First impressions are everything. And most times, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. A client’s first experience with your firm—and every experience after that—has a tremendous impact on their overall impression of doing business with you. In the latest “State of the Connected Consumer” report published by Salesforce, 88% of consumers agreed that “the experience a company provides is as important as its product or services.”
So, how can you ensure your funeral home makes a great first impression, provides the best service and stands out from your competition? Here are 13 tips to help you differentiate your funeral home business and make a lasting impact on families from their first experience with your firm:
1. Maintain Your Building and Grounds
Think about the very first thing a guest sees when driving up to your funeral home. Visualize a person getting out of his or her vehicle in winter, spring, summer and fall. How’s the landscaping? For those of us who are fortunate enough to enjoy the full depth of our four seasons, where do you pile up the snow when clearing your parking lot and walkways? Do you have any cracked sidewalks? When is the last time you took a good look at all of your signage? Picture yourself walking through the doors. What do you see, smell, hear and feel? Carpet, tile, wall coverings, window coverings? Check, check, check, check.
What else do you see when you move about the facility? What a person experiences before anyone utters a word of welcome is a powerful start to what could be a mutually-beneficial and long-term relationship.
2. Create a Strong Online Presence
The internet is a global reference for people finding answers to their questions about just about everything in life. It is also becoming a primary resource for people who need to plan for a death.
Your firm’s website and social media channels are virtual representations of your funeral home and the people who work there.
Go through the same mental exercise we suggested earlier as you virtually “drive up” to the funeral home: Is your domain name (what follows after “www.”) easy to remember and relative to your business? If a person cannot find your website, they cannot enter the door to your virtual space. The first impression is you don’t exist, and as the adage goes, you really won’t get a second chance to make an impression.
Take the same kind of tour with your virtual environment as you would with your brick-and-mortar environment. Is your website easy to navigate? Do you provide an opportunity for visitors to understand why you are the funeral home of choice in your community (testimonials are highly recommended for this purpose)? Can people “meet” your staff and learn about them?
What does your website say and show about what you provide and how you provide it? Visitors should be able to picture themselves working with you based on testimonials and the organization of content. Even better — why not provide a way for visitors to sample going through the process of planning a funeral? In terms of content, the majority of what you put online should be focused on the visitor. Just as you would inside your building, the online experience really needs to be much more about them than you.
In terms of social media, what types of conversations are you encouraging? Are you promoting engagement and inviting questions? Your content should definitely reflect the types of conversations you want people to have about funeral planning, memorialization and healthy grieving.
Avoid merely copying and pasting or “feeding” your obituaries to your social media pages. Find a way to recognize the people and families you are serving in a conversational manner. Communicate that you have the honor and privilege to help celebrate the life of [name of the deceased]. Social media is the perfect forum for defining the unique aspects of your firm and for others to discuss their experiences with you. If you focus on making every first impression and the ensuing experience excellent, your social media followers will have nothing but great things to say!
3. Prepare Your Staff for Interacting with Client Families
Preparation and organization are key to making a great first impression on your prospective client families.
Let’s take it down to the individuals on your team: How is everyone dressed? Does everyone appear groomed, like they took time to get ready for their day? If your people seem unkempt or unorganized, families might feel as if they aren’t a priority and become concerned their arrangements won’t get done the way you have promised.
A sense of urgency is important, but if your staff is rushing around and appear stressed, families may perceive you are operating beyond your limits. Could this create a concern that you’re too busy to take the right amount of time to do the best job for a client? This may be the third family you’re meeting with on a particular day, but it’s perhaps the only time the person making arrangements has ever planned a funeral. Slow down, go through the required steps, and take time to listen so you can make the experience as personal and meaningful as possible. Each and every family should know they can trust you and your funeral home based on that first interaction.
Watch out for non-verbal body language! Opening doors and pulling out chairs for guests, or rising from your chair when someone leaves the room mean nothing without making eye contact, leaning in and offering a warm smile. Mirroring the body language of your guests can also make them feel comfortable during your initial conversations.
Some basic reminders here:
- Treat your guests the way you would your own family.
- Listen to the stories they tell you about their loved one and go above and beyond to honor those memories. You should always be prepared to accommodate multiple people’s ideas and visions.
- Listen carefully to each family member, as they are all important in this process.
4. Know Your Competition
You can’t identify what you do best if you don’t know what your competition is doing. Do a little research into what other funeral home businesses are offering to customers in your community. Then, you can start to identify the areas you excel at and the services you may need to work on to attract more client families.
5. Understand Your Customers
Perhaps you are the best in several areas, but you aren’t sure which ones matter most to your client families. You may need to take time to find out what they really want and need—through relationship-building or well-constructed market research. Whichever method you choose, your goal should be to find out what truly matters to your client families so you know which services are going to set you apart from the competition.
6. Be Authentic
Consumers are paying more attention to the organizations they do business with and how those firms adhere to their mission. Brands can form more meaningful connections when they share not just what they do, but why they do it and how that benefits their clients and their communities.
Share stories that get to the heart of why you do what you do. Your firm likely has some compelling stories about how and why it was founded, how your team members got started in funeral service and what keeps your staff motivated to provide exceptional service for families. You also probably have stories about how and why you are involved in the community. Those narratives make a much stronger and more lasting impression than simply stating what you do.
7. Be Transparent
No one likes to feel they are entering a decision-making process unprepared. Consumers want and increasingly expect to do business with companies that offer easily understandable information about what is available, the investment and how to get started.
Use your funeral home website to help educate client families about what you offer and what they can expect from their experience with you. Both in this content and when meeting with families, avoid jargon and offer clear explanations of your services. Because funeral planning is an unfamiliar process for many, share the full range of services without making assumptions about what families will or won’t want.
8. Offer Personalized Solutions
Consumers want to do business with firms that take the time to understand their needs and can provide creative solutions. Offering relevant customization options can help differentiate your firm from other providers.
While it can be helpful for families to hear examples of services and options that other families in their community choose, be sure to explain how the services can be customized to honor a unique, well-lived life. Ask questions that encourage your clients to share stories that will provide useful details that can then be used to create truly memorable services.
9. Provide Convenient Solutions
Since the coronavirus pandemic, the funeral profession has experienced an increased demand for online service options. More and more consumers are looking for ways to do business with companies that make it faster and more convenient to do business on their terms.
Offer options that meet the preferences of your clients, including online funeral planning. These tools can help serve clients who may not be comfortable walking through your doors to plan with you. However, it’s not enough to offer just any online planning option. The solution you choose should provide an end-to-end experience that integrates seamlessly with your brand and the excellent service your community expects from you.
10. Build Lasting Relationships
The “State of the Connected Consumer” report notes that more than half of customers say they “feel an emotional connection to the brands they buy from the most.” Those strong relationships build loyalty and lead to referrals.
Trust and understanding help drive stronger connections with your client families. Establish trust by being transparent and following through on the promises you make in your firm’s mission and values. Nurture relationships with families in ways that anticipate their needs, such as through text-based aftercare programs that reach them with relevant messaging at the right time.
You can also find ways to get involved in local groups and organizations, build relationships with community leaders and make sure people you regularly interact with know about the unique services you offer at your funeral home.
11. Connect with Other End-of-Life Professionals
According to Homesteaders’ biennial policy owner survey, more than 70% of consumers only considered one funeral home when making their prearrangements. Imagine how much more likely that scenario might be when a death occurs unexpectedly, requiring the immediate (and sometimes uninformed) selection of a funeral service provider. This is why it is so important to build relationships with other end-of-life professionals like hospital staff, hospice providers and clergy. When a death occurs, these individuals are ideally placed to recommend your services.
12. Foster Word-of-Mouth Referrals
Satisfied customers make the most powerful brand advocates. When a family is especially pleased with your services, encourage them to recommend you to their friends and family members. Ask them to provide a written testimonial you can use in promotional materials, social media posts and website copy. When people are highly satisfied with their experience, they are often eager and willing to encourage others to experience it as well.
13. Remain Relevant
Not all differentiation is positive—you wouldn’t want potential clients identifying your funeral home as the least helpful or the most expensive. The same is true of being the least innovative. If you want to differentiate your firm from the competition, you need to consistently look for ways to innovate, offering the products and services that matter most to modern consumers.
Making a strong first impression is essential in the funeral profession. Your physical and digital spaces and should clearly indicate your expertise, building trust and endearing you to families who use your services. A great first impression can help your funeral home stand out, and most importantly, will improve the overall experience for each family.