want to make sure that all of your employees are familiar with any specifics of your business, thereby allowing you to present as a unified team.
Companies with strong cultures display higher degrees of employee engagement. This is because a strong culture gives employees a shared mission. So when your team clocks in for the day, they’re not simply responding to leads––or vacuuming the carpet or coordinating the floral arrangements––rather, they’re doing their part to achieve a goal.
A positive culture helps works become passionate about the work they’re doing, and passion leads to better performance.
While you can never guarantee every new hire will fit in with your culture, a culture that connects with your employees––and instills connections between employees––can decrease turnover, increase recruiting efforts, and even increase productivity. An Oxford University study showed that happy workers are actually 13% more productive.
With a team of happy, productive, and passionate workers, all of whom are tethered by a shared mission, your business can grow in any direction you’d like.
Once you’ve got a handle on your team and service, you also must consider how you’re positioned relative to nearby funeral businesses. A unique challenge faced by funeral homes is that it’s hard to break into markets with established players. A funeral parlor that’s been around for generations is going to have a larger base, one established over time; however, this does not mean there’s no hope for newer businesses.
While a longstanding business certainly has ground-level observations about local trends in the funeral business, a full-fledged demographic analysis can give you a competitive edge. By taking into account population trends, income levels, and how these metrics vary in the areas surrounding your business. Armed with this knowledge, you can better differentiate your business, targeting new customers through digital marketing efforts.
For example, if you notice that in your local community, many people are looking for budget-minded funeral services, then this would be the perfect time to run a paid search campaign through Google, targeting keywords like affordable funeral. Be sure your landing page also consists of a clear call to action with a clear-cut deal.
Of course, a vital component to any business plan is knowing how profitable you are at all times with clean reporting and a plan to grow. But how often should you be looking at the numbers? And what do they mean?
Dale Espich, a Field Representative at Johnson Consulting Group states, “The real value to a business owner is to use accounting to accurately plan and balance income and expenses to ensure a satisfactory profit year after year.”
To keep your finances in order, you’ll want to keep in mind a few key tenets.
Hire An Accountant with Specific Experience
Naturally, you’ll want your accountant to have experience managing business finances, but it’s vital that they also have experience in the funeral profession. An accountant familiar with the death care industry can help you figure out how to understand your past financials and plan for the future. A skilled funeral accountant can also advise you on aspects of pricing and planning, something a traditional bookkeeper will likely know little of.
JCG accounting and financial management comes from funeral and cemetery experts. We’re familiar with industry-specific accounting practices and are able to provide customized financial reports, monthly budgeting, and access to performance tracking software.
Measure Performance, Track Benchmarks
Even when you hire a financial advisor, you want to be sure you still take a proactive role in managing your business’s finances. To do so, you’ll want to work with your accountant, tracking where your revenue comes from and which aspects of your business are hemorrhaging money.
While your funeral home might offer extravagant ceremonies, if the majority of your money is coming from cremation services, then you might want to reexamine how you prioritize each aspect of your business.
Create a Reserve Fund
Especially for businesses with a reliable customer base, it’s tempting to neglect this step; however, every business, no matter which stage, should keep a reserve fund. This type of fund can help you pay your employees and maintain your facilities in the event of a disaster or downturn in business. It’s best to have enough in this fund to keep your business afloat for three months.
For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, many funeral homes were hit hard, due to restrictions placed on in-person gatherings. However, many of the businesses that survived this period are now inundated with business, further demonstrating the importance of riding out the lean times.
Streamline Your Receivables
A major challenge for many funeral homes is receiving payment, not only from grieving families––who must be treated with sensitivity––but also from life insurance companies. Between claim paperwork and cumbersome payment retrieval procedures, obtaining money from life insurance companies can be a time-consuming hassle.
To address this issue, you should outsource this process to an industry funding company, one that can eliminate claim paperwork and free up your receivables, giving you quick access to cash and increasing the amount of money you have on hand.
How to Know You’re Prioritizing Efficiently
As you can see, the four pillars of your business plan often work hand-in-hand. A well-trained and organized workplace translates directly into better customer service, just as tracking your finances can inform you as to how to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. Most funeral directors, however, already have their hands full with making the direct arrangements for clients, thus making it difficult to balance the other aspects of their business.
This is where seeking the experts at Johnson Consulting Group can really come in handy. Through our combination of business broker services, consulting, financial management, and advanced tracking metrics––all backed by decades of experience in the death care industry––we have the expertise and the flexibility to help any funeral business thrive and grow.