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Hospice, Families, and Funeral Service

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019
Hospice, Families, and Funeral Service

 

There are a number of proactive measures we as a profession can take in pursuit of remaining relevant to contemporary consumers. Developed from ideas presented by Kim Medici Shelquist, Senior VP of Planning & Development for Homesteaders Life Company, and Ernie Heffner, President of Heffner Funeral Chapel & Crematory, this post focuses on the relationship between end-of-life care and death care and the family’s experience.

Hospice

The first US hospice was established in 1974 and viewed as an alternative to current heathcare options for those at the end of life. Kim explained that, in many cases, traditional healthcare establishments were not welcoming, so hospice professionals had to fight for respect. The largest growth of hospice care providers in America occurred after Congress passed legislation in 1982 to create a Medicare hospice benefit allowing Medicare/Medicaid to fund hospice care. As of 2014, there were 6,100 hospices nationwide and more entering the market every year.

Facts About Hospice Providers

Most hospice care is not a non-profit endeavor but rather care provided by for-profit organizations and keenly attuned to demographics, networking, market shares and the competition. Ernie described that hospice organizations have changed significantly from the volunteer-based approach some of us may remember from the early days of hospice care and now have first-class marketing graphics and a business plan to match. The close personal relationship of a hospice care provider with surviving family members does not end with the patient’s death but can extend for more than a year after.

Ernie researched and reported many of the following statistics from the website of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

  • Free standing hospice organizations not affiliated with a hospital are on the rise, 58.3% in 2013 increased to 72.2% in 2015.
  • Not-for-profit hospices are decreasing, 34% non-profit in 2011 down to 31.9% in 2016.
  • Of all US deaths, 44.6% in 2011 occurred under hospice care, 46.2% in 2015. 59% received in-home care.
  • The average length of care decreased from 72.6 days in 2013 to 69.5 days in 2015. The median length of care decreased from 18.5 days in 2013 and to 17.4 days in 2014 and increased to 23 days in 2015.
  • Aftercare: Few if any funeral homes have an aftercare program like hospice. 92% offer community bereavement support. Through ongoing bereavement activities by a “bereavement coordinator,” the hospice organization maintains a relationship with the family long past the time of the patient’s death, in fact monthly for 13 months after the death.
  • Volunteers in Hospice Care: Statute requires that 5% of people hours are provided by volunteers. Many hospice organizations have a person dedicated to recruiting volunteers. In 2014, 430,000 volunteers provided 19 million hours of service.
  • Spiritual Advisor: Hospice organizations are required to have a spiritual advisor on staff. Hospice chaplains are often very well-trained in non-denominational, non-religious approaches to the spiritual side of life and death.

The Role of the Hospice Worker

Hospice care providers are a very special, caring group of people. They are held in high regard by the families they serve. Their opinions and advice are trusted. They are passionate, dedicated, and tenacious. There is little turnover, and even those who do leave often move to another hospice.

No other healthcare professional actively talks to family about the end of a life and planning the way a hospice care provider does. Kim explained that they do whatever is in their power to reunite families and meet patients’ needs, they are flexible and open-minded, and they figure out how to provide the best end-of-life experience possible. Ernie recommends the chapter “The Power of Presence” in Doug Manning’s book, The Funeral, to appreciate the connection and relationship hospice care providers have with families.

Almost half of all deceased people in the US last year were under hospice care before they ever got to a funeral home, crematory, cemetery, or anatomical gift registry. That’s significant, because unless you have a great community engagement program, a family’s first contact about funeral plans is hospice staff. Social workers ask patients and families about their wishes and intentions long before you see them. Statistically, these caregivers have built a very personal relationship with almost half of these families immediately prior to the death of their loved ones. If that doesn’t motivate you to think about what you’re doing in your community and your hospice outreach, I don’t know what will.

The average length of hospice stay is about 70 days. That’s a long time to create a relationship with the family. 59% of hospice patients receive in-home care. Hospice staff go in, day after day, and build that relationship and gather the details of their lives and their family dynamics. It’s a very different situation – we get three days, they get almost three months to hold those really hard conversations about really hard parts of a patient’s life. In that role, they become trusted advisors and the go-to people for all things related to death and dying.

Serving Hospice Families

The average hospice caregiver, no matter how well-intentioned, only knows as much about funeral service as someone who goes to a lot of funerals. Most are invited, and attend, many patient’s services and thus see many local funeral homes. But, there’s no aspect of hospice training that goes into the ins and outs of funeral service.

We use a lot of trade-specific information and technical jargon that is confusing to families and just as confusing to those caregivers. And if these people go to a lot of funerals, it means they go to a lot of bad ones, too. What does that caregiver think after they leave? If the next family asks, “What should we do?” they might not recommend your funeral home because they remember that bad service.

Some funeral directors ask, “Why do they tell them to do the cheapest thing?” Kim reminds us that the social worker has seen their hospital bills, heard about maxed-out credit cards, and sat with the widow afraid of losing the house after losing her husband. That social worker is not concerned about whether the funeral home is interested in offering an upgraded casket. If the social worker sees you trying to sell the family anything, they might remind them that they don’t need it. It’s not right or wrong—it’s just the way it is. We can talk about “that’s not her role” or “the family might have wanted to do something nice and she took their choice away,” but you’re talking about a dynamic where she was protecting them. Hospice social workers and caregivers take their role as advocates very seriously. They value collaboration. That means if you can create a relationship and build trust, you can position yourself as an advocate of the family, and you can collaborate on the process. If they see you acting in the best interest of their families, they will support you.

By the time the hospice family comes to the funeral home, you need to understand what they’ve been through. You are professional and passionate members of funeral service, but terminal illness is different. In a hospice situation, the family often has the opportunity to come together and say goodbye. Sometimes, they’ve done it three or four times. They’ve done the first part of the grieving process. They've had a lot of time to talk about death, to think about death, and often have additional support via hospice resources to prepare and guide them. The family is often present at the time of death, and it’s not unusual for them to have a brief ceremony right then. Kim explains that, the presence of the family, the words of the chaplain, the goodbye to their loved one – after that, they may not need a traditional funeral to process their grief. And it’s important for funeral professionals to understand that.

That’s not to say that there isn’t need or opportunity for service and ceremony, but we must remember that those in hospice have declined for a long time. Their survivors often say “I don’t want people to see my loved one like that.” It’s hard for families to think about a visitation because of the change that illness has brought. They don’t want their friends and families to remember the deceased that way, or worse, not recognize their loved one anymore. But they don’t necessarily understand what you can do about that. They don't always understand how body preparation can make a big difference—whether they agree to full embalming (which can reduce swelling or return moisture) or merely a shave and a haircut (which can make them look like themselves again).

Lastly, you know that these families are spread out, so they’ve spent time and money on travel in addition to the financial costs of long-term care, lost time at work and time with their immediate families. They are exhausted physically, emotionally, and financially. And this stress has likely heightened any kind of disagreements about medical care and funeral planning.

How to get started in developing a hospice outreach program

Developing a meaningful relationship with hospice care providers in the community is not about dropping off cookies at Christmas. It is a commitment to education that can benefit all concerned, providing the families we mutually serve with seamless and meaningful end-of-life transition. Ernie provides three key strategies for starting your hospice relationship:

  1. Research
    Read all you can to learn about the hospice profession. Then research your state’s licensing requirements for Registered Nurses (RNs) specifically the continuing education (CE) requirements and what qualifies for program content.
  2. Build formal PowerPoint presentations
    These need to be compliant with RN CE requirements. Include reporting, record-keeping system and handout material to be used. Then apply to get your program(s) certified by your state’s nurse licensing division.
  3. Recruit a hospice care provider as your outreach person
    This could be a part-time position about 18 to 24 hours per week. Consider recruiting a retiring hospice social worker interested in a part-time position. Have this person be your representative to offer continuing education. This person should also attend monthly networking events relevant to serving seniors.

In Conclusion…

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, internationally acclaimed grief counselor, author and educator, has said “Education starts with understanding the people we serve.” To that point, it is helpful to review the demographic and societal statistics of your community, understand how these facts dramatically impact end-of-life service providers, and embrace the adaptations needed by the profession—including further education and training—in order to remain prospectively relevant to contemporary consumers.

Like Ernie says, life is about relationships and experiences. We are in the business of celebrating the life of the individual by recognizing how they touched the lives of others. Our mission is to orchestrate and direct a meaningful ceremony with compassion, flexibility and options and in way that is as unique as the person who died.

 


Kim Medici Shelquist's remarks excerpted from her presentation at CANA's 2017 Cremation Symposium titled "Seek First to Understand: How will changing demographics and end-of-life care options impact the funeral profession?"

Ernie Heffner's full article is featured in The Cremationist, Vol 55, Issue 1, titled “Staying Relevant in a Changing World” featuring important discussion on the role of Celebrant services, the importance of minimum standards, hospice, and more. The Cremationist is an exclusive benefit of CANA Membership.

 


Ernie Heffner Ernie Heffner is President and Owner of Heffner Funeral Chapels & Crematory, York, PA. After graduation from Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, he joined his father in a two-location firm serving about 100 families annually, with a cremation rate of about 4%. The firm grew to 22 locations in 2 states with 100 employees. That growth was during the acquisition mania of the 1990’s. Subsequent to strategic contraction, the firm today serves from six Pennsylvania locations, continuing as a “Mom & Pop” firm owned by Ernie & Laura Heffner and operated by Heffner and John Katora, V.P. and Heffner associate of 38 years. Ernie appreciates the truth of proverbs 22:10, which he paraphrases as, “Minimize the challenges in your life and your life will be better.” Focusing on organic growth and the pursuit of relevance to contemporary consumers has led to gratifying results.

 

Kim Medici Shelquist Kim Medici Shelquist joined Homesteaders in 2009 as Director of Marketing Communications after many years as Business Development and Communications Director of Hospice of Central Iowa. At Homesteaders, she added breadth and depth to the marketing department that resulted in the creation of several key B2C public relations and sales programs. Her efforts were also instrumental in helping Homesteaders become a recognized leader in preneed funding. Today, Kim oversees Homesteaders’ strategic planning and project management process as the Senior Vice President of Planning and Development. Her team is charged with identifying, evaluating and developing new opportunities that will help Homesteaders grow long into the future. Kim holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s of business administration, and is a Fellow, Life Management Institute.

Tags:  aftercare  arranging  celebrants  consumers  education  marketing  preplanning  services  tips and tools 

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Five Important Tips for Selling Preneed Online

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, December 4, 2018
Five Important Tips for Selling Preneed Online

 

In today’s world, talk about going completely online is a topic for most businesses. The preneed industry is no different. Our consumers, as with any others, like to do research and shop online, so providing them an avenue to do this is very important. Providing options and allowing customers to shop and truly plan out their funeral is what they are looking for.

1. Offer a Range of Options

In some cases, an online contact will lead to a cremation sale with very few additions, very simple and straightforward. In other cases you’ll need to provide avenues to shop for a range of items, including caskets, other merchandise, and services.

In all cases you need to be prepared to serve each customer differently and provide them with the options they want so they can shop and do it on their own time. Make their online experience similar to what you provide in person. Make it easy and engaging for them to interact with you.

2. Capturing Personal Data

Another key component is to continually monitor who is visiting your sites and capturing their information to ensure you can follow up. Planning and purchasing funeral services online may be difficult for some consumers, so establishing those relationships and providing ways for families to contact you if they have questions will be key to finalizing the purchase.

These consumers may even opt to come and meet with you after planning most of their funeral online, because they just can’t or won’t finalize arrangements online. Be ready for this type of consumer. They will be very prepared to tell you what they want and will be looking for your help to finalize their plans.

We are finding that the younger demographics, people under 40, are using “Contact Us” forms as a first contact. They include messages like: “I’m interested in pre planning. Please call me,” or “My uncle just died. I need some information. Please call me.” These consumers are more likely to send an email than make a phone call, so make sure your “Contact Us” form is on your home page or easily available on the main navigation pages.

3. Consumers Want to See Prices

Pricing is important to these online shoppers, so please don’t leave it out. If families don’t find pricing on your website within two clicks, they will leave and find another funeral home. We do know that mobile is used more than desktop searches, so be sure to pull out your phone and count the number of clicks it takes for a person to find your pricing.

If you don’t have pricing on your website and you’re not sure if you should add it, check your website analytics report. This will tell you where consumers are going on your website. The standard is #1 - Obituaries, #2 - Contact, #3 - Pricing. If you have a high bounce rate—over 50%—on your pricing page, then this tells you consumers are leaving.

4. Marketing Online Services

Marketing your online services should be no different than what you do to market your funeral home services currently. Let consumers know that they can shop and browse their options online in your direct mail campaigns, at your group presentations, in your advertising, and on your social media pages.

Online shopping should fit into all of your current marketing efforts and be presented as an additional service and option you provide. Perhaps you even lead with your online shopping options in your marketing so that people know they can plan in their own time and you are ready for them when they are ready.

5. Get Creative with Video

People don’t read like they used to. Just look at your social media accounts. Compare video to text and you’ll find that posts are going to be 5 to 1, with more and more video being added all the time.

A great tool you can use is an “explainer video.” These can be in the form of animation or with still photos, telling more about your product or services.

 

Online preneed sales may not be for everyone but providing the option to everyone will ensure that you are getting those sales from people who are ready to buy online. This doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice your great service. It just means you are offering them a way to plan in their own time. You can still provide your great service on the website, after the sale, and while the policy is in force.

 


This article originally appeared in The Cremationist, Vol 54, Issue 1 by the same name. Are you looking for more about creating a preneed strategy that makes a difference? The Art of Selling Cremation: A Preneed Summit is back for the second year to with a one-day intensive on today's pressing preneed topics. Join colleagues in Las Vegas on February 5th, 2019 – see the full schedule at www.cremationassociation.org/CANAheroes.


Jessica Grann Jessica Grann oversees and leads the marketing communications team and manages all aspects of the NGL brand. She has more than 15 years of broad marketing experience encompassing strategic planning, creative design, media planning and purchasing, direct marketing, public relations and sales promotions.

 

 

 


Lynn Eliott Lynn Eliott founded Media Demographics in 1999 following a successful three years at Arbitron, the radio ratings company. In addition to business development and customer relations management, Media Demographics provides development, design and production of a range of projects including corporate identity programs, trade advertising, marketing collateral, direct mail campaigns, custom online surveys, web branding and site design.

 

Tags:  marketing  preplanning  tips and tools 

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A Simple Guide to Developing a Marketing Plan

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 8, 2018

 

Now that we are entering the final quarter of the year, most companies in the funeral service are working on next year’s marketing plans. As you move through this process, it’s a great time to ask (and answer) some key questions about your company and its operations.

A solid marketing plan assembles all of a company’s marketing objectives into one comprehensive plan. While each company has a unique set of goals, the overreaching aims for most firms are to increase business and, in doing so, grow revenues, profits and market share. Here are a number of questions to ponder as part of the marketing plan development process.

  1. Have your analyzed your competition?
    You can learn a lot by taking an objective look at your competitors, their operations and their marketing efforts. Now would be a great time to take a long, hard look at what your competition is offering. You might be very surprised at what you find.

  2. What is your customer’s experience?
    Happy families are loyal customers. Make the customer experience easy, enjoyable and convenient. When you do that successfully, they will use your firm and promote your company to others in the community. Evaluate every step of the customer’s journey once they contact your firm and work toward creating a customer experience that is unparalleled in your market. Remember, the little difference makes all the difference.

  3. How is your firm perceived in the community?
    Discover what your reputation is and whether your “brand” matches your intention and perception. Talk to customers and prospects. You might discover a shortcoming that needs to be addressed or better yet, learn about a strength that you were not aware of.

  4. What, if any, changes or trends have emerged in your marketplace?
    Research the CANA trends and make sure your services are still meaningful and relevant. Assess current customer needs and pain points, and make a plan to address them in your marketing messages. Look for growth opportunities in new marketplaces when appropriate.

  5. What did you do well last year, and where do you need to improve?
    Some marketing plans are left on the shelf and not followed. In addition, even when implemented, some programs do not generate the expected results. In that case, it’s important to evaluate the components of each campaign, including the messaging, medium and the delivery. Ask for input from all team members to get a better understanding of what needs to change in the future.

  6. What strengths do you need to leverage and protect as well as what weaknesses must you address?
    Figure out what you are doing well and make plans to make them even stronger. At the same time, take an honest look at where you and your staff fall short. Outline a plan to make this shortcoming a strength.

  7. What opportunities can you exploit and what threats should you plan to mitigate?
    If you are in contact with other CANA members, find out what new services or products they offer and have had success with. Conversely, find out what regulations they are faced with in their states and communities – as it’s only a matter of time until they may find their way into your market.

  8. Is your vision and mission clearly acknowledged and understood throughout your company?
    Without a succinct and easily expressed mission, it is unlikely that everyone will be united and be able to work together in a collaborative way to reach the outlined company’s goals. Find ways to remind the staff (and inform your families) about the vision through things like signage throughout the firm.

  9. Do you have well-defined strategies to drive your marketing initiatives?
    Take a look at what products and services you plan to offer, how they will be priced, where you will interact with family and what you will communicate with them. Each of these is crucial in providing the backbone for the tactics and activities included in the marketing plan.

  10. Is your messaging customer-centric?
    Today’s savvy families can spot a marketing pitch a mile away. Personalize messages to customers based on their pain points, needs and interests, and deliver them in a way they like. Successful companies create tailored, relevant communications based on customer preferences that highlights a key point of difference.

  11. Is your marketing plan written, known and supported throughout the organization?
    While the vision, mission, goals, strategies and tactics are important components of any solid marketing plan, they are not enough. Make sure your plan includes a budget, schedule, assignment of responsibilities and a method of monitoring and evaluating plan performance. Share the plan and get buy-in and then fine-tune the plan throughout the year.

As you answer these questions, your marketing plan will begin to unfold. Start by focusing on the big picture and then define the specific strategies and tactics necessary to accomplish your goals. When strategy and tactics in your marketing plan work in tandem as they are executed, your company can efficiently and effectively reach its goals and enjoy success.


Joe Weigel put attendees though their paces at CANA's 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention on July 26, 2018 at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa in Session 2 • Marketing Boot Camp 101: You Must Start with the Basics, to acquire the core skills of a marketer to improve your firm’s overall competitiveness and increase revenues, receive a solid grounding in the tools, techniques and approaches used in a plan.

This article appears in The Cremationist Vol. 54, Issue 3 — CANA Members can log in to see this and more articles from our quarterly publication. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access tools, techniques, statistics, and advice to help you understand how to grow the range of services and products you can offer, ensuring your business is a good fit for every member of your community – only $470!

With a wide range of valuable networking and educational opportunities, the CANA Convention featured sessions that examined the last 100 years of CANA conventions and growth in cremation, evaluated where businesses are today, and focused on the next 100 years by providing strategic and practical information for long-term success. Missed it? You can access Joe's full presentation recording and all other speakers' wisdom on our Learning Management System. View session descriptions and pricing here: gocana.org/CANA18.

Save the Date for CANA's 101st Annual Cremation Innovation Convention in Louisville, Kentucky July 31-August 2, 2019.


Joe Weigel

Joe Weigel is currently principal and owner of Weigel Strategic Marketing. a communications firm focused on cremation and the funeral profession that delivers expertise and results across three interrelated marketing disciplines: strategy, branding and communications. You can visit his website at weigelstrategicmarketing.webs.com. He also can be reached at 317-608-8914 or joseph.weigel@gmail.com.

Tags:  education  marketing  tips and tools 

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Identifying and Mobilizing Brand Advocates for Your Funeral Business

Posted By Danielle Burmeister, Homesteaders Marketing Communications Lead, Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Identifying and Mobilizing Brand Advocates for Your Funeral Business

 

Today’s consumers foster inherent skepticism toward traditional advertising. Instead, they prefer and rely on recommendations from people they know and trust. 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.

Your brand advocates are well placed to offer credible recommendations to their peers. They sing your praises to others in the community without incentives like coupons, discounts or special offers. They do it because you have earned it, and they are often your most effective recruiters, a compelling blend of advocacy and authenticity.

The most successful funeral businesses rely on word-of-mouth recommendations and testimonials to increase brand awareness in their community. But to truly capitalize on this valuable pool of promoters, you need to know how to identify and mobilize your brand advocates.

How do you identify brand advocates?

The most obvious place to look for brand advocates is among your client families. These individuals are well acquainted with your goods and services because they’ve experienced them firsthand. This makes them valuable sources of information about your business. However, not every customer makes an effective brand advocate. To ensure you’re focusing your attention on those individuals who are going to have the most impact on your business, you should identify customers who have had memorable and rich experiences with your funeral home.

Storytelling is an essential part of word-of-mouth recommendations for funeral businesses. No one truly wants to shop for a funeral – caskets, vaults, urns and monuments are not fun to buy. Very few people are going to be compelled to use your services because they hear you have an impressive collection of 18-gauge steel caskets. Instead, they respond to story-based recommendations that describe experiences and emotions. And the most effective stories are the memorable ones – the ones that get told and retold from person to person.

My family recently experienced two losses that illustrate the importance of memorable services. When my grandmother passed away, we planned what many of us think of as a “traditional” service: an immediate cremation followed by a visitation for friends and community members, a memorial service at the local church, a lunch reception at the community center and a short graveside service at the Veterans cemetery. While the day was certainly meaningful for my family, it was not necessarily memorable to those who attended.

When my cousin died a year later, we planned a very different service. We held the funeral in the high school gymnasium, with his name lit up on the scoreboard above a red bowtie – his favorite accessory. Every member of his graduating class wore bowties, even some of his coaches. During the service, dozens of teachers and friends shared stories, some sweet, others funny – all memorable. The luncheon afterward was even catered by his favorite barbecue restaurant. His service was memorable – so much so that many in the community are still talking about it three years later.

Consider the last 10 services you performed at your funeral home. How many of them were truly memorable? Can you picture attendees sharing stories from the service with their friends and relatives? Will people still be talking about that experience a year from now? Two years? Ten? If you’re not sure, you likely need to spend some time working with your staff on creative memorialization and personalization so that each and every family leaves your funeral home with a memorable experience that they are excited to share with everyone they know.

When looking for brand advocates, you should also consider the breadth of experience a family has had with your business. Someone who selected direct cremation is unlikely to have much to say about your funeral home – good or bad. They simply haven’t had much exposure to you or your business. 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 this kind of rich experience with you and your staff is much more likely to be a loyal, informed advocate for your business.

How can you mobilize brand advocates?

Unfortunately, identifying your most effective brand advocates is the easy part. Learning to motivate and deploy them effectively is much more difficult.

To mobilize your brand advocates, you first need to build and nurture meaningful relationships with them. This first part is likely something that already comes naturally to you – after all, you work in a relational profession. You likely know many of your client families before they come in for an arrangement conference, and if not, you are skilled at establishing a connection with them within a few minutes of meeting. However, it’s just as important to continue to foster those relationships long after the immediate need has passed.

There are few tangible ways to do this. First, take advantage of as many fact-to-face interactions as you can. That means dropping off paperwork at a widow’s home instead of mailing it, offering to transport flowers to the family’s home so they don’t have to pack them into their station wagon, and taking time to greet your customers whenever you see them out in the community. You may even consider calling the surviving spouse three or four weeks after the service just to check in, or taking them out for coffee so they have something to look forward to once all their friends have stopped calling and visiting.

You should also leverage opportunities to continue to provide service to families through your existing aftercare. Make sure every family knows what’s available – newsletters, emails, grief support groups, etc. Let them know why they’re important and offer to connect them with others who have found value in participating in those programs. Whenever you have events at your funeral home, like open houses, memorial services or holiday events, make sure you invite your brand advocates. Attending provides them with more exposure to your business and gives them one more thing to talk about with their friends and relatives.

The last – and most important – step in mobilizing brand advocates is asking your client families for referrals. This is often an uncomfortable thing for funeral professionals to do, but it’s a key part of leveraging brand advocates to promote your business. Often, customers who have had great experiences with your business are already inclined to promote you in their communities, but it’s still a good idea to remind them that it’s a valuable thing for them to do.

When you ask for referrals, make sure you incorporate three things:

  • Explain why their recommendation is valuable. Talking about death can be uncomfortable for your client families, but you can help normalize it by encouraging them to share their experiences. I’ve found that the most effective way to do this is to focus on what they can do for other families: “Losing a loved one is difficult for every family – especially those who have never experienced loss before. You can help the people in your life prepare for the loss of their own loved ones by sharing your experience with them.”
  • Ask them to provide a testimonial or referral. Timing is important. If you already have a follow-up system in place (like a survey), that is the ideal opportunity to ask for testimonials. If not, follow up with families a week or two after the conclusion of services to check in and ask about their experience. If they have great things to say about you and your staff, encourage them to share their thoughts with others: “We’ve found that hearing from other families we’ve served helps others who experience a loss understand what they can expect when they use our funeral home. Would you be comfortable providing a testimonial about your experience?”
  • Let them know how/where to provide feedback. Decide how you want your client families to share their feedback. Ideally, they will be talking about your business everywhere they go. But it’s also a good idea to give them a concrete starting point – like your funeral home’s Facebook page. Once you’ve asked for a testimonial, make sure they know where to go to provide it: “We are honored you chose our firm to care for your loved one. Our service standard is to provide exceptional service to each and every family. If you feel we went above and beyond in our service to you, please share that on our funeral home’s Facebook page.”

One final note: The best way you can ensure you are identifying and mobilizing your brand advocates is to build the process into your standard operations. Make sure everyone on your staff understands the importance of providing memorable service to your client families. Train them to be on the lookout for individuals who have rich experiences with your firm and stories to share about your services. Then set expectations for how you will ask families for testimonials and ensure that every member of your team knows how valuable those testimonials can be for your funeral business.
 



Danielle Burmeister Danielle Burmeister grew up in an apartment above her parents’ funeral home, where she cleaned cars, arranged flowers, and played “Taps” for graveside services. Some of her earliest memories include family dinners squeezed between visitations and road trips to local and national funeral association conventions.

Now, Burmeister works as Marketing Communications Lead at Homesteaders Life Company, a national leader in providing products and services to support the funding of advance funeral plans. In her current role, she offers a unique perspective on blending the day-to-day demands of a funeral business with creative and comprehensive marketing strategy. Follow her on Twitter @burmeisterd1.

Tags:  consumers  marketing  public relations  storytelling  tips and tools 

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