Do you fear complacency in our industry? Many times, it’s not until we reflect that we realize we could have lived much more intentionally. Some may look back at our industry in the last decade and find “complacency” has settled in. Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov once said, “Complacency is a state of mind that exists only in retrospect: it has to be shattered before being ascertained.” This can be frightening but there is good news! We can use that information to better our future.

My family opened our first memorial park in the 1960’s, and we now own seven funeral homes – one in Arizona where the cremation rate is almost as high as the temperatures. This consumer trend in Arizona taught us that we had a whole new market to understand and educate. One of our first actions was to install one of the first crematories in Illinois in the early 1970’s, allowing us to serve the non-traditional customer for over 4 decades. My family is blessed because we have been involved in the industry in several different capacities and we get the opportunity to learn from a lot of various experts in our industry. After years of interacting with a high cremation market, a snapshot of our strategies told us we needed to shift roles from order takers to industry experts.

There are two major areas we must change to better serve the non-traditional market; re-positioning ourselves as industry experts and being intentional while marketing to the non-traditional customer. They have unique needs and vision that, as experts, we need to guide them through. We should establish ourselves as the “go-to” for these customers and educate on the real risks and opportunities of choosing direct cremation.

As we continue to be bold about our non-traditional customer approach here are some changes you can make we’ve found to be successful in that market.

1. Host Curious About Cremation Seminar Luncheons.
Education is the biggest piece of the cremation puzzle. Most consumers don’t know enough about cremation to make informed decisions, but how can we attract and maintain a captive audience so that we can tell them the real story about cremation?

Get your event in front of your audience. We began hosting seminars called “Curious About Cremation.” These are advertised in newspapers and social media platforms, and we often ask a question that hooks the reader, such as “Do you have plans for the end of your life?” It is important to stir up some interest because we typically convert over 80% of attendees into actual pre-need sales.

Provide a safe and comfortable setting. During the seminar, we provide a free lunch at our funeral home. We create an atmosphere that feels safe and comfortable for the attendees. By using our space we have differentiated ourselves. We take a lot of pride in our facilities and we tour them, explaining that unlike our competitors, cremation cases never leave our care. Know what your competitive advantage is and be sure to flaunt it!

Educate. Educate. Educate. During the lunch we allow a funeral director or a pre-need counselor give a presentation that covers options for non-traditional disposition.

We start by making sure the attendees feel just as important as traditional families. We even created a special room for cremation families increasing our average cremation sale by $400 per case.

In addition, we share the risks involved with direct cremation. The attendees are reminded that the services aren’t just for them. The service is for friends and family who all require different steps along the journey to healthy healing. We have seen several situations where direct cremations have left families without the proper closure.

Most importantly, we close with the opportunity for questions. Be prepared to answer any variety of questions in a dignified manner. This is your opportunity to establish yourselves as experts. If you can successfully answer questions to the attendees’ satisfaction, they will now look to you as specialists.

2. Be intentional about your cremation message.
I’ll never forget the first billboard I saw that advertised cremation with a price. I was in Arizona visiting, and I drove by one of our competitor’s billboards. They were advertising $595 cremation. I couldn’t help but think that this was going to hurt the industry by reinforcing the idea that cremation is an acceptable “cheap” and “easy” option. We need to be intentional with what kind of message we are advertising.

It is rare that we advertise any kind of price. Again, we want to use advertising to establish ourselves as experts and we need to make sure we stand behind that message. We do a lot of training with our funeral directors that includes:

Role-playing. We practice playing roles specifically for price shoppers on the phone. Price shoppers are often looking for comfort, not price.

Routine Training. We provide monthly training on how to deal with difficult questions and customers. We also set clear expectations that set the bar high with our staff. They know the importance of taking the time to educate.

3. Ask the Right Questions.
As you may have noticed, we focus a lot on setting the stage for cremation families during the pre-need process, but what about at-need situations? How can you educate families during such a delicate time?

Asking some strategically placed questions can get your families thinking about more than just price. Some questions we like to ask include:

• Does (loved one) have family and friends that may benefit from a viewing prior to the cremation?

• (loved one) may have said that they want direct cremation, but what would you and your family like to see?

• What are you planning to do with your loved one’s remains after the cremation? If you take them home, what will happen to them once you are gone? Have you thought about a final resting place for the remains?

It is important to be ready with products and information that can help families make the healthiest decision. I’m also a big believer in opinions. Sharing your educated opinions or past experiences with families is a great way to get a point across without up-selling and creating an uncomfortable situation.

By learning from our past strategies over the years we have learned how to better educate non-traditional at-need and pre-need consumers. We have also learned and the most effective way to establish ourselves as industry experts to that audience. I hope you we’ve shared some valuable strategies you can implement it in your funeral home today. Is it too much of a promotion do a “let us know what you implement by sharing on our Facebook page”? or something? Just opening it up for discussion. FBA

Ethan Darby is part of the 4th generation of the Darby family to join the family business. He has been working full time in the business for 6 years since graduating from Illinois State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. He recently became the Marketing Director at Trigard.