Of all the funeral directors I’ve had a chance to meet throughout my time in the profession, the vast majority describe themselves as having entered funeral service with the deeply-felt desire to help families in their times of need. They feel called to the industry and they see themselves as providing a grounding, supportive presence in the wake of tragic circumstances.
But despite these altruistic intentions, huge swaths of the public are distrustful of funeral directors, funeral homes and the entire industry in general. According to Gallup polling, only 35% of respondents rate their perception of the honesty and ethics of funeral directors as being “High.” A further 52% of poll participants selected “Average,” “Low” or “Very Low” in response to the question.
So where’s the disconnect? How is it that you can have an entire field full of people who believe their primary objective is to serve families, but so few people who trust funeral professionals to do just that?
Certainly, impropriety in the industry isn’t helping. Every day, my Google Alerts (set for terms like “funeral director” and “funeral home”) turn up new instances of embezzlement, mishandling of remains and similar actions that give funeral homes a bad rep. The recent news that 30 out of 122 funeral homes failed undercover FTC investigations designed to test compliance with the Funeral Rule isn’t helping either.
But I’d argue that an even bigger cause is that funeral homes haven’t yet figured out how to educate families on the value of the services they provide.
This educational component didn’t used to be necessary. Calling on the family funeral home used to be standard operating procedure in the wake of a death, and in nearly all cases, a traditional funeral service and burial followed these calls. Families had long-standing relationships with their preferred funeral providers, as well as the financial means to secure the types of services their relatives had selected for generations.
Obviously, this isn’t the case anymore. Families have spread out, breaking the ties they previously held with community-specific service providers. People don’t have the money for traditional services anymore — even if they did trust funeral homes to provide them, in light of the media’s constant desire to latch on to the relatively few number of controversial funeral stories, rather than the countless examples of funeral homes offering solace and closure.
It’s a grim picture, but it’s not one that’s out of your control. What the funeral industry really needs is a grassroots effort on the part of individual directors to educate consumers on the importance of traditional funeral services and the role funeral homes can play in fulfilling these needs. The following are a few ways you can go about doing so:
Take charge of the conversation
When a person calls your funeral home and asks for the price of a direct cremation, you have more options than simply spitting out a price and hanging up. Can you imagine how much better the conversation would go if you responded with something like this?
“We offer cremation services ranging from $2,500 to $4,500. Have you had a chance to speak with anybody about the different options available with each of these packages? Let me put you in touch with one of our cremation specialists.”
Once connected, your cremation specialist (or any other employee in any other role you designate) can provide objective information on the relative advantages and disadvantages of each service you offer. Taking the stance of educating, rather than selling, helps you to control the conversation in a non-threatening way. Remember, the more information you can provide potential customers, the more likely it is they’ll come to trust your business for their future needs.
Leverage online education opportunities
Incoming calls aren’t the only way you can connect with possible clients in order to provide the education they crave. Your website and your social media profiles all represent great opportunities to interact directly with the people who might need your services someday.
Here are a few tips for taking advantage of these online education opportunities:
- Regularly publish blog post updates to your funeral home’s website. Not sure what to post? Check out our list of 25 free blog post writing prompts to get started.
- Post more than obits. Having your website’s obituaries auto-publish to your Facebook Page or Twitter profile is a great start, but your followers want more than that! Use your social channels to ask questions directly or to post helpful pieces of information.
- Turn your web properties into two-way conversations. In addition to posting useful information, ask questions, and solicit feedback. Not only does this show your followers that you value their opinions, the information you gather could help you improve the services you offer in the future, and the way you market them.
Be visible in your community
Education shouldn’t just occur at your funeral home or on your web properties. If funeral directors are serious about wanting to break through the stereotypes of industry professionals as being either “stiff suits” or “used car salespeople,” they’ve got to get out and be visible in their communities.
So sponsor a charity event or participate in a community health fair — do something that puts a name to a face and shows off the more human side of the funeral profession. When the people you’ve met find themselves in need of services or support, your business will be the first that they turn to.
What other techniques have you tried to help educate consumers on the importance of funeral homes and the services they provide? Share your experiences and recommendations in the comments section below!