Are you a nitpicker? I bet you’ll say you’re not, but we all are in certain situations. For example, let’s say you’re having work done on your house. If the work comes out good then everything is good. You’re happy and you write the contractor a check. This is because the contractor delivered a pleasant brand experience. But what happens when you’re not happy with the overall outcome? You turn into CSI and start uncovering all the details he missed as evidence of your dissatisfaction. Let’s walk through what that entails.

You’re going to complain about the lack of responsiveness, the sloppiness of the finished work, the fact they didn’t clean up and so forth. Now because people buy to satisfy an emotional need your complaints may even take on a level of psychosomatics. The contractor created pain and suffering because you’re not keeping up with the Jones’. The overages were unnecessary, not approved and thus not responsible for. Even worse, now your mother-in-law has another reason as to why you’re not good enough for her son, just look at the place you’ve decorated! And so on.

What you’ve done is nitpicked the details of the experience and amplified them as your valid reasons of your dissatisfaction. If this is what you might do with work being done on your home how much more will that level of scrutiny be with a grieving family?

Therefore, you must personalize the experience families have at your firm. Sweat the details because it’s the details people notice both when they’re happy and unhappy. Our brand’s success is because we make the overall experience families have at the firms we partner with unforgettable. As a result they’re more forgiving over things that may not go according to expectations and they come back when another loved one passes. This only happens when you control the experience families have at your firm from start to finish. Included in that is giving them white glove treatment which means personalization.

As I’ve written before, you have to plan the entire experience of laying their loved one to rest. In doing so you’ll see where you need to have a tight rein, where you can be open and most importantly where you can personalize to make the brand of your funeral home stand out. Let’s dissect that experience.

When They Start to Research You
This is done without your knowledge which is why you need to pay the most attention here. You want them to move onto the next stage and that won’t happen unless you address their underlying concerns. What are those? You already know it. Think about the positive things families have said about your firm. Create a follow up survey to get their feedback on how well you addressed their pain points.

Once you know those pain points highlight them on your website and in your content so that potential families will feel at ease coming to you. You personalize this stage of your brand experience by putting the human touch on it. Post your family reviews (even better if it’s accompanied with their picture) and they’ll see, “Others like me have been to this firm and like it. So I should give them a call.” Then they will take the next step.

They Call, Text or Email
First and foremost personalize this stage by showing gratitude and condolences. I start all my phone or email conversations with families by expressing my condolences and asking how they’re holding up. Note I said holding up instead of how are you doing since that’s more general. By asking, “how are you holding up” I’m recognizing the situation and giving them opportunity for personal expression which I can comment on making the experience more personal to them. We’re people first, business owners second. Afterward I give them the rundown of our process emphasizing convenience, necessary procedural details and conclude by saying I know this isn’t an easy time, but we’re going to take great care of you.

Families have even said that in their reviews stating, “they said they were going to take good care of me and they did.” When families express sentiments like that in your firm it shows they feel you’re giving them personal attention. Lastly in my conversations I express gratitude because I understand they could’ve gone anywhere but have chosen to come to me and I won’t disappoint that confidence.

These are the same principles you need to put in place in your firm when families inquire. Be sure to conclude with the call to action because you haven’t closed the sale yet, but this should move them to the next stage where you do close.

The In-Person Experience
This is where the red carpet is rolled out. One firm I went to asked me if I wanted something to drink. It was a hot day and I said yes. They brought me chilled water on a silver platter. That made me feel a certain way. Internally, I went, “man, I’m just a vendor and this is how they treat me I can only imagine what they do for families.” And that’s exactly what families think. They’ll go deeper and starting noticing the décor and finishes equating it all to the personal attention they’re experiencing. Keep in mind they won’t say this out loud. This is all subliminal, yet again you’re satisfying an emotional need and your personalization needs to reinforce the emotional need your firm satisfies.

This is where your brand can stand out by specializing because the emotional need isn’t always care or comfort. It could be they grew up Catholic and want to be serviced by a funeral home that specializes in Catholic burials. It could be that they want something over the top and you specialize in grandiose celebrations of life. It could also be they want something intimate and your firm has lots of salons for privacy.

We all know families and attendees want keepsakes of the loved one to keep after the service. When you’re showing families keepsake options don’t drop two or three different sample books on the table from the two or three vendors you use. Show your primary vendor and if they don’t like that then you can show more. Limiting their options in that way keeps them from being overwhelmed (which they already are) and gives them the freedom to go deeper on how they’ll personalize the keepsakes they chose (thus enhancing your brand experience). When we meet with families we show them gender specific designs and let them know how they can personalize it. Then the experience becomes more cathartic than a chore. At this point they’ve left your establishment and are now doing other things to get ready for the service. This is where you have the freedom to automate your personalization by helping them dot the “I’s” and cross the “T’s”.

Preparing for the Service
I read somewhere that a family has to make nearly 150 decisions when laying a loved one to rest. That means the ball WILL be dropped somewhere. If you can provide a step-by-step process to follow they’ll feel that you’ve walked them personally through this difficult time. Bonus points to those that incorporate this process into reminders that you automatically text to the families to make sure they’re staying on top of things. Now you’ve delivered an unforgettable experience.

Other areas that deliver personalization could be implementing a clothing pick up like dry cleaners do. Essentially, anything you can do to lessen the travel and tasks they have to do will be repaid with repeat business and 5-star reviews.

The Day of the Service
Little things like extra time with the loved one before attendees arrive, ample tissues, water bottles, fans and so forth all deliver personalization that the family will appreciate. You have to think of what they’ll need as well as what they don’t realize they’ll need and provide it ahead of time. No one realized they needed a smartphone until Apple came out with it. Now no one can live without it. Don’t forget this is a celebration of life and anything you can do to show your firm is celebrating THEIR life not just another body will go miles in your favor. I’ve seen firms customize staff clothing to the loved one’s colors, wrap the casket and more. We’re all seeing the trend of staging the loved one. While some scoff, its personalization the family wants and will pay for. One that I thought was amazing was the family said the loved one was a jokester and requested to play a recording when he was being lowered in the casket. That recording was him yelling and screaming he’s still alive, it’s dark in here and to let him out. They even had sounds of him “banging on the casket” Yes, it had to be preplanned, but having the loved one including in his own funeral made people say that was “just like him”. People were laughing rather than crying at the service. Do you think that family is going to a different firm when another loved one dies? Yeah right! But there’s one more area where you can deliver an unforgettable personalized service.

This is where you show your gratitude as well as help usher them into the next stage of the grieving process—moving on. What can you provide regarding information that will help console them to a greater degree? What other necessary tasks do they have to handle that they may forget or need to know? What gifts can you provide as a token of appreciation for the business they just gave you? All of these things show the family you care and you’re not leaving them on their own now that the service is completed. This is something you can automate, but again, because they are getting these gifts and reminders they will take it personally.

It’s All-Good
Personalization requires being detail orientated. I strongly suggest you document it and turn it into a system of delivery. Doing so makes training new staff and apprentices easier because all they have to do is follow the system. Conversely it also makes adjustments and improvements easier because you can identify potential breaks and rectify them. By delivering a system of personalization you’ll begin to turn your funeral home into a funeral experience that families will prefer over others in the area. Now you have a brand that is poised to survive to the next generation. FBA

George Paul III is a branding expert and award-winning designer. He’s the founder of Cherished Keepsakes, a provider of 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. Additionally, he assists firms and companies in the funeral industry with their branding and marketing. To connect with George, email [email protected], call 617-971-8590 / 617-980-1476, or or