How many families have called or walked in the door of your funeral home because one of your previous clients recommended you or they read a positive online review about your firm? Funeral professionals don’t take referrals lightly and for good reason. Third-party endorsements carry much more weight than advertising messages—and that applies to families who prearrange, too.
When we asked policy owners what information sources they used to learn about prearranging, most learned about preneed from a family member or friend who has already prearranged or directly from a funeral professional, proving how influential client satisfaction and word-of-mouth marketing are to funeral businesses.
How can your firm ensure your client families will stay loyal to your firm and refer others who will do the same? Here are a few best practices for earning referrals for your funeral home:
1. Know what your community really wants
If you aren’t satisfying families’ needs, then you aren’t providing a service they’ll be likely to recommend. It’s easy to make assumptions about what your client families expect from your firm – after all, who knows your business better than you? But this common pitfall could end up costing your firm if you’re missing cues about changing consumer perceptions and demands.
This is one reason why market research is so important for your firm. It can help you identify preferences and attitudes among families in your community – about funeral service in general, your funeral home and even your competitors. Plus, market research can help you see trends that point toward long-term shifts in your area’s demographics.
2. Provide a consistently remarkable experience
When a customer recommends your firm, they stake their own credibility on the fact that you’ll provide an excellent experience to the person they’re referring to you. That’s why top-quality customer service is so important, whether you’re helping a family with prearrangements or at the time of need.
This experience starts with the first point of contact. For example, does your firm have a process in place for responding to preneed inquiries by phone? Can each person who calls be assured that the meeting will be set promptly? Developing basic procedures for serving families and regularly training your staff on these procedures can help ensure every client has a remarkable experience from the start.
3. Encourage your customers to share their stories
Think about your own experiences as a consumer: When you are highly satisfied with a product or service, don’t you want to tell your friends and family members about it? Make sure your families know how important their feedback is to you, and ask them to share their stories. Identify potential referral methods such as online reviews and recommendations to their friends.
Your funeral home’s social media channels provide another convenient forum for families who have had a good experience with your firm. It’s important to note that social media can also offer a place for negative feedback, and you’ll need to ensure that your firm is ready to respond to criticism constructively and follow up with families to resolve any issues.
In addition to identifying the potential referral methods and channels, you should also identify and nurture your funeral home's brand advocates – the families who can offer credible recommendations to their peers. They are your most effective recruiters, a compelling blend of advocacy and authenticity. Here are a few tips to help you identify your brand advocates and encourage them to share their stories:
Identify Satisfied Customers
First and foremost, brand advocates have to be satisfied customers. Start by reviewing the client families you served last year. How did they respond to your follow-up survey? What were their experiences like at your funeral home? How responsive was your staff to meet their unique needs and requests? Begin by identifying those families who were especially well served by you and your staff.
Then, expand your search. It’s likely your services touched someone outside the core family in ways that were meaningful and long-lasting. Perhaps you recently served the family of a young teenager killed in an auto accident, and you remember her volleyball coach thanking your staff for taking such great care of the other athletes and students. Community members – even outside immediate family and friends – can be compelling advocates for your funeral home business.
Focus on the Well-Informed
Once you’ve identified your most satisfied customers, start to narrow down the list based on your service offerings. A successful advocate is one who is well-informed. For example, someone who selected direct cremation is unlikely to have much to say about your funeral home – good or bad. On the other hand, consider the credibility and influence of an individual who met with you in a prearrangement setting for their spouse; interacted with your staff at the first viewing, visitation and memorial service; took advantage of your aftercare efforts; and then returned to plan and fund their own funeral. A customer who has a wide range of experiences with you and your staff is much more likely to be a loyal, informed advocate for your business.
Nurture Your Advocates
Once you’ve identified your most effective brand advocates, you need to build a network of ambassadors who are empowered and eager to go out into the community and sing your praises. Brand advocacy for end-of-life services is unlike that of any other profession. The nature of your services is sensitive and the need for your voice as an educator is sizeable.
So, how do you nurture these valuable advocates?
First, you need to minister to your communities. The funeral profession is one of service, of greathearted giving for the benefit of grieving families. Extend that exceptional selflessness to your communities through generous donations of your energy and resources. Go out and build those relationships so your funeral home business is top-of-mind when opportunities arise for brand advocates to share your story.
Then, find ways to use your resources to build a community of advocates – a network for word-of-mouth referrals. Connect with them on social media. Regularly communicate with them through email campaigns, holiday cards and educational materials. Provide thoughtful and effective aftercare services. Invite them to events at your funeral home. When you see them, greet them by name and ask them about their families. Demonstrate how memorable they are so they can return the favor by explaining to their friends and families how memorable you are. And, above all, offer your very best level of service to every family, every time.
4. Stay in touch with client families and visitors
Your client families’ and visitors’ experiences don’t end with the service. Encourage them to complete customer satisfaction surveys, but don’t just collect the responses – turn them into action. When a person comments that they had a great experience, what will you do to ensure that every client has a similar experience? If a family reports a negative experience, how will you respond and ensure it doesn’t happen again?
Aftercare is another important outreach method and one that can easily be tailored to your community’s preferences. This is yet another reason why market research and surveys are important: They can help you determine your clients’ communication preferences and the ways in which you can best serve them after the funeral.
Every person who has an experience with your funeral home – whether they’re prearranging, planning a funeral at the time of need, attending a service or visiting a community event – deserves the opportunity to receive aftercare. Demonstrating your commitment to ongoing care, even after the funeral, will help your firm become the one your community recommends.