By Matt Frazer
First of all, let’s start this article by acknowledging that personalized funerals aren’t an unusual request these days. There is no “standard” service anymore – families know what they want, and what they want are funerals that reflect the unique lives of their departed loved ones. Whether you attribute this trend to the Baby Boomers or not, it’s important to recognize that today’s families expect their final farewells to the deceased to be as personal and as customized as the rest of their lives have been.
As a result, the question is no longer, “Should I offer personalized services?” Instead, the challenge facing most funeral homes today is how to create individualized services without completely draining their business’s resources. How can you put together the types of funerals your customers crave without burning out your staff members, wasting time or over committing the physical resources of your funeral home? How can you serve your customers in the way they desire without compromising your business’s ability to operate effectively?
Understand the Psychology Behind Personalization
For many funeral directors, the phrase “personalization” conjures up overwhelming images of over-the-top celebrations and excessive demands made by customers. However, personalization doesn’t have to be nearly that dramatic in order to be effective. The drive to personalize a funeral doesn’t necessarily come from the desire to throw the biggest and best service ever. While this may be true in some situations, it’s more often the case that families gravitate towards personalization as a way to demonstrate that the lives of their deceased loved ones meant something – that their lives were meaningful enough to warrant a unique celebration, not some impersonal, “vanilla” funeral that’s conducted by rote by a stuffy funeral director.
As a funeral director, this means that the most first important step you can take towards offering more personalized services is to actually listen to your families. Listen to what they tell you about the deceased and what he or she meant to their lives. Give them space to share memories in your presence, and make note of any hobbies, preferences, religious traditions or interests that they bring up. Not only can this help you gather much of the information needed to make personalized arrangements later on, but it also demonstrates to the family that you recognize the deceased as a valuable, unique person who is worthy of your full attention.
Streamline Your Process
Proper personalization can be challenging enough as it is – so why make things more complicated than they need to be by reinventing the wheel for every service? Instead, streamline your personalization process by developing a set list of questions to ask and steps to take that can be applied to every funeral you manage. Doing so will allow you to give the families you serve as much of your attention as possible without placing an undue demand on your business’s resources.
As an example, your personalization process might involve the following steps:
● Meeting with family members in their homes (rather than your office) in order to build a more casual rapport
● Dressing down to avoid being perceived as too stuffy or staid
● Presenting a slideshow of past personalized services in order to tailor family expectations about what memorialization can entail
● Asking the family to pull together five items that best represent the deceased as a reference point for your personalization efforts
● Going through a series of questions regarding the readings, music, styles and more that suit the former tastes of the deceased (making sure the family is aware that they aren’t limited to traditional selections in any way)
● Assisting family members with displaying their own personalized decorations during their services
Test drive your process with a few families and ask for their feedback on how effectively your services met their needs (in a tasteful way, of course). Refine your chosen steps as necessary until your customers walk away satisfied with the level of personalization they receive. Then, use your process as a standard framework going forward so that you’re never left wondering whether or not you’ve done enough for your customers.
One of the easiest ways to minimize the impact of personalization requests on your business’s resources is to empower the families you work with to take the lead. Many families will do this instinctively, but if they seem reticent, ask them to compile family photographs, develop playlists and gather up any other details that can be used to best memorialize the deceased. This allows family members to feel invested in the memorialization process without requiring time-consuming direct oversight on your part.
Alternatively, if your business is particularly tech-savvy, consider having an app developed that will allow families to submit this information to you electronically as they have it. Doing so will save you time, while still allowing your funeral home to appear invested in the personalization process.
Look for “All-in-One” Solutions
Finally, keep in mind that while the number of opportunities to personalize different aspects of the funeral service can be daunting, there are technology solutions that can help to minimize the burden on your business. In particular, look for “all-in-one” solutions that allow you to make one set of decisions and apply the results across multiple memorial and keepsake items. Funeral home stationery suites, for example, let you customize a single theme and then publish your design across everything from memorial folders to tribute DVD’s to remembrance candles and more. Any product that your funeral home can adopt that minimizes the number of steps that must be taken or decisions that must be made will help to conserve your business’s resources.
Ultimately, nothing will make a bigger difference in your ability to offer effective personalization than the mindset your funeral home staff holds. If you view personalized services as a frustrating drain on your time, no number of tips or tweaks will completely eliminate the feeling that resources are being wasted. On the other hand, if you look at personalization as the best way to serve the families who have entrusted their loved ones to your care (or, more cynically, that personalization is a necessary part of maintaining a competitive advantage these days), you’ll find that it’s easy to free up the time, space and energy needed to properly memorialize the deceased. FBA
Matt Frazer is the owner of Frazer Consultants, a personalization, technology and consulting company for the death care profession. Founded in 2003, Frazer Consultants’s top product lines include the all-in-one Tribute Center personalization suite, the Life Journey stationery collection, funeral home website design and the new revenue-generating Tribute Store plugin. Matt can be reached at 866.372.9372, by email at [email protected] or by visiting www.frazerconsultants.com.