The Bigger Convern - Paul Lovelace in Picture

The Bigger Concern…A Silent Killer

BY PAUL LOVELACE, Executive Vice President of Corporate Development, Funeral Directors Life

In 2009, I had the pleasure of seeing the dentist for a routine visit about a toothache I was having at the time. The dentist happened to be a friend of mine who had recently started checking patient vitals (blood pressure, temperature, pulse rate, etc.) as a part of every appointment. Following a basic dental exam, he left the room for a few minutes and returned with news I will never forget. “Paul, your teeth are fine, but I’m afraid we have a bigger concern.” You see, it was my friend and general dentist who first alerted me to my high blood pressure, which registered at something like 225/110 that day! He said, “Did you know high blood pressure is known as the ‘silent killer’?” and then, he threatened to send me to the emergency room! He only allowed me to leave his office if I promised to see a doctor right away. I did as he instructed; I have been on 3 blood pressure medications ever since!

What does this have to do with the funeral world, you ask? Great question. I don’t think commonly blamed concerns such as the cremation rate, shortfalls, prices, new competition or technology are threatening the future of the funeral industry. All of these are definitely a challenge, and I’m not trying to minimize their impact on businesses. However, I think the bigger concern threatening the future of funeral service is how we create value for the customer. According to Anthony Iannarino, “Over time, what was once perceived as value is replaced by something of greater value. The key to retention is new value.”

Folks, we have a bigger concern at hand. For our profession to retain today’s funeral consumer in the future, we have to create new value. What does new value look like for the funeral business?

Families want convenience. Families generally don’t want to come down to the funeral home on the worst day of their life and talk with the funeral director for hours about vital statistics, merchandise options, and service logistics. In fact, they don’t want to be there at all! So, how can the funeral home make the planning experience more convenient for families?

Families want meaning. Today’s funeral consumer has changed to the point where the traditional funeral service offerings are not appreciated like they used to be. A traditional 2:00 p.m. funeral with a casket in the coach, limo for the family, and service at the church is the exception nowadays! How can the funeral home provide more
meaningful options?

Families want their problems solved. Today, we have “his” kids and “her” kids and “their” kids, and it’s a complicated mess sometimes because they all live in different cities! We have to anticipate the problems associated with family dynamics and make recommendations. Families do not know what to do. How can the funeral home better guide and direct families in a way that meets their concerns?

Families want ideas. There is value in creativity. When the funeral director brings insights that create a one-of-a-kind tribute, families recognize it. It’s dangerous to assume that today’s funeral consumer wants what their parents and grandparents had for services and merchandise. How can we bring new and creative ideas to families experiencing a loss?

Families want help. Since the average funeral consumer only plans 1 or 2 funerals in their lifetime, they need professional guidance. All too often directors ask families what they want (thinking that is good service), when the reality is they have NO IDEA! We should anticipate their needs and make suggestions based on the circumstances we know about. We understand grief and what it takes to heal. We also understand the unintended consequences of skipping steps in the healing process. How can the funeral home give families the help they really need?

It wasn’t Netflix that took down Blockbuster Video. It was late fees. Customers hated to pay late fees, so they found another option. Blockbuster failed to create new value and alienated their customer base. The rest is history. Right now, there are market forces at work (slowly and steadily) on the next generation of funeral planners. For funeral home owners who are focused on meeting these consumers, not where they are, but where they are headed, the future is very bright. For everyone else, a bigger concern is lurking.

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