How to Discuss Cremation Options with Families

We all know that cremation rates are rising. According to CANA’s industry statistical information, the cremation rate is projected to be 60.7% in 2024. Although this number will vary by service area, the percentage of people who choose cremation is expected to continue to increase overall.

As more families are selecting this option, funeral professionals need to be prepared to answer their questions and help them plan meaningful and memorable funeral services. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you work to provide the best possible experience.

Aim to educate.

It’s easy to forget how unfamiliar some of our terminology and services can be for families. When funeral professionals sit down to meet with them, the family members may have only done this once or twice before – if ever. Avoid jargon and confirm that your clients understand what you’re sharing as you go along.

Don’t make assumptions.

When working with a family who chooses cremation, it’s important to discover the reasons behind their choice. Sometimes their motivations may surprise you. While some families do choose cremation because it is less expensive than other alternatives, price is not always the deciding factor. There are many reasons why families choose cremation, including practical considerations and personal preferences. For example, take a look at the results of the following question from our 2021 policy owner survey*:

What is the main reason you selected cremation?

  • 36% Simpler/Easier for family
  • 26% Less expensive
  • 15% Others in my family have been cremated
  • 11% Dislike the idea of being buried in a casket
  • 6% Environmentally friendly
  • 2% Family lives far away
  • 1% More options for keepsakes/memorialization
  • 4% Other

You’ll note there are many possible reasons why people choose cremation. But you’ll rarely – if ever – hear someone tell you they’re choosing cremation because they don’t want any type of service. Instead of making assumptions about the services and merchandise a family wants based solely on their choice of cremation, ask open-ended questions and allow them to share their preferences. With that in mind, you can feel confident in sharing the full range of services with every family, every time.

Explain the funeral service components.

For many families, it is helpful to learn more about the components of a funeral and the purposes they serve. While not every component may be right for every family, walking through those options gives them the information they need to make satisfying choices for their own situations. (Remember, this is likely an unfamiliar process for them.) Talk to families the way they talk with you, taking care to use the words and terminology that make sense to them, while avoiding industry jargon.

Use active listening.

Too often in our conversations, people immediately jump in to respond rather than ensuring we really understand what the other person is saying. Active listening techniques can be helpful in many situations, including working with families who choose cremation.

One format I like for active listening uses the acronym LAER:

  • Listen without interjecting.
  • Acknowledge what the other person is saying (often through nonverbal communication such as nodding).
  • Explore what the other person has said by asking related questions.
  • Respond/React to the other person in a way that demonstrates you understand what they’ve shared and want to offer value based on their input.

These steps help you build rapport and then offer insights about service options that can really meet each family’s needs.

Ask about the final resting place.

When a family chooses cremation, there are other factors to consider for the final resting place. Many people think of disposition in terms of cremation or burial, not realizing that it’s possible to choose both. Still others don’t consider the possibility that they may want to have an event to place their loved one in a final resting place. Asking the client to think about their preferences can help avoid family conflicts, surprises and regrets later on.

Brent Thomas is the Director-Field Training and Development at Homesteaders Life Company. Prior to joining Homesteaders, Brent spent 23 years in the funeral profession, including 17 years at Batesville Casket Company. Beginning as a preneed counselor for Buchanan Group, Inc., he quickly moved into cemetery sales management. At Batesville, Brent’s roles ranged from key account and business consulting to cremation and sales management. He holds a degree in Organizational Communications from Indiana University and is a certified facilitator of InsideOut Coaching. Brent’s award-winning experience as a business consultant, coach/mentor and strategic sales leader is rooted in his commitment to helping families honor their loved ones.

Subscribe to the Homesteaders BlogGet the latest funeral service tips and insights delivered to your inbox.