Are families ready to make funeral arrangements online? Funeral professionals often look at me like I’m crazy when I ask that question. They say, “Families will never forego personal connections when they plan something as important and as sensitive as making funeral arrangements.” Just like the national cremation rate would never exceed 50 percent, right?
Admittedly, most families have yet to consider this option. Is it because they have no interest or do they feel it is beyond their reach since most funeral homes don’t offer online arrangements? At the very least, are they interested in accessing more helpful information online? Your funeral home must adapt to consumers who live in an online world if you wish to connect with potential customers.
Consider the following points for forming a long-term funeral home online strategy and making it easier for families to share information with you.
- Think five years ahead.
Funeral professionals need to stay ahead of the families they serve when forming their online strategies. Consumers may not demand online funeral planning from funeral homes today, but data suggests it won’t be long until buyers—even seniors–will assume that everything they spend money on will be accessible online. Consider this:
- Nine out of 10 Baby Boomers who are online have purchased something on the Internet. (eMarketer)
- Baby Boomers outspend younger adults online 2:1 on a per capita basis (Forrester Research)
- One in 4 mobile shoppers in the U.S. are over the age of 55 (Business Insider Intelligence)
The founders of companies like Passare.com believe families are ready to plan funerals online, at least in part, today. Your community may not be there yet, but listen for cues from families about the online interaction they prefer. Questions like, “Are your prices on your website?” or “Can I submit that information to you online?” are clues that families prefer ways of exchanging information with you that is more comfortable and/or convenient for them. As more people become comfortable with accessing information online and e-commerce transactions in other areas of their lives, they’ll come to expect the same when planning funerals.
- Assume that conventional buying behaviors will change.
Thanks to the Internet and mobile devices, the way people purchase products and services has dramatically shifted over the past few years. Two surprising examples include the following:
- Approximately 5 percent of mattresses are sold online; industry forecasts expect growth to 15 percent by 2025. (Bloomberg)
- Ten percent of cars are purchased online. (Autoblog.com)
- One-third of consumers express interest in purchasing their next car online without visiting a car dealer. (Autoblog.com)
In the case of mattresses, conventional wisdom suggests that every mattress buyer will select and buy them from a physical location. Yet, Consumer Reports research shows that buyer satisfaction of mattress purchases is slightly higher among those who bought them online. An even higher ticket item is a vehicle. Most people hate buying cars due to the haggling, sales tactics and hours spent in the dealer’s office. Now that online purchasing of vehicles is available, many buyers do their research online and skip kicking the tires. : Incidentally, consumers have similar complaints when it comes to planning funerals.
- Harness the power of the Internet.
“If it’s on the Internet, it must be true!” is often our tongue-in-cheek response when someone tells us a sensational fact they saw on the Internet. Even with all of the misinformation that’s online, keep in mind that what appears on your funeral home’s website can have a powerful influence on people’s decision-making if it provides information that families seek.
- 81 percent of consumers go online before making a purchase. (Retailingtoday.com)
- 61% of global Internet users research products online (Infinity.com)
- Satisfied customers tell 9 people about their experience; dissatisfied customers tell 22 people. (Infinity Technologies.com)
Online reviews are still relatively rare for funeral homes, but they’re gaining speed. They’re likely to become just as important to families who are in need of a funeral home as they are for other businesses. Harness the power of the online review. After a sensitive period following a funeral service, consider asking families you’ve served to write a short review of their experiences to post on your website or on Google. (shortcut: OGR offers a Family Contact Program that collects comments from families served).
If you haven’t created a business Facebook page, do so—and then post good content on a regular schedule (shortcut: visit OGR’s Facebook page for information you can share to your page). You can also direct families to review you on Google (Read tips on how to receive and respond to online reviews.)
- Include prices on your funeral home’s website.
There! I’ve said it. Even though price is a sensitive subject for many owners, funeral homes no longer have the luxury of waiting until someone requests pricing. Websites like parting.com have already published many funeral homes’ prices. Take control over how your prices are presented to the public in the following ways.
- Create packages that help families visualize what they’ll receive.
- Compare your prices with your major competitors; most people will trust you more and appreciate the straight-forward information.
- If your prices are higher than your competitors, explain why. Show that your funeral home offers X,Y, and Z. Most people will assume that all funeral homes are exactly alike unless you tell them otherwise.
Is this a daring strategy? Yes! As long-time funeral service expert Doug Gober says, “Funeral homes no longer have the luxury of not offending anyone. It’s time to be bold!” It’s time to stand out.
- Help families distinguish your funeral home from your competitors.
Stating “Compassionate care since 1942” on your home page will not convince anyone that your funeral home is different from any other funeral home. It’s a given that your staff will treat them with compassion and no one cares how long you’ve been in existence. Show them something they don’t know about you and what you can do for them. Help families see the value of your funeral home by sharing how you can deliver value to families in unexpected ways such as the following:
- Facilitate home funerals.
- Live stream funerals to those who cannot attend.
- Plan services and viewings prior to cremation.
- Help needy families select meaningful funeral options by facilitating crowdfunding efforts.
Share stories on your website about how you helped families experience uniquely meaningful ways to memorialize loved ones. Each Golden Rule Funeral Home has wonderful stories that demonstrate what they can do for families in a time of need.
Whether your funeral home is ready to explore online funeral planning options or simply wants to review the information you’re presenting on your website, start the process immediately. The world has never changed as rapidly as does now. The last one to meet customer expectations is always the loser.
By Mark Allen
OGR Executive Director & CEO
International Order of the Golden Rule