The increasing demand for cremation presents an opportunity for funeral professionals to think creatively – not just about how to adapt your business, but also how to deliver meaningful, memorable services.

People who choose cremation do so for a variety of reasons. But regardless of a person’s initial motivation for selecting cremation, firms have an opportunity to differentiate themselves through the experience they provide for these individuals who want meaningful, memorable funerals.

That exceptional experience can have a lasting impact on your business in the long term. A recent Homesteaders survey asked policy owners about the main reason they chose cremation, and nearly 20 percent of respondents indicated they made this selection because others in their family had been cremated. Consider the potential for building loyalty through the service you provide for those families and others who approach your firm for cremation both pre-need and at-need.

Making assumptions can be a significant barrier to providing what your client families actually want. For example, while it may be tempting to assume that reducing costs is the primary motivator for families who choose cremation, this often isn’t the case. In fact, more than half of our survey respondents indicated a reason other than cost as the main factor in their decision to choose cremation.

Whether or not a family wants to include a casket viewing (and, speaking of not making assumptions, don’t assume families who choose cremation know this option is available), your firm can incorporate many customized visitation and funeral ideas. Here are a few considerations for planning funerals that creatively meet families’ needs, earning customer satisfaction and potentially even referrals in the process.

Start with the right questions.
Successful collaboration requires mutual understanding, and for funeral professionals this includes asking questions that help you get to know your client families and what is meaningful to them. Find out why the family is choosing cremation and why these reasons are important, and then communicate how your firm can help meet those needs.
This is just one part of thinking creatively about services – you’ll also need to really get to know the individual whose life you’re honoring. The basic questions you already need to ask can be starting points for your discovery process. Here’s just one example: A person for whom you are planning a funeral has eight grandchildren, many of whom live in the area. After learning this, ask about activities they enjoyed doing together, interests they shared and how they celebrated special occasions. Each of those elements has the potential to become an integral part of the funeral service.

Create a personalized atmosphere.
While learning about the individual and his or her family, consider how you can apply this information to many different elements of the service. Customized displays at the funeral venue, for example, can help provide an immersive environment for families and friends. If a person built model airplanes, why not display a collection of them in the entrance so visitors can admire them and reminisce about this aspect of their loved one’s life? Some individuals have been honored on an even larger scale – for example, with exhibitions of classic cars in the funeral home parking lot or with funeral processions that reflect the person’s career, hobbies or interests.

If practicality becomes a concern, remember that meaningful elements can also be simple. I’ve attended visitations and funeral services with small, personal additions that made a big difference, such as a bowl of the person’s favorite snacks near the guest book and displays of poetry written by loved ones.

Build photo tributes.
Funeral professionals can also use the knowledge they gain about families to develop photo displays that truly reflect their needs. For example, you might suggest that families provide a timeline of a person’s life or create themed photo boards that focus on particular relationships or interests. Photos used in these displays can become an even more important way to establish visual memories for families who choose cremation without a viewing.
Also consider alternative methods of displaying photos at the visitation or funeral that match the atmosphere, themes and personality traits the family wants to highlight. One example of this is to attach photos to the strings of balloons positioned above the guestbook table. This type of idea will be especially appreciated by families who want the service to take place in a hope-filled, celebratory environment.

Leverage video capabilities.
There’s a reason that video presentations are a popular element for funeral services, regardless of whether a family chooses cremation or burial. These videos can help them connect over shared memories and find joy in the experience. While most of these videos are photo based, it’s also possible to incorporate home movies and interviews with family members.

Video presentations are also a great topic to discuss with families who prearrange funerals. By planning in advance, the family has an opportunity to capture video of the person who will be honored at the service. In turn, that person will have a remarkable way to tell their story in their own words and share messages of love to help their family through the difficult time.

Offer personalized memorialization.
A personalized urn will help a family convey their loved one’s personality, which can be especially important if they plan to have the urn present during the funeral. Customization can be as simple as engraving the urn, or it can take the form of a more elaborate urn with a unique shape or image. A Veteran’s service may be honored with special embellishments on the urn as well.

If the urn will be displayed at the service, this can offer additional opportunities for personalization. Many families choose to display a photo alongside the urn, but other meaningful items can also be displayed to create an even more memorable tribute. For example, the urn could be placed on a stand covered with a handmade quilt that was special to the loved one. Carefully chosen floral arrangements and candles can also contribute to the atmosphere you help the family create, whether this is joyful, reflective or both.

Provide options for after the service.
The family’s wishes for the loved one’s final resting place can also help you plan a meaningful experience for them. Some families may wish to hold a scattering ceremony at a later date. If that is the case, you can work with them to plan an event that incorporates elements from the funeral as permitted. (Of course, you’ll need to confirm local regulations about the disposition of cremated remains to help you serve as a resource for families who have questions about what is allowed and available in your area.)

Families have more options than ever for what they can do with cremated remains. Many cremation jewelry choices are available for families who wish to keep their loved ones close. Other options include cremation art glass pieces, which turn cremated remains into objects that are both beautiful and meaningful.

You never know what customized details might be valued by families who choose cremation – until you ask questions that help you get to know them and the reasons behind their preferences. Working together, their memories and wishes combined with your creativity can help you plan services that deliver a highly satisfying experience. FBA

Alyssa McNab is Homesteaders Life Company’s Digital Marketing Specialist. Homesteaders Life Company, a mutual company owned by its policy holders, is a national leader providing products and services to promote and support the funding of advance funeral planning and end-of-life expenses.