Understanding Today’s Funeral Consumer, the Role of Digital Communication, and How Consumers Want to do Business.

By Kris Seale on June 6, 2016
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Has anybody noticed?  The families that are coming into the funeral home today are considerably different as compared to 10 years ago.

Why is this?  Funeral home owners around the nation have given me lots of different reasons, ranging from the break-up of the nuclear family to the changing views regarding church to the dispersion of family members all over the world.  I think that all of us would agree that these three reasons are definitely major factors, but one of the factors that is often overlooked is the explosion of technology over the past decade.

Think about it – do you know when the iPhone was invented?  Was it: a) 2001, b) 2004, or c) 2007?  The answer is 2007 – not even 10 years ago!  With the invention of the iPhone and other smartphones, we have seen an explosion in internet use and in information.  This is wild to think about, but with that little device that all of us carry around, almost every minute of the day, we have the answer to virtually any question we could possibly imagine – in the palm of our hand!

I think that in order to understand today’s funeral consumer, we have to understand the way that people find information and the way they like to do business in modern times.  Our management team likes to use the banking industry as a model for this discussion.  Consider the way banks interact with their customers today:

  • If you want to go into the bank to make a deposit, the old-fashioned way, you can. There are plenty of branch banks to take care of your needs.
  • If you don’t like going into the bank, but you’re driving by, you most likely will use the drive-through bank – it’s quick, it’s convenient, and you can still interact with the teller.
  • If you still like to use the drive-through, but you really prefer to not interact with the teller, you can always use the ATM (automated teller machine).
  • OR if I really want to use the newest technology, I can take a picture of the check that I want to deposit, and it will show up in my bank account.
  • One more – so that I don’t have to touch a check, I could have the deposit made through wire transfer or ACH (automatic clearing house).

You’re probably wondering, what do all these methods of making a deposit have to do with the new funeral consumer?  Simple – it helps us understand their buying habits and how consumers like to transact business.  And it illustrates that people are individual and independent – they like to do business and have interactions the way THEY want, not in ways that are dictated to them.

In our profession – the funeral profession – we must understand that people want to interact with us and do business with us the way THEY interact with and do business with other businesses, like banks.  It is tough for me to make a statement like this, but it’s true!  I wish we could continue to do business the way we’ve always done it – but if we want to remain relevant, if we want our businesses to increase market share, and if we want our customer families to have a quality experience with us, we have to appeal to every consumer – not just the ones that come in and meet with us.

Yes, yes – don’t get me wrong – we need to continue to appeal to those who want to come into the funeral home, but most of us have not done enough to make sure that we’re prepared to take care of the family that wants to do most or all of dad’s funeral arrangements online.  Like banks, we must offer multiple ways for our families to interact and take care of business with us.

Those of us who have been around the funeral profession for a long time are convinced that the only way to have a personal relationship with a family is to meet with them face to face, or at worst, to talk with them on the telephone before they come into the funeral home for a face-to-face meeting.  But what if there are some people who think that a funeral home is more caring and relational if they have more options for interaction, like email, text messaging, Facebook, or other social media?  I talked to a funeral director friend recently who said he got a first call via Facebook – if that doesn’t illustrate that times are changing, I don’t know what does!

Let me close by asking my funeral director friends this question – what additional options or methods of interaction should you provide in order to make all members of a family happy?

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