As you know, few concepts can ever truly be divided into an even 50-50 split. Real life is rarely that clean and simple. But when it comes to independent funeral home owners considering the topic of online reviews, I've discovered a virtually perfect balance of "true-blue believers" and "heels-dug-in nonbelievers."
Here's what I mean: These days, about half of my new funeral clients enter the relationship fully on board with a plan to actively generate a lot of positive online reviews. (That's a huge improvement over a few years ago.)
However, the other half could not be less interested. At first blush, the very idea of families reviewing a funeral home's services online still strikes them as simply unnecessary at best and flatly inappropriate at worst.
No matter which camp you're currently in, the reasons these funeral professionals provide for avoiding online reviews will likely sound familiar to you:
- "Online reviews are for restaurants, not funeral homes."
- "It's [inappropriate/disrespectful/rude] to ask grieving families to give reviews."
- "Local word of mouth matters more than something online."
- "Review platforms are all scams anyway—you have to pay to get good reviews or pay to remove bad ones."
- "No one has ever chosen a funeral provider based on an online review."
They're all myths, every single one. But in my experience, they continue to persist with about half the independent funeral home owners in the United States.
As someone dedicated to educating funeral service providers about how to market deathcare options online in both effective and appropriate ways, let me assure you: There's nothing wrong with actively working to generate online reviews for your funeral home.
In fact, families in your community will appreciate it. You don't think they want a fast, straightforward way to know what other families think about your services? Especially for at-need services, when time is of the essence and a decision must be made right away?
It's not 2000 or even 2010 anymore. It's 2020. Things have changed. People in the funeral demographic—those in their fifties or sixties, and many in their seventies and even eighties—are used to researching all sorts of businesses online.
Grandparents and even some great-grandparents have smartphones and tablets now, and they use them all the time. Sure, they might be more reluctant to throw away print directories than younger people (some habits are hard to break), but that certainly doesn't mean they ignore the internet.
If they're considering a preneed provider, you can bet most want to see great online reviews. And if they're in an at-need situation, your online reviews will likely be the first objective assessment they'll see of your services.
Having 40 or 50 great reviews doesn't mean you're any less caring or thoughtful than a competitor with only a handful of reviews. It doesn't imply you're less reverent or community-focused. It just means you've done a better job of getting people to review you.
Let's address the concern that asking a family for an online review could come off as rude or inappropriate: Well, of course it can—if it's not done well. To do it right, you must consider the circumstances and the timing, along with how you approach the family representative you're working with.
Here's the thing: If you're a funeral director, you're already really good at that. It's right in your wheelhouse.
You're constantly dealing with business considerations for families while also being careful to be understanding and empathetic. It's a core aspect of your position. Generating reviews is just one more extension of that skill set.
Technology itself also offers ways for funeral homes to generate positive reviews. For example, at my company, we offer funeral home clients an automated email sequence we specifically designed to solicit reviews from satisfied families.
I know that can sound scary, but in practice, it's anything but. The emails are very carefully worded to be warm and thoughtful. They're not pushy in the slightest. They simply provide satisfied families the opportunity to share their thoughts if they wish—and if not, that's totally fine.
Of course, that's not the only way to generate reviews. If the time and circumstances are right, simply ask for a review in person. If a family representative is effusive in thanking you for the life celebration you designed and delivered, go for it. Explain how their review will help other families benefit from the wonderful services your firm can provide. Many will want to spread the word.
In today's digital age, online reviews have largely replaced offline word-of-mouth. The latter still has relevance, of course, but you can't simply assume word will get around. Your funeral home gains objective credibility when people see a great quantity of positive reviews online.
Think about families who find themselves in an unexpected at-need situation with no plans in place: As soon as they Google "funeral homes" or "funeral homes near me" or "burial" or "cremation" or "veteran's funeral," etc., they'll see a list—a Google search engine results page (SERP), to be specific—of local providers.
In most cases, one of the first things searchers will see is how many Google reviews those businesses have received and the overall review average on a five-star scale.
Would you trust the care of your loved one to a funeral home that had no reviews, or only a handful? Would you trust the care of your loved one to a funeral that had an average of 2.7 stars?
You need as many five-star reviews as possible to ensure a great average—and it's fine to have some four-star reviews, too. You also need a substantial quantity of reviews. People trust you much more when there's a solid sample size.
Additionally, Google—the massive market leader in search with about a 90 percent share—factors the quality and quantity of your reviews into how well you rank on SERPs. It's only one of many factors, but it definitely matters.
Finally, consider what I noted earlier: Many independent funeral homes in America still don't prioritize generating reviews. They haven't gotten the message yet or just remain skeptical.
That's unfortunate in general, but it's an opportunity for you. While they're ignoring both the reputation and search engine optimization (SEO) benefits of reviews, you can take advantage. By proactively working to generate many more positive reviews, you can rank much higher on SERPs and establish far greater credibility with families in your area.
Welton Hong is the founder and CEO of Ring Ring Marketing® (funeralhomeprofits.com) and the author of Making Your Phone Ring with Internet Marketing for Funeral Homes, 2019 Edition.