There are plenty of challenges when it comes to working in the funeral industry.
But one major advantage is that it’s an industry that is always in demand. No matter if people want cremation, burial or niche internment, they want to work with a funeral professional in order to get the job done right and with respect for the dearly departed. Still, while the industry may offer a never ending pool of clients, it also demands that professionals work to meet the changing needs and expectations of people.
Within the funeral industry, change often comes slowly. Caring for the dead is perhaps the world’s real ‘oldest profession’ – though that’s a different post for a different time. But there are mentions of “death caretaking” stretching back to the dawn of recorded history. In ancient Egypt that meant people who were skilled in mummification. Families mourning their dearly departed in ancient Rome would even hire professional mourners to come and wail loudly at a funeral, ensuring everyone knew just how important someone was. In modern times, the Civil War era saw a real spike in the need for embalming services as well as a change in how the dead were mourned. This sparked the birth of the modern western funeral industry as we know it today.
While cultural expectations and fashions have come and gone, the way people handle funerals didn’t really change for the most part for hundreds of years. But in just the past few decades, we’ve seen a drastic change in what people expect from funeral professionals and how death is handled in society. These days, there are three major shifts in how the funeral industry is expected to perform if they want to continue to thrive.
1. Pricing Transparency Matters
For a long time, funeral directors were viewed with a great deal of skepticism. To be fair, this was well-deserved as the industry earned a reputation for price gouging. The unpleasant truth is that many funeral homes would charge grieving families outrageous fees and costs for run of the mill goods and services such as coffins and embalming as well as adding on costs for things like ‘opening and closing costs’. What’s more, the markup on funeral goods such as urns and coffins was, in some cases, as high as 500%. This practice was known only through word of mouth and anecdotal evidence until the publication of ‘An American Way of Death‘ by Jessica Mitford in 1963. Her book shook the funeral industry to its core and paved the way for the industry to change and get back to its roots – helping the bereaved.
Today, more transparent pricing is not only the norm – it’s the law in many states. What’s more, it’s become expected from customers who are unwilling to be taken advantage of simply because they’re grieving. To quote Walter Sobchak in the movie ‘The Big Lebowski‘, “Look, just because we’re bereaved, that doesn’t make us saps!”
How to Adapt: If your funeral home doesn’t already offer truly transparent pricing, it’s time to get that done. Include pricing options on your website and make them easy to find. Include information on everything from basic burials or cremations to all-out memorial services and top of the line options. There’s nothing wrong with including services that require speaking to a service representative, but including many services with fixed prices show you’re pricing your services competitively and not looking to capitalize on someone’s tragedy.
2. Diversification in Services
There used to be a time when people had two options when it came to funeral services: burial or cremation. Those days, however, are over. Today people can choose to be buried, cremated, turned into a tree and even turned into a gem among other things. If a funeral home wants to thrive, diversification is key.
How to Adapt: Broaden your services to include not only more options for the deceased, but also more options on the memorial. Include vintage or custom hearse options, set programs for memorials or celebrations of life that can be customized and increased services for the bereaved. It’s also important to work on creating connections with people and companies who can offer more options when it comes to a person’s final resting place. A funeral home in Indiana, for example, might work with a company in California to offer the ability to have someone’s remains added to a living coral reef while still honoring and celebrating that person in their home state.
3. Technology, Social Media and Community Involvement
From sponsoring sport teams to working with high schools on save driving programs, funeral homes have a long history of being involved with the community. But today that involvement needs to extend to not only locals, but the wider global community. That includes technology within funeral services as well as online and social media activity.
How to Adapt: Funeral homes should offer online obituaries and memorial pages as well as streaming services for funerals which may attract a national or global audience. Social media presence also plays a part. That means creating valuable content on a website as well as remaining active on social media. Create content that informs without selling and give your client base the knowledge they want when it comes to pre-planning or the grieving process. Creating an online reputation for valuable, professional content will make your funeral home a friendly, trusted and comforting source in someone’s time of need.
Today people expect more options, more honesty and a greater personal connection. Funeral directors and other death care professionals are in the perfect position to offer all of this and more. Helping people during their darkest day is more than a career – it’s a calling. That means not only having a true passion for service but also a desire to adapt to changing times and working to give people what they want in their time of need – compassion.