A few weeks ago, I ran into a former co-worker at the local coffee shop. A recent college graduate, she told me how challenging she was finding “adult life” – juggling rent, student loan payments and grocery bills while trying to save money for a new camera so she could expand her freelance business.
We spent the next hour sharing ways to tighten belts and pinch pennies – bargain movie matinees, free taco Tuesdays, income-based gym memberships and so on. Finally, we got to one of my favorite topics: Target. I told her about the money I save using the Target REDcard and that, in the last year alone, I’d saved an additional $150 simply by using their Cartwheel discount app. I explained how a percentage of all of my purchases is donated to the elementary school in my hometown. And I gushed about their amazing customer service.
The next day, she called to tell me she’d signed up for a REDcard, downloaded their mobile app and enrolled in Cartwheel. Our conversation prompted her to shop at Target and – perhaps more significantly – to become a fully engaged customer immersed in their branded buying/selling experience.
That is the power of brand advocacy.
Today’s consumers foster inherent skepticism toward traditional advertising. Instead, they trust and rely on recommendations from people who have earned relational capital: friends, mentors, co-workers, pastors, doctors, etc. To effectively reach these consumers, you need brand advocates – individuals who have first-hand knowledge of your funeral home and can share their positive experiences through word-of-mouth referrals.
Brand advocates are invaluable assets to your funeral home business. These individuals are well placed to offer credible recommendations to their peers. They are your most effective recruiters, a compelling blend of advocacy and authenticity.
So, where do you find these rare and valuable customers?
1. 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 meeting 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.
2. 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. When I spoke to my friend about Target, I had instant credibility because I know Target. I shop there almost exclusively for groceries and household supplies. I regularly interact with their customer service support. I can quantify my savings in concrete dollar amounts. In short, I have things to say and experiences to back them up.
The same is true for your funeral home business. 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.
3. 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 donation 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. 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 grandson’s soccer team.
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.