As we near the end of 2018, I’ve noticed a significant change this year that’s worth noting. Increasingly, more funeral homes are seeing the need to not only capture new and undecided families but to keep the families they’ve served in the past from choosing a competitor the next time they have a need. That’s always the desire of any business, but until recently, I’ve not seen funeral home owners specifically focus on customer retention. Heck, I’ve never heard that term uttered regarding a funeral consumer. It’s becoming more apparent, however, that loyalty is on the decline — hence, the need to focus more on customer retention. While a small percentage are now acting on that realization, most are still doing nothing.
Please forgive what sounds like a cheesy cliché, but for most funeral homes, aftercare is just an afterthought. Many funeral directors say they want to provide aftercare, but their priority is serving at-need families and selling preneed. Therefore, aftercare becomes an “if-we-have-time” activity. Naturally, at-need families are the top priority, and preneed is necessary for growth. But prioritizing aftercare and making it part of the proverbial three-legged stool will ensure that you’re benefiting from thoroughly serving the family before, during, and after the service.
Here are three reasons to make aftercare (aka service-after-the-sale) a priority in the coming year:
Aftercare is Your Best Marketing Channel
Most of the articles about how to grow your funeral home focus on front-end marketing like direct mail, seminars, etc. The same goes for breakout sessions at conventions, keynote speakers, etc. Very few, if any, talk about service-after-the-sale as being a marketing channel. But it is, and I would argue, the best. Your best chance of selling a preneed is to a family you’ve already served. Before anyone sends me angry emails, let me say that selling more preneed should not be your motivation to providing aftercare. Aftercare of any kind creates opportunities to connect and can naturally foster conversations about preplanning. Preneed therefore is a bi-product of good aftercare.
Aftercare Exceeds Customer Expectations
What do you guess most families think the funeral home does when the service is over, and they leave your building or drive home from the cemetery? What would you think if you were the family and you’ve just left the funeral home? You’d probably assume now that the service is over, the paperwork is finished, the folder is being filed away, and the next family is on their way in, right? Not in a bad way, but that’s the natural path of most business transactions and the relationship is over as soon as the service is delivered and the transaction complete — it’s what we’ve come to expect. In other words, that’s the consumer’s baseline expectation. Aftercare is the perfect opportunity to exceed that expectation. The extra effort you provide is good for your funeral home because you earn loyalty when families see you doing things you aren’t required to do. And when families are treated with exceptional service after the sale, they are less susceptible to marketing messages from competitors.
Aftercare Creates Talk Triggers
Jay Baer, a bestselling author and customer service expert, coined the term “talk triggers.” He defines it as something you do (and become known for) that makes people talk about you to others, unsolicited — almost like a word association game.
What comes to mind when you think of a brand? He gives the example of Chick-fil-A and how their customer service is the talk trigger. When you talk about Chick-fil-A, their exceptional service is almost certainly part of the conversation. For Five Guys hamburgers, their talk trigger is the two pounds of fries they give you with every order, and for The Doubletree Hotel, it’s about the warm cookies they give you when you check in.
Despite his examples being mainly restaurants and hotels, the premise is the same. Doing something unexpected, and doing it consistently, will result in you becoming known for that thing. That will become your “talk trigger.”
When you provide essentially the same service as others in your area, aftercare can easily become your talk trigger. Why? Because most funeral homes do nothing after the service is over so if you do, you will instantly create differentiation. If you invest heavily in giving unexpected attention and care after the service is over, you will create something for people to talk about.
A couple of years ago, I bought a new Honda Pilot. I’ll break down exactly how this dealership changed my decades-old perception of car dealers in another article, but for now, let me just say the post-sale experience is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I’ve been so blown away by the service and attention to detail I receive at the dealership (after I bought the car) that I literally can’t not tell someone about it whenever the subject of cars comes up. That’s their “talk trigger.”
Commit to Making 2019 a Year for Service-After-the-Sale
No company reorganization is needed. No infrastructure changes are required. There is no significant investment needed to provide aftercare and build on the relationship you have with each family. You simply need to decide to create a culture in your funeral home that puts the customer first — before, during, and most importantly, after the funeral is over.
If you know the expectations of the families you serve (and you should), then exceeding them is a matter of choice. I encourage you this year to choose to do more, invest in doing more, and create a service level that’s worth being your “talk trigger.”
A healthy reminder for all of us is that the old saying, “If you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind” is as true today as it was the first time those words were authored. FBA
Ellery Bowker is the Founder and CEO of Aftercare.com. Aftercare.com helps funeral homes and cemeteries build loyalty with an automated follow up program. Ellery can be reached by phone at (800) 721-7097 or reach by email [email protected]