By: George Paul III

I was reading the NFDA’s annual survey and one fact stood out to me. They mentioned that half of families pick a firm because they previously served the family. While that may be obvious to us all, pause for a moment to let what that really means sink in.

“I Have the Power”
It means you have a lot of power and control over the brand experience your firm provides to families. It means that if you mess up then you’ve just lost a serious amount of residual income. What do I mean? Every business, firms included, has an acquisition cost; the amount of money you spend to acquire a new family for your funeral home. Now you may say, “All my business comes from word of mouth.” If so that’s great and dangerous at the same time. If you want to know why feel free to send me an email. However, most firms spend money on SEO, Google and social media ads, print marketing and more in order to spread the word about your firm and attract new families. Take the sum total cost of all your marketing efforts and divide that by the number of service calls you made last year. That’s your acquisition cost. Let’s break it down into hard figures to get a better grasp on this.

Let’s say your service calls average $3500 taking traditional burials and cremations into account. If you did 100 service calls last year, then you grossed $350,000. They say you should be spending at least 10% on branding, marketing and advertising which would be $35,000. When you divide that by the number of service calls then that means you spent $350 to gain one family. Like the NFDA survey mentioned if you do your job right, they come back. Which means you gain another $3500, only this time you didn’t have to spend more money to get them. This means you spent $350 and gained $7000. Those are some really good numbers. However, if they don’t come back then you’ve just lost more than the additional $3,500. I don’t know about you, but if numbers like that begin to add up then my business is in trouble.

The reality is that there should be no reason whatsoever that a family wouldn’t come back to you if they haven’t relocated a significant distance from your firm. We’re kind of like dentists. No one wants to go, but if we find a decent one we’ll go back and we’re definitely not shopping around. It’s too risky. I had a bad experience with one dentist and it took me over two years to go back to one and only after A LOT of research. We all know death is a taboo subject with our families. No one likes to talk about it until it happens. If there’s such resistance and stigma then naturally the family is going to go to the last place that made that experience easiest and pain-free. Now ask yourself, what grade would you give yourself for the last service call you did? Unless you have a review from the family or conducted a survey it actually doesn’t matter what you would grade yourself. It’s hard for us to be unbiased in our assessments. It only matters how your families think you did.

“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”
Thus, we see the importance of making sure we get it right the first time because there are no do-overs. People will rarely tell you why they’re leaving you. They just don’t come back. Later you find out one of your competitors are servicing them. For most people that may sting them a bit and they move on. I’m an empath so it cuts me to my heart because I put my heart into everything I do. I understand everything that’s at stake for both myself, the firms I serve and their families. As a result, I make sure I get it right the first time. Because of that families come back to us an average of three times. This is because I’ve strategically mapped out all the factors that could create a bad brand experience and created systems to make sure things go the way I want. Listed below are the factors that would cause a family to use another firm after you’ve served them.

Stereotypes & Objections
I list this first because you need to know the objections to the sale before you can close one. This industry carries the stereotype of only being out for the money. We take advantage of vulnerable families. This gets amplified if there was recent news of a firm that did in your area. Then there’s any stereotypes people may have of your firm specifically whether true or untrue. One firm we did branding and strategy for unfortunately carried the objection that his facility was rundown. To address it we provided a 4-phase renovation process. You need to know the objections and stereotypes you’re dealing with and address it through branding and marketing.

This is crucial for both before and after. Most people choose a company because of online reviews. The longer your firm has been established the more reviews you should have. If not, people raise questions like, “why does a funeral home that’s been around for 40 years have only 18 reviews? They must be doing something wrong. I’ll look for someone else then.” Now, you’ve just lost a sale and you didn’t even know it. Now if you do service them and they leave a bad review it will block future business. Thus, you need to have a system to get reviews and survey specific areas they might comment on to ensure they’re happy and will come back.

Initial Meeting
You may close them, but if they don’t like that experience they may not want it again. This actually isn’t a deal breaker if you deliver over the top. But if you don’t, then like the last article I wrote, When One Thing Is Good Everything Is – How Personalization Enhances Your Firm’s Brand, it’ll be added to the many reasons the family chooses to go to another firm.

This is a catch 22. I definitely don’t think you should be the lowest price unless your plan is to make it up with super high volume. There is though, a connection between price and value. The higher the price the more value you must deliver. However, keep in mind that no matter what people pay in price, when they do pay it, they expect the best. Thus, it’s better to price what’s best and most profitable for you and deliver an amazing value because that’s something you can control. Bottom line is that you don’t want people buying based on price alone because if they find a lower price somewhere else, and they will, there goes future business.

Staff & Vendors
Yes, they can break you too. Someone is treated badly by staff they’re not going to complain to the owner, unless it was really egregious. They’ll just say, “I’m not dealing with that again”, and go somewhere else. It doesn’t stop there because vendors you recommend to families are a reflection of you. They play a large factor into the brand experience you provide your families. If your family has a bad experience with one of your vendors then they had a bad experience with your firm. This doesn’t mean that you keep everything in-house because that’ll quickly drive you mad as well as raise your operating costs. You just need to have systems in place to monitor them to make sure they are performing at or above your standards. After all, you’re paying them, so you get to dictate terms to a reasonable degree.

Human Error & Issues
It happens. What’s more important is how you address them. Most people are reasonable and if you handle an issue well, then they’ll forgive you and move on. Don’t make excuses. Admit fault and make it right. If the human error is due to the family not following your systems and procedures, you can point that out and see what reasonable terms you can agree upon before moving forward. Always handle these face-to-face or over the phone and never ever through email or text. Too much can be misconstrued that way.

What else comes with what they’re buying? Bonus gifts, personal touches and so forth go a long way to making sure the experience you give families is one they want to repeat. What do they say? Under promised and over deliver.

All of the above are part of your brand. What I’m referring to here is your actual collateral, social media, website and logo. It needs to look bigger than what you really are in order for people to come and come back. Marty Neumeyer, the man who literally wrote the book on branding says, “a brand is a promise you make to your clients.” This is why your brand consists of people, places and things that represent how you deliver on your promise. All of that is symbolized by your logo. Deliver on your firm’s promise in an amazing way and they’ll come back. Therefore, a professional should design the collateral for your firm. They’re trained to put things together in a way that elicits the response your families want.

Do It Again, Please
Yes, there’s a lot of factors to ensuring families come back. This is about strategically creating a brand experience that people want to repeat. That takes time and a lot of planning. There’s a reason why you have to walk through the entire store at Ikea to get out. It’s about a full brand experience. Give your families a good one and they’ll keep coming back. Until next time I wish you much success transforming your firm into an amazing funeral experience. FBA

George Paul III is a branding expert and award-winning designer. He’s the founder of Cherished Keepsakes and Seize the Brand. Cherished Keepsakes provides memorial keepsakes such as prayer cards, memorial programs, buttons, photo collages and more. Their innovative designs have been sought after by families and funeral homes across the country. Seize the Brand provides branding, strategy and marketing services to funeral industry professionals. There they take the collective experience gained branding companies in numerous industries and apply best practices to firms and funeral professionals to transform their business into an amazing brand. To connect with George, email [email protected] or [email protected]; call 617-971-8590 / 980-231-1476; or or