Since 2008, tightening of budgets and spending has impacted all businesses, including death care. Funeral homes have scrambled to adjust their costs and pricing to reflect the spending of consumers through lower-cost products and less options. However, recent trends may show a change. It appears families are not price shopping as much as we may think and instead, are focusing on the overall experience when choosing a funeral home.
Survey results in the September 2015 issue of NFDA’s magazine The Director, indicated that most families don’t select a funeral home based on cost. Participants were asked, “What was the main reason you chose the funeral home you did?” Surprisingly, the response of ‘price’ was far down the list with only 8.8% of families stating this as the main reason. Ranked higher were ‘good reputation’ (23.7%), ‘convenience’ (18.6%), and ‘good customer service’ (13.9%). Those reasons (56.2% combined) correlate to providing professional products and services with overall value. Another key question in the survey was, “How many funeral homes did you visit or call before making a choice?” An overwhelming majority of 89% called or visited just one business before making a decision, shattering the myth about the proliferation of price-shoppers.
On a related note, the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC), a national organization of death care industry members, continues to increase their marketing efforts on their national campaign, Have a Talk of a Lifetime. Designed to encourage the conversation about life stories, personal interest and how senior members want to be memorialized, this project focuses on the importance of personal attention-to-detail and value for each family member. This certainly supports the emphasis on the value of honoring and celebrating a loved one’s life. What it doesn’t do is use lower-price shopping as part of the criteria.
Using this information, more and more funeral homes are taking the opportunity to better serve their families with a different approach. That being, to have less concern about outbidding the guy down the street and more about providing those families who do walk into the door with options of quality products and outstanding services that create value and personalization.
Going back to the NFDA survey, let’s take a quick look at the top three responses - good reputation, convenience and customer service – and review each reason for why a family would choose a specific funeral home.
Reputation: In general, this is what people in your community think of you. So…what do people think of you? Not an easy question to answer. But in general terms, you may be regarded as the low price firm, the locally-owned funeral home, or the one that is modern and contemporary. Whatever it may be, is important to your success or failure. A prime example of this are restaurants who cater to a fickle customer base. A highly competitive business, a reputation for good/bad food or service can make or break them.
An even more difficult question may be, what do you want your reputation to be? Built over time, whether good, bad or indifferent, changing a reputation is like turning an aircraft carrier around. It will take time. If you’ve been around awhile, chances are you know how you are viewed and you’re probably good with that. If not, then you need to consider some major changes to establish a new identity in your community.
Convenience: Some people interpret that as simply having your building in an easy-to- get-to location. But while you can be very visible and well known, many a business has failed with those same traits because of a bad reputation and poor customer service. In other words, they go hand-in-hand. Instead, convenience can be interpreted and conveyed in other ways beside a physical location. Consider providing better access to services for your families through online options, visit them instead of them coming to you, create a satellite store front of services in another location or create a turn-key app for smartphones. Each of these have the ability represent convenience to a customer.
Let me share a unique convenience a funeral home in the South offers to their families. They have a ‘drive-through visitation option’. That’s right, while still in their vehicle, families and friends can drive up to a window where the loved one’s body will be presented. Now that’s convenience.
Customer Service: This can separate you from the rest of the pack. Attention-to-detail, professionalism and consistency will retain and attract new customers. Customer service can drive reputation and convenience, increasing those levels immensely. There’s the old adage, “if it’s important to my customer, then it’s important to me,” and those firms who live by that and beyond will garner a positive reputation.
Like any business, it’s common to get noticed for things that go awry rather than for things that go right. Whether it’s a bad microphone, a snow covered walkway or a tribute video that’s poorly done, these are things that can make or break a service. For those funeral homes who thrive in great customer service, these avoidable errors will be minimized.
Great customer service isn’t just meeting expectations but exceeding them. Like the auto repair shop that not only fixes your car, but fills your tank for free or the coffee shop that gives you a free cookie with every order, funeral homes have the ability to offer a service or product that will be greatly appreciated. Just make sure it represents the same value and integrity as everything else your firm stands for. Key chains, run-of-the mill memorial folders or amateur videos aren’t who you are.
These three reasons are why funeral homes are introducing services and products that represent value to families. But remember to establish the value of what you offer and once you’ve done that, price becomes a secondary concern. The importance of honoring and celebrating becomes the one valuable service that separates you from everyone else.
So, the next time you have the opportunity to serve a family, don’t be so worried about telling them the price of something as much as being enthused about sharing the value behind the services you have available. And as the Have A Talk of Lifetime project continues to grow, families will become more educated and expectant of your services. And don’t forget, when that rare price-shopper does come a knocking, don’t be too quick to show them the door. After all, with the support of reputation, convenience and good customer service, you have an 89% chance of picking up a new customer!