Serving New Funeral Consumers: Plan Custom Experiences
June 26, 2020
By Josh McQueen, Vice President of Product
The funeral market has been affected by societal shifts ranging from the technological revolution to changing religious views. These shifts have also brought about a change in funeral consumers. Nearly a decade ago, McKee Wallwork + Co, a market research firm, conducted the largest study of funeral consumer behaviors and preferences and identified six different types of funeral consumers, including information about which groups are growing and shrinking.
So, how can you make your funeral home stand out to the Solo Secularists and Click & Callers – the groups that are growing? Besides “Creating Focus and Clarity” and “Reclaiming Your Identity,” another way to serve these consumers is to plan custom experiences for them.
Lessons from Best Funeral Ever
Some of you may remember a short-lived TV show on TLC from a few years ago called Best Funeral Ever. In the show, the staff of Golden Gate Funeral Home in Dallas, TX, would put on the craziest funerals that the staff and family could think of. In one episode, the deceased was a star track runner, so the service was held at a track where the staff pushed his casket around for one final lap. While the services were definitely dramatized for the sake of TV, one of my favorite things about the show was when the funeral home’s staff would gather after meeting with a family to come up with ideas for the service. It was a giant brainstorming session where the staff would try to come up with the best way to serve the family.
Golden Gate has built their processes around the idea that families want custom, unique experiences that help them and their friends grieve. That said, here are a few things for you to consider in your funeral home:
Rework Your Processes
Funerals are going the way of weddings. It used to be that a wedding was a pretty simple affair with close family and friends attending a service and then a basic reception afterward. Today, weddings are huge events that cost tens of thousands of dollars. The average engagement now lasts 14.5 months. Why? To plan the wedding!
Here’s the struggle, the new funeral consumer is bringing in the same expectations they have for a wedding into the funeral planning process. And they’re expecting you to come up with this unique event within about thirty seconds of learning about the family and deceased. I don’t care how creative you are, you will never be able to consistently help families with custom memorials when you only have thirty seconds to process the information. Something has to change. The firms I see doing this well are building time for creativity into their processes. This could mean using technology to gather information before you meet with the family. It could also mean that you are simply scheduling a second meeting with the family to gather ideas. Wedding planners don’t meet with the bride and groom only one time. So, why should you?
Educate and Consult
I have a friend who would look up his symptoms on WebMD and become convinced he had cancer anytime he had an ache or pain. More and more of your consumers are turning to Google to answer questions such as: “Should I bury or cremate?”, “How much does a funeral cost?”, and “Should I have a funeral service?” The problem, as you’ll quickly find by searching any of those same questions, is that the internet is full of terrible resources. In the same way that a doctor has to educate (and sometimes push back on a self-diagnosis), you must establish yourself as the expert on funerals and make sure the new funeral consumer understands the implications, both good and bad, of the decisions they make.
Champion the “What if…”
Most funeral directors I know do an incredible job of getting to know the family and their loved one. Although we gather all this information about the family and deceased to build empathy, we don’t do anything more with the findings. Don’t get me wrong, empathy is vitally important and the foundation of building a relationship with a family. It’s probably why you’re in this business in the first place: to help people with loss. Outside of empathy, I most commonly see funeral directors take this information to add a line or two to the obituary and maybe help a family member with a eulogy. But what if we took this information you’re gathering a step further? What if you used it to prepare items in your showroom? What if you used it to make creative suggestions for the family? What if we began asking “What if” more often?
Custom Experiences Keep Consumers
Thinking back to Golden Gate Funeral Home, their staff excelled and continue to excel in those three areas above. In fact, a year or two after the show ended, I got to meet with the management team at Golden Gate, and I asked them if they really conduct those brainstorming meetings. They responded by telling me they do it every day. Their ability to create unique, custom experiences is the reason their reputation has grown to allow them to serve over 3,500 families across their three locations. The more personalized the funeral is, the happier the family will be.
Next week, I’ll discuss the last strategy you can use to serve funeral consumers: embrace technology. See you then!