Pictured: Groce Funeral Home (Lake Julian location)
As professionals and consumers, we know that first impressions are everything. We personally might have different levels of expectation, depending on the situation. For example, you might set a different “bar” when visiting a fast food restaurant compared to a fancy bistro. Sometimes you expect more if you’re going to spend more, and other times you expect more if what you’re buying or experiencing means more. It could be both: What type of impression would you expect to be made if you made reservations three months in advance at a fancy restaurant to celebrate a wedding anniversary? How about if you’re going to finally “pop the question?”
Funeral professionals know the adage (perhaps better than most), “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Regardless of whether it’s a first call or you’re greeting a person coming to a visitation, most of the time you’re dealing with an individual during one of the very worst times in their lives. What are all the elements of your first impression on that individual? What is the brand experience that will make that person feel welcome, comfortable and cared for in a way that they will think and speak positively about it to others?
Think about the very first thing a guest sees as she drives up to your funeral home and turns into the parking lot. Picture yourself walking through the doors. As an owner or manager of your firm, what have you directed your staff to say if they are the first to greet someone entering the funeral home? Do you train on this, so it is consistent?
Perhaps a family’s first encounter with your firm is on your website or through social media. Your digital presence can make an important impact on the overall experience of planning a loved one’s funeral, or more important, in choosing to work with your firm in the first place. Whether it’s in person or online, the first impression must establish trust, your expertise and why yours is the funeral home of choice in the community.
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.
Preparation and organization is key in making a great first impression with your guests. 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 those non-verbals! It is rare that anyone with a mortuary science degree has ever preceded someone through a door (force of habit, right?), but 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.
Your 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 website, social media and business social media (i.e. LinkedIn) are a virtual representation 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 bricks-and-mortar environment. Is it 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!
Making a strong first impression is essential in the funeral profession. Your physical and digital spaces 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 guest.