Even the best memorial service experiences may not lead to long-term customer loyalty. Sure, the afterglow following services may result in a post-service survey that earns top scores on your scale across the board. But will the survey respondent, other family members or attendees think of your funeral home first the next time they (or people they know) need to plan a funeral? If you sent the same follow-up survey several months later, would you receive the same positive result?
Ask “The Ultimate Question”
If you haven’t already, read The Ultimate Question 2.0 by Fred Reichheld. The first sentence of the book’s introduction reads, “It always seemed to me that success in business and in life should result from your impact on the people you touch — whether you have enriched their lives or diminished them.” Reichheld doesn’t discount the importance of sustaining profitability in operating a business, but he believes — and more than 25 years of data proves — that if you enrich a customer’s life they will actively discuss their experience and promote the company that delivered that experience. This results in highly profitable customer relationships.
What’s the ultimate question? “On a zero to 10 scale, how likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or family member?” There is a prescribed ultimate follow-up: “What is the primary reason for your score?” Based on decades of data, Reichheld and his team found three distinct categories of responders. Promoters, who give a score of 9 or 10, are people whose lives have been enriched by the relationship with the company. They typically make repeat purchases and/or actively promote the company when the opportunity arises. Promoters will follow and participate in social media and feel connected enough to experience a sense of ownership. Wouldn’t you love it if nearly all of your clients referred to your firm as “my funeral home?”
The second category is Passives, who provide a score of seven or eight. Passives generally feel they got what they paid for. Passives do not promote your company and if asked what they think, will provide qualified or unenthusiastic responses. “Yeah, they did a good job but…” Passives are likely defectors, easily swayed by discounts or superlative claims. You cannot count on them for loyalty.
The third category is Detractors, who give a score of six or below. To use Reichheld’s word, these customers feel they have been “diminished” by their experience with the company. Detractors are dissatisfied and even surprised by how they were treated. They are the people who will openly criticize your organization, and if yours is the only funeral home in town, they will be very difficult or even demand discounts the next time they need you. It is possible to convert a Detractor to a Promoter, but it is very important that you get to the root cause of their disappointment and find a way to solve the problem. More often than not, a Detractor’s issue is not related to price (although a discount or rebate may be part of the solution to the problem).
The Net Promoter Score is calculated by subtracting the percentage of your Promoters by the percentage of Detractors. For example, if in a given year, 80% of your clients gave you a score of nine or 10 and 10% of your clients gave you a six or less, your Net Promoter Score would be 70. While it may be important to benchmark your score against other funeral homes, all you really need to know is two things: Higher is better, and you should focus on improving the score no matter what it is. You can learn more at netpromotersystem.com.
Understand Post-Service Expectations
You might have a comprehensive aftercare program that includes cards, a newsletter and an in-home visit. But is this really what your client families want? Is it what they expect? What do you communicate during the funeral planning process about your firm’s post-service activity? Do you provide the opportunity for your clients to opt in or out of anything you do? You might think receiving a warm and comforting card or grief newsletter is a nice surprise for surviving family members, but what if instead it is viewed as intrusive or “too soon?”
Aftercare is an important component to your funeral home’s value offering, so make sure you promote it during the arrangement conference. Your client families may not know if they want it at the time you ask, even if they understand it is a free service. Make sure you find a time in your follow-up process (perhaps when you send the survey) to discover if and when your post-service program is desired. How — and perhaps most important, when — you follow up with families is key to ensuring positive and lasting customer experiences that results in top-of-mind awareness and a high likelihood that your firm will be recommended.
Be Loyal to Your Customers
What do you think of when you hear the term “customer loyalty?” Most businesses concentrate on return patronage, how much is spent, long-term customer value and referrals. All of these place the burden of loyalty — the measurement of loyalty — on the client.
What about you and the people employed in the funeral home? Are YOU loyal to your client families and your community? For years, I have advised funeral professionals not to advertise how much they “care” about families. This word is so overused and cliché; people expect at the very least that a funeral professional is “caring.” So how do you demonstrate that your firm’s level of caring impacts your value offering?
Often, firms with the highest customer loyalty and Net Promoter Scores are not merely providing exceedingly positive experiences worthy of a client’s recommendation. They are in fact very good at understanding what individuals and their communities expect in terms of post-service care, community involvement, philanthropy and visibility. In cities and towns across America, funeral professionals look around restaurants or other venues where they might see someone they served. In this situation you might approach the client and ask, “How are you doing?” Perhaps you’ll notice one another, with a smile and a nod given and received. This is a nice acknowledgement that you recognize the client and have shared a very personal experience during a very difficult time.
But what is that person really thinking? Can you possibly know? Of course you can — and it doesn’t take a marketing MBA to understand how to achieve or demonstrate customer loyalty. You are your own focus group. Think of companies with which you do business and recommend to colleagues, friends or family. What do they do to earn your loyalty — to make you a Promoter? Have this discussion with your staff and colleagues; this will provide more data and clues about how successful companies achieve and demonstrate customer loyalty.
In the end you’ll see it boils down to three things:
- Provide great experiences that families are willing to actively promote.
- Understand what you did to earn this type of customer loyalty.
- Return the favor by understanding what is important in the lives of the individuals and community you serve and demonstrating loyalty to them.
Dean Lambert is the Senior VP - Marketing & Communications for Homesteaders Life Company. He is a frequent presenter at funeral association events and has published numerous articles on funeral home marketing and PR. Click here to learn more about the leadership team at Homesteaders.