In deathcare, as in all industries, time moves at a lightning speed and major changes have taken place in the industry over the last few years. As this decade draws to a close, there is one thing in funeral service that will be resistant to change – compassionate care. New technology is paving the way for bigger and better things and it seems like every week there is a newer and more efficient way to operate a funeral home. You hurry to find ways to make life a little easier for your families and finding the best way to do so can be time consuming and downright exhausting. But for the families being served, time has just stopped. They’ve lost a loved one, their world is different, and after the service they can feel lost or stuck and in need of some direction.
“Surprisingly, very few funeral homes actually provide grief support of any kind. Grief support is usually a referred resource and the funeral home just maintains a list of places the family can get support. Providing support for grieving families is important for two reasons. The first is the obvious need and the second is the ability for the funeral home to position themselves as the holistic provider of services when someone passes away. If the funeral home is the hub where the family finds not just a place to have their service and disposition completed, but a resource that can help them with the other challenges surrounding their loss, the funeral home is seen as more relevant and a value provider,” explains Ellery Bowker, Founder & CEO of Aftercare.com.
It is more important today than ever that businesses form unique connections in order to secure customer affections–and ensure economic vitality. This means that delivering goods and services is simply not enough. Just like every other industry, funeral homes need to deliver an experience.
“For 13 million people in the United States every year, the loss of a loved one causes them to grieve. Funeral homes are uniquely positioned to deliver the support they need at exactly the time they need it, creating a more complete and positive experience for the family and more loyal funeral home customers. Funeral homes today need to become obsessed with how to deliver that positive experience and a great aftercare program and follow-up after the service should be the norm for progressive, customer-focused funeral homes,” states Jon Lefrandt, CEO of The Domani Group.
Providing grief resources gives funeral homes more customer touch points that can ultimately strengthen relationships. Families value their relationship with funeral directors when selecting a funeral home – aftercare does just that.
“Reaching out to special groups in the community and taking part in remembrances or candle vigils or walks are always a good way to build visibility. Is the firm taking part in national observances such as stillbirth and miscarriage, suicide, Alzheimer’s, cancer observations? Do they participate with the community’s children’s’ grief group? Are they partnering with victim’s groups to hold candle vigils? Rather than seeming like they are ‘chasing business’, they are seen as being caring and engaged members of the community,” suggests Glenda Stansbury, Vice President of InSight Books, Inc.
Time management will always be a top concern for funeral home employees. There’s the behind the scenes planning and time spent face to face with grieving families. But above all, the right person with the right skills needs to be in place.
“From the hospice perspective time management is the top concern as well. For this reason, they are seeking out partnerships in the community and continue to expand their volunteer recruiting efforts. Having the extra assistance helps to fulfill their requirements and increase their contact with the community tremendously. Hospice providers usually start with a written plan that involves following up with a phone call, sending an invitation in the mail to a support group meeting or other event and of course they will offer one on one counseling services. All that takes time and the responsibilities add up with the more families they serve. Strategic partners can help to divide those responsibilities while continuing to serve the community,” describes Greg Grabowski, Partner, with Hospice Advisors.
“In addition to time constraints, sometimes budgetary constraints can seem like they hinder a funeral home’s ability to provide the proper aftercare and grief services. But in reality, no matter the size of your funeral business, there is something out there that will work for you and your families, you just have to do the research,” Greg adds.
“I truly believe that there is an aftercare solution for any size firm and for any budget. My most important suggestion is to really research what you are considering. Ask yourself this question: Does my aftercare program provide grief support, understanding and resources that will be received as a valuable continuation of service provided by my funeral home?” advises Linda Findlay, Owner of Mourning Discoveries.
As we move into 2020, its clear that families are beginning to expect more from every business with which they interact. As they attend services at various funeral homes, families are seeing that many are going above and beyond in terms of service and often including aftercare and grief support. Therefore, as consumer expectations evolve, families are beginning to expect grief support and aftercare as part of the offerings by the funeral home.
“Perhaps the most difficult challenge is being consistent with providing events, resources, and information. We often get excited about new programs and new resources, but we quickly go back to our old patterns. This is completely understandable given how busy funeral professionals are. Furthermore, grief support and aftercare are never as important as providing exceptional service for at-need families. But the challenge is to provide helpful resources and events that you can build into your schedule and maintain them consistently,” relates Jason Troyer PhD, Founder of Mt Hope Grief Services & GriefPlan.com.
It’s time to make aftercare and grief services a priority as we move into 2020. Let’s make a resolution that sticks for generations to come.
“Aftercare is an interesting word because in our world it means providing care for someone who has lost a loved one but, in any other business, this would just be called customer service, post-sale follow-up, etc. It would be categorized as customer retention. That said, funeral homes are facing a declining loyalty problem, and many are recognizing the need to invest in customer retention. Nearly everything we hear about growing a funeral home is on the acquisition side, but funeral home owners should also be looking at building a customer retention strategy. We’re seeing innovative products and services being developed to help funeral directors follow up and build those relationships after the service is over in an effort to create more loyal families, so the help is there if they want it.,” explains Ellery Bowker, Founder & CEO of Aftercare.com.
“We have built the only outreach platform that provides aftercare and grief support for both modern and traditional families. Every funeral home sees a clear division of families that are receptive to traditional outreach like cards and others more likely to appreciate newer outreach methods like text messaging. In addition to personalized touches after the service, we help funeral homes generate positive online reviews which helps them win more at-need calls by showing up higher and more trustworthy on Google,” continues Ellery.
Funeral homes are naturally concerned about the cost of any program, Aftercare.com offers simple pricing and allows funeral directors to decide who they enroll. As a customer, you are in complete control of how much you spend and can stop using the service at any time.
“We’ve built an outreach platform from the ground up that is simple on the surface but very powerful under the hood. Our system can serve the nuances of funeral homes, cemeteries, preneed counselors, and other funeral professionals with automated outreach that looks and feels as if the director himself or herself delivered it, and we can do it at scale. This allows us to serve more funeral homes because we can keep the cost very low,” explains Ellery. “We also get asked about how families respond to the cards and text messages and we’re happy to share how much families say they appreciate being remembered,” Ellery says proudly.
“The growing need of aftercare and grief services have presented a unique set of challenges for funeral homes who are ready and willing to expand upon their services. The biggest challenge for funeral homes is knowing what to offer. The resources available to provide grieving families can be overwhelming. Simply Google grief help and take a close look at what is available. If it’s overwhelming for a funeral director to navigate every grief support offering available imagine what it feels like for someone who is hurting and is in desperate need of help,” begins Greg Grabowski, Partner, with Hospice Advisors.
Hospice faces the very same challenge. It’s important for both the funeral home and hospice organization to identify accurate demographics and emotional needs of the community in order streamline the most effective aftercare resources and services.
“It’s important to know that grief has been redefined in the digital age. For that reason, many people prefer to use digital tools in order to cope and receive support. Digital tools for those grieving include online communities and forums, grief therapy apps, virtual therapy sessions and digital journaling. Over the last 15 years people have been turning to these online grief tools to receive emotional support and remember their loved one’s life. Digital tools are accessible, convenient, affordable and often times at no cost to the user. It’s time for funeral homes to recommend these types of resources to families,” stresses Greg.
While hospice organizations are often referred to the bereavement experts in their cities where they service there is still room for improvement to better serve families. Digital care is something hospice organizations need to look at in order to survive and thrive the next 15 plus years.
“In September 2020 I’ll be hosting “The Ultimate Bourbon Experience with Hospice Advisors” in Louisville, Kentucky. This will be an 8-hour boot camp designed for funeral home owners and managers, funeral directors and community outreach directors who wish to create a mutually benefit like relationship with their local hospice providers. Every attendee will walk away with an in-depth knowledge of how hospice works and what makes them different from traditional healthcare segments. I will also share how to leverage bi-directional and multi-level conversation for each hospice professions. There will be a deep exploration of current best practices and exceptional experiences that have work for funeral directors and hospices across the country. Together, we will work together to prioritize the plan, size accordingly and discuss how to best implement a successful strategy,” Greg mentions.
“When we first published the Continuing Care Series thirty years ago, most funeral directors didn’t understand or didn’t want to use it. The common response was ‘I’m not a grief counselor’ or ‘Hospice does this, so I don’t need to.’ Or aftercare was a euphemism for pre-need follow-up, so the pre-need staff was sent out with a pamphlet on grief in order to have a meeting to try to create the next sale. We’ve definitely seen a shift in attitude and business approach for the value and benefit of providing quality, healthy grieving resources to families,” explains Glenda Stansbury, Vice President of InSight Books, Inc.
InSight Books has over 40 products. Below are the ones that are most used in aftercare and grief support by funeral homes:
• Continuing Care Series—four 24-page books that are written to be sent the 3rd week, the 3rd month, the 6th month and the 11th month following a death. The books touch on the issues that most families are facing around those crucial time periods in the grief journey. Available in Spanish. InSight Books offers a mailing service and we will send out the books at the proscribed times with a cover letter with the firm’s name on it and hand-signed by the author.
• Comfort Cards— Thank You Card to be sent after the service. Anniversary card to be sent at the anniversary. Holiday card to be sent during the holidays. Birthday card to be sent on the deceased’s birthday. We also have a wide variety of cards for specific losses or general condolences. InSight Books offers a mailing service for the Comfort Cards and can print personalized cards with the firm’s logo and/or signatures.
• Grief’s Second Mile—a 24-page book written to be given to families facing grief beyond the first year. It could also be used as a guide for a grief group.
• Grief Notes—tri-fold brochures that can be used with families facing specific losses such as suicide, infant loss, long-term illness, child loss, sudden death, etc.
• Don’t Take My Grief Away From Me—Doug Manning’s original book on grief is still a best seller. It is a 48-page book that speaks to a wide variety of grieving experiences.
• Thoughts for the Holidays—24-page book that focuses on the difficult journey of grieving during the holidays.
• The Journey of Grief DVD—the DVD is divided into 7 tracks that covers all the aspects of grieving. It can be used as an informational presentation at a church, retirement center, community group or could be used in a grief support group to help begin the conversation at each session.
• InSight also has several books that are written for specific losses or age groups.
“If funeral homes do provide aftercare, often times, it is not useful or helpful as it could be. Funeral directors have to be very selective in what they ‘sign up’ for. If what they are doing does not provide grief support that actually addresses grief, then I am not so sure that their efforts will be seen as anything more than a thoughtful gesture. I am certain when I say that it is of the utmost importance for funeral homes to provide quality aftercare. If they don’t, someone else in the community might and the quality of services will be greatly compromised. What will be lost is an opportunity for the funeral director to build and nurture relationships in their communities that will set them apart from the competition,” emphatically states Linda Findlay, Owner of Mourning Discoveries
Mourning Discoveries offers a wide range of products and levels of services that can meet the needs of any size funeral home.
“I offer solutions that range in price from no cost to hundreds of dollars, including: free printable material to share, mailing programs that include valuable grief support resources or books, gaining in popularity and easy to provide for families-virtual support groups, customized online grief support web portal, complete templates and turnkey programs to hold community outreach events during the holiday and at any time during the year, options to host an event and have the entire event custom managed, all the funeral home does is secure the venue and invite their families and community, and last but not the least, option to earn accredited certification and designation as a Certified Aftercare Specialist,” describes Linda.
Mourning Discoveries also offers additional training.
“We provide an Accredited Certified Aftercare Specialist Training program. Developed exclusively for funeral professionals, participants who complete the program will earn the CAS designation which is recognized as the highest level of education in the area of grief support provided by a funeral director. There is no other aftercare training that is accredited and credentialed in the industry. The certification will set the firms qualifications above and beyond the competitor,” she adds.
Mourning Discoveries has stood the test of time and has continuously provided proven valuable aftercare resources, products and services. Since 1994 Mourning Discoveries has partnered with funeral homes to provide quality aftercare services to grieving families. To date they have supported over 250,000 grieving people on behalf of over 200 funeral homes in 25 states and Canada.
“We do offer the widest variety of aftercare options, solutions, products and services-all developed based on what we have learned from grieving families and by listening to and learning from the funeral directors that we have been blessed to work with,” Linda passionately concludes.
“Funeral professionals may not realize how various services can help them provide aftercare and grief support without taking a lot of their time. They also may not realize how much families appreciate the services offered — even if they don’t take advantage of them. For example, I provide funeral homes with grief support booklets and I’ve had bereaved individuals tell me that they haven’t read my booklet, but they feel better knowing it is on their nightstand. I never would have thought that it would be comforting simply to have it in their house,” begins Jason Troyer PhD, Founder of Mt Hope Grief Services & GriefPlan.com.
As a former grief therapist, grief researcher, and psychology professor, Jason provides three products and services to help funeral homes.
“First, I have a Facebook service where I post daily uplifting and helpful content on a funeral home’s Facebook page for them. This content includes grief support and inspiration, gentle reminders of the benefits of preplanning, the value of funeral rituals, happy Baby Boomer nostalgia, and other content. Second, I have 12 different grief booklets that I provide to funeral homes regarding the loss of a spouse, parent, child, animal companion, as well as grief during the holidays and how to help grieving children. Third, I present community presentations on grief for funeral homes as well as CE/CEU training sessions for local hospice and mental health professionals,” Jason explains.
“My prospective clients often ask about the price ($2/day) because it is so much lower than other Facebook services. I view my service as the Charles Schwab of Facebook. Other companies are more like a full-service brokerage and provide a broader range of services, but at a much higher price point. If all you need is high quality content posted for you on your Facebook page, then my service fits that perfectly. Clients of mine often also ask about exclusivity to ensure their competitors won’t receive the same services; I provide exclusivity for my Facebook services,” states Jason. “My $2 per day price point is what sets me apart as well as the simplicity of my service. There are several great companies that provide a broader range of social media services and more customization — but often at a price that is x10 as expensive as my services. And to my knowledge, I’m the only PhD-level grief expert who provides Facebook services exclusively for funeral homes and cemeteries,” Jason proudly concludes.
Prospective clients can try it before they buy it with a free full month of the service (without a credit card) to make sure they know exactly what they are receiving.
“Our aftercare program is unique because we use text messages to follow up with families after the funeral service. Because of the high level of engagement (98% read rate and over 50% response rate) we see with our messages, we receive a lot of qualitative feedback from families across the country on what they need or are looking for after the loss of a loved one,” states Jon Lefrandt, CEO of The Domani Group. “We took that feedback and partnered with a nationwide network of grief therapists and created an online grief support platform called Domani for Grief, which allows families to access free grief support courses and resources online from the comfort of their own homes. This tool is provided for free to the family on behalf of the funeral home. Allowing the funeral home to deliver that value and support,” Jon continues.
A question that we get asked a lot is about the personalization of our program. In today’s fast-paced digital world it seems like speed and convenience are often prioritized over personalization. We don’t believe that should be the case when it comes to aftercare. Every Domanicare message is sent and received by a real person who is highly-trained and compassionate. They act as an extension of the funeral home staff and provide the same level of service to the families.
“I think the thing that funeral home owners and directors need to realize about an effective aftercare program is what it can mean for the bottom line and growth of their business. The enhanced consumer experience leads to more satisfied families and referral business. In today’s increasingly digital world, those satisfied customers and families will go online and leave positive reviews which provide great brand awareness and at-need volume for funeral homes. 97% of today’s consumers say they trust online reviews as much as recommendations from friends and family,” he adds.
The program offers training and provides materials to help families get set up with Domani for Grief, the free online grief support platform. As far as the actual aftercare program is concerned, Domanicare provides full reports and transcripts of the conversations with families and anything that needs additional attention is escalated right away.