What Funeral Directors Can (And Should) Learn From Wedding Planners

May 2

It’s not an easy time to be a funeral director.

We’ve found ourselves in a snowball effect. The consumers of today aren’t interested in a traditional funeral anymore.

And unfortunately, if we aren’t leveraging the Internet to educate our value to consumers, we make it easy for them to choose a direct cremation. In turn, we see less merchandise being purchased, and revenues declining faster than we can keep up with.

So what’s the catch? How do we become valuable?

Fortunately, there is an opportunity for us to transform the way families see us, and increase our value as an industry as a whole. How? Start thinking like a wedding planner, rather than a traditional funeral director!

Before you dismiss the idea, take a look at the facts. It’s true that a funeral is a once in a lifetime affair, while people can and do have multiple weddings, but apart from that the two occasions have many similarities. Both occasions celebrate the lives of people –  and, both feature music, photos, videos, guest books and lots of tears.

And the similarities don’t end there. Weddings are the ultimate in personalized events – shouldn’t funeral services be the same? We all know that Baby boomers want more personalized funeral services that celebrate a life lived. To deliver that, maybe funeral professionals need to think less about funerals and more about event planning, like wedding planners do.

So without further ado, here are a few lessons we can learn from the wedding industry:

1. Wedding planners aren’t afraid to try new things

When it comes to wedding planning, being open to trying new things and thinking outside-the-box is key to impress clients. The same is true for funeral directors. Latimore-Schiavone Funeral Home thinks outside-the-box by offering their community the chance to host weddings in its chapel at a very reasonable rental rate. It’s a win for everyone. The funeral home is able to generate a new source of revenue, while the community gets a venue that combines a small budget with big style. The funeral directors even coordinate catering and the wedding cake.

Sure, some people will think it’s creepy to have weddings and funerals in the same place, but isn’t that exactly what happens in churches and chapels? Instead of having your viewing room sitting empty, offer your funeral home to the community to help them save money on their wedding or entertainment venue and they will remember the celebration you created for them for the rest of their life.

2. Wedding planners help their customers SAVE money

Hiring a wedding planner isn’t cheap, but anyone who hires one knows that wedding planners are worth their weight in gold. It’s all about their contact book and their industry knowledge, both of which guarantee that what seems an unnecessary expense can end up saving their clients money. Simply put, they get discounts for their clients – and their clients appreciate it.

Instead of keeping our unfortunate reputation as a profession who rips off our families, position yourself as the transparent go-to in your community. You can do that by putting together a package of services that meets both the needs and the budget of client families, rather than trying to sell them the most expensive items on your GPL. This will help you build trusted relationship with families and guarantees they will think of you again.

3. Wedding planners listen

The lifeblood of the wedding planning business, in my opinion, is the wedding planner’s ability to listen. Wedding planners take the time to understand what the bride and groom want through asking questions, then they use their knowledge to make it happen. Any funeral home that still wants to be in business in the next five years must do the same. Just as wedding planners bend over backwards to deliver new and exciting weddings to their clients, funeral homes must be similarly agile in finding new ways to do business.

The funeral directors at Cress Funeral Home & Cremation take pride in their ability to listen, and it shows.

The Vice President, Dan Fose, says “our funeral directors are wonderful listeners. A casual comment from a family member can spark some great ideas.”

They started by focusing more and more on personalization, and now they help families plan any event, especially weddings. This funeral home has learned the art of listening to find out what client families want, and now they’re known in their community for their ability to listen. Check out this testimonial from one of their families:

“Thank you for all your ideas and making our wants come true for George’s memorial service. I will be sure and let others know of the kindness of you & Cress Funeral Home.”

Forever-Hearts-Remembrance-e1347400546196

4. Wedding planners prove their value

Have you ever tried to show families the value of a funeral? Not that easy, is it? With personal budgets under strain because of the economy and Boomers looking for more from funeral services, it can be difficult. While consumers are having trouble finding value in the average cost of a funeral ($6,650), most couples spend an average of $25,656 on their wedding.

So why do client families balk at paying the price of a funeral service? Because unlike wedding planners, funeral directors aren’t great at showing the value of splashing out on a big occasion. Yet client families get exactly the same experience from well designed funeral services: they celebrate the life of someone special,they create shared memories and they reflect on the past and look to the future.

As funeral professionals your expertise is in celebrating life and overcoming grief – you need to show it. Your funeral home website is a key part of making this happen. Wedding planners show images of successful weddings and testimonials from happy customers – funeral directors can do exactly the same. And if your website is also a source of useful information for people thinking ahead to plan their funeral, then it’s another way to underline that value.

5. Wedding planners make planning enjoyable

Like planning a wedding, planning a funeral can be fraught with decision making – should client families choose burial or cremation, have a service or not, allow viewing, have flowers — the list goes on. And then there’s the cost – many people worry about it. People often go for cremation because they see it as simple and quick, with no difficult decisions.

But experienced funeral directors can take away the fear and make client families feel safe – all they have to do is listen and deliver. Just as wedding planners set out to make the wedding day a joy and are firmly in the bride’s corner, funeral directors can help families to celebrate a life lived and take the strain out of the planning process.

Here are some techniques for achieving this:

· Focus on celebration – it’s an emotional time for the family, but you can make it better by helping them think of the funeral service as a celebration to be enjoyed and not endured.

· Find out what families need before you bring out the GPL – you can say, “Let’s talk about some of the details of the funeral and go over the cost considerations.” This keeps the pressure off pricing.

· Ask open ended questions to find out what families want and listen to the answers.

· Provide creative ideas and a calming presence.

· Adopt a can-do approach to even the most unusual requests.

Just like wedding planners, you need to focus on client families’ needs – that’s how you’ll outshine your competition.

6. Wedding planners use social media to show off their work

Try a search for “Wedding planners” on Pinterest and you will find inspiration for every aspect of a wedding celebration. The best wedding planners have embraced the use of social media to showcase their work, because they know that’s where their potential clients are looking for information and inspiration. As this Sprout Social article points out, social media helps wedding planners to show that they are “busy, creative and relevant”.


May_2_pinterest
Isn’t that exactly what client families need? As a funeral director, social media is one of the best available tools for showing client families exactly what you can do. Forget the depressing obituaries and share celebrations instead.

For example, you can:

· Show photos of tasteful, personalized funeral services that are ideal for Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook (and even Twitter).

· Make an ultra short video about an aspect of your business for Twitter’s Vine service.

· Shoot a “case study” video that has your client families talking about the services you provided for them, and post them to your funeral home’s Youtube channel.

· Tweet about news of interesting funeral services from around the country.

· Set up a Facebook event for the funeral service or help families send out digital invitations.

· Share the tribute videos you create for families on your Facebook and Twitter pages

You can also share inspirational quotes about life and death on your social media accounts – there’s no limit to what you can do. Think about the information potential client families need, and showcase it accordingly.

How can you get started thinking like a wedding planner?

So, how can funeral directors use inspiration from wedding planners to give families what they need?

Here are a few ideas:

· When hiring new staff, consider hiring event planners like Golden Gate Funeral Home did. Those hires also got a brand new name putting their function and value front and center – they are called “funeral planners” instead of the traditional funeral director.

· Help client families plan other parts of the celebration – like catering for the wake.

· Renovate your funeral home so it looks like a place where client families can celebrate. This could include letting some natural light in, having an outdoor area and including a chapel.

· Don’t just depend on outside certified celebrants to amp up your personalization – make everyone at your funeral home an expert in it.

· Perfect the art of listening and train all your staff to do the same – it’s the best way to really find out what families want.

· Instead of thinking about the merchandise you want to sell – a focus that will turn off potential client families – concentrate on the celebration you can create for them.

· Personalize, personalize, personalize – offer client families memorial websites, tribute videos on DVD, and provide webcasts for those who can’t be there.

See, weddings and funerals aren’t that different after all!

Is your funeral home ready to start thinking more like wedding planners? Offer families personalized funerals with Life Tributes All-In-One Personalization Software. Click here or call 800-798-2575 ext. 5 to get a 30-day free trial!

 

Joe JoachimABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joe Joachim is the CEO and Founder offuneralOne, the first global solutions firm leading a movement of change for the funeral profession. For the past 11 years, he’s developed game-changing solutions that help funeral professionals increase the value of their service offerings, connect with the families of today, and become more profitable. funeralOne’s solutions include:website design,aftercare,funeraleCommerce, andpersonalization software.

 

 

 

Joe Joachim

funeralOne

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  1. Jeff Staab

    With cremation services we can now take advantage of the freedom of more time for planning. Each service the spot light shines on your funeral home when you create memorable events. This is your most powerful form of advertising. Wedding planners know this. Great post!

  2. Krystal

    Thanks for the comments, Jeff! Wedding planners do indeed know that best, and I hope funeral directors soon will as well!

  3. Guest

    “Find out what families need before you bring out the GPL – you can say, “Let’s talk about some of the details of the funeral and go over the cost considerations.” This keeps the pressure off pricing.”

    This would be a direct violation of the FTC Funeral Rule-

    “You do not have to hand out the General Price List as soon as someone walks into
    your business. But, you must offer the price list when you begin to discuss any of the following:

    the type of funeral or disposition that you can arrange;

    the specific goods and services that you offer; or

    the prices of your goods and services.

    Before giving a GPL to a bereaved individual, you may offer your condolences and discuss preliminary matters like veteran’s benefits or death certificates.

    The triggering event for giving out the GPL is a face-to-face meeting. The face-to-face meeting can occur anywhere, not just at the funeral home. For example, you must give out a General Price List even if the discussion of prices or arrangements takes place in the family’s home or while removing the deceased from a hospital or a nursing home.”

    So really you do need to give the GPL before you start discussing any type of services with a family face to face. You should tell your employees to carry extra price lists with them.

  4. Krystal

    Hi Sarah, thanks for sharing your comments. As for bringing out the GPL, I think its important to not make your families feel pressured during such a difficult time, and I think the best way to do that is to get to know them first (aka understanding their needs). This will help you build a relationship with them so your meeting feels more like a conversation and less like a business transaction.

  5. FarewellPlanner

    As a former wedding planner, current funeral planner, I completely agree with and thoroughly enjoyed this article. However I’m not sure that all homes can be transferred into both a wedding and funeral space – I find alot of people like to keep these occassions very separate even though I take your point about churches. Good article though – hopefully gets a few people out there thinking!!

  6. Krystal

    Hi Sarah, I’m happy to hear you’ve been able to create that relationship with families. In my opinion, that’s what creates value in funeral service. By no means were we encouraging anyone to break the law, the blog was just simply suggesting that you put the importance on building that relationship instead of bringing in revenue. A good explanation of this is here: “Imagine you’re looking for a new house, and you visit a realtor. You tell the realtor what you’re looking for, and he responds by giving you a list of homes and their prices. That’s not very helpful or considerate to you, so keep that in mind during your next arrangement meeting.”

    Again, thanks for all of your comments though. I appreciate your opinions!

  7. Sarah

    You are completely missing the point. I hope all the funeral professionals reading this are at least smart enough to understand that they would be in serious trouble if they sat down and spoke with a family about services and the family didn’t have the price list. Those laws were put in place to protect the consumer. It doesn’t have to be a big deal…..you simply hand them a folder with the prices in it and continue the conversation. No one is trying to be inconsiderate.
    And thanks for deleting my other comments. That shows me how much you appreciate them. I am not trying to take away from the blog or what it is suggesting. I am simply suggeting to you that what Joe writes be in the realm of things that are possible for a funeral director to do. If a client family reads this blog, then goes into a funeral home and the director follows the law and gives them a price list right away they are going to think that director is heartless and cold.

  8. Krystal

    Hi there, thanks for sharing this with us! This part of the funeral rule should make it easier for you to build that personal relationship with families before talking about goods and services and bringing out the GPL, don’t ya think?

  9. Ruthann Brown

    As a Funeral Director/Certified Celebrant, who happens to marry people, too. I agree with much of what you said. Creativity, flexibility and using both ears, more than your mouth, are essential for making a client feel at ease. I am successful doing weddings, because I use skills I learned as a funeral director.

    It’s the comment, “forget hiring certified celebrants”, that I have a problem with. I do this gig full-time and I’d appreciate your support. Allow me to help you understand what I do, which is invaluable to funeral directors.

    I relieve guilt- Families who have not been in a house of worship for the past few years, feel awkward when meeting with clergy. They feel as if they have to explain themselves. This is not the case with me. And I have a working knowledge of most doctrines, if they would like to add a spiritual side to the service.

    I, like you, personalize. I bring the heart, the humorous stories, the appropriate music for that person, the readings. I create, from scratch, a ceremony that cannot be offered for anyone else; because it all is connected to one individual’s life.

    I invest time with the family. This is probably the biggest factor, which sets me apart from clergy and the average funeral director (who is busy dealing with the rest of the funeral duties). I do not have the responsibility of an entire congregation time-wise. I have one family at a time. I listen. For some family members, 10 minutes. For others, an hour and a half. Whatever they need, because they need to be heard. It is part of their grieving.

    I invest time in the creation of the service; usually12-15 hours on each; and it shows. My families hear their heart in the words I speak and it validates their relationship with the one who died.

    Funeral homes will benefit by having a staff who thinks outside the box. It will help them serve their families in the manner they need (which is ever-changing). But, for the funeral/memorial itself, the caring funeral director needs to ask, “What kind of service would you like? A religious service? a tribute to the life of your loved one? or something in the middle? If the family asks for a religious service, by all means, a clergy is appropriate. But, a certified celebrant is an excellent choice for the family who wants to honor the life of their loved one, even if they want some prayer and scripture added.

    Thanks for listening. I hope to have your support.

  10. Pete

    This was my first reaction to the GPL statement, and thank you for pointing it out.. it did cause me to think that maybe we could redesign the GPL to be softer instead of rows of numbers.. the FTC says that we must show our prices first, but it doesn’t say how we are to show them..

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  12. Sarah

    Thank you! It also doesn’t say we have to walk them through it. I give them a folder,tell them what they are and that the law requires me to give them to them prior to any discussions, then i move on. I don’t make a big deal of it.

  13. Celia Milton

    As a Certified Lifecycle Celebrant, I found your comment about “forget hiring certified celebrants” both insulting and cavalier. I have been highly trained in my specific area of the grieving process, as have you. Becoming a pro in that area took much more than a cheerful exhortation from my peers encouraging me to ‘become an expert in personalization”. It would seem that forging meaningful partnerships with Celebrants (who very often develop lifelong relationships with families through all the milestones of their history) would be advantageous to everyone; the clients, the directors and the Celebrants. Very often my wedding couples turn to me to refer memorial homes, and my relationship with any director I’ve worked with has been professional and graceful.

    An article that suggests different ways of approaching funerals should be embracing partnerships with Celebrants; that’s another thing that funeral directors can learn from wedding planners, since my colleagues and I work with many of them. They know that we will deliver a unique, well crafted, well delivered ceremony at a time when it is the most important.

    Oh, and it’s never a good idea, professionally, to throw another specialist under the bus to further your own agenda. It’s just, well, unprofessional…and unnecessary.

  14. Inclusive Ceremonies

    “Forget hiring certified celebrants – make everyone at your funeral home an expert in personalization!”

    As a Life-Cycle Celebrant® certified in funerals, I have to wonder if you have any understanding of what we offer or our value to the families we serve.

    I became a funeral celebrant after having to bear the funeral home services of friends and family that were cookie cutter ceremonies “personalized” as little as possible by busy funeral home staff who didn’t get to know who my loved ones were–and in one case, didn’t even bother to learn my grandfather’s name.

    I and my certified celebrant colleagues take that time.

    The last funeral I did involved separate interviews and correspondence with 6 family members to get the deceased’s life story. Creating the service included 2 hours to research several non-religious readings particular to the deceased’s life and philosophy. It took over 6 hours to write the ceremony and graveside service, both of which were not just “personalized” but were completely unique to the deceased. This was all done within 18 hours of receiving the call from the family.

    The next day several hours were spend revising the ceremony based on input of several family members. After that I prepared my script and printed the readings for the other speakers.

    I arrived at the funeral home an hour before the service to make myself available to the family, touch base with the speakers, and the funeral home staff. During that time my focus is entirely on the ceremony–whereas the funeral home staff were dealing with logistics and other clients.

    I conducted both the funeral service at the funeral home as well as the graveside service and the family will receive a printed, keepsake copy of the service including remarks that were made during the service and not included in the original script.

    I am curious as to how many funeral home personnel have the specific training to do this work let alone this much time to dedicate specifically to creating and conducting a completely unique funeral ceremony for each client.

    What certified celebrant offer not just about personalization, we offer our knowledge, training, and experience.–Yes, we focus on celebrating the life of the deceased–when appropriate, which thankfully is most of the time.

    But many times, it’s not. How many of your staff are trained in how to speak about difficult deaths–sudden deaths, suicides, infant deaths, people who lost their lives to violence? We are trained to acknowledge the circumstance without forgetting the rest of the life that person lived–or the hopes they had for that life. How many of you would take the time over several months to help a man or woman in hospice care prepare their own funeral ceremony? Certified celebrants do this and more.

    When I officiate a funeral, the funeral home staff goes about its business with minimal requests from me beyond a brief run through of your own procedures. So working with me was not a drain on their time or attention, in fact, I work to blend as seamlessly into your procedures as I can while respecting our mutual clients’ wishes.

    Also, I don’t see you recommending your readers forget about ceremonies by clergy. So I have to assume that your recommendation is motivated by the assumption that dollars not spent on a certified celebrant will be spent with the funeral home instead.

    I understand we’re all running businesses here, but that comes across as rather mercenary to me.

    Certified celebrants are caretakers, we establish relationships with the families we serve. Our primary goal is to honor their loved ones in a meaningful and personal way–and we take a lot of time and care in doing so,

    What’s more, we also strive to have good working relationships with the funeral homes we work with. We come prepared, and ask for as little as possible because we understand you have very important work to do in serving these families as well.

    We also have long-standing relationships with the families we serve–we serve them through weddings, the arrivals of their children, and their deaths–they come to us for recommendations when preparing for life events.

    You suggest funeral professionals act like wedding planners–And I can see where there are valid connections. For example a lot of your business exists because you host clients’ ceremonies honoring their dead. Without wedding ceremonies, wedding planners would be party planners–and far less busy. Without funeral ceremonies, your role would be limited to the disposition of the body and I dare say you would not be able to charge your clients as much if they all chose to have private memorial services at home without using your facilities.

    I have excellent relationships with several wedding planners and venues. These relationships are of mutual benefit. If I ever found a wedding planner or venue was dissuading clients from investing in their ceremony, I would spread the word among my colleagues not to recommend those businesses to clients.

    I hope your readers consider this when weighing your recommendations. At the end of the day, clients who feel their needs were honored and respected above all else are the ones who make recommendations and offer repeat business.

  15. Krystal

    Hi Celia, Thanks for your comment. I certainly understand your thoughts on the point made here. I want to point out that we here at funeralOne 100% value that work celebrants do – in fact, this title could easily be changed to “what funeral directors can and should learn from certified celebrants”.

    I think what Joe was trying to say here is that instead of just depending on celebrants for personalization needs, everyone at the funeral home should be helping their families celebrate life through personalization. This is true at all workplaces – for example, I’m work in marketing at funeralOne and while I’m no expert in web design, I’m expected to know the ins and outs of it and be able to help clients make decisions when the time comes.

    I hope this clears up any concerns you may have. There was no harm meant here.

  16. Mike Foskey

    I currently manage a new location in Lakeway, Texas for Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Homes, based in Austin, Texas. Our new facility was also built with a reception center. When our new sign was in place, I noticed it had Funeral Home and Cremation Services on it, which I asked to have removed. I spoke with our owner, Laurens Fish III, and he asked why. I explained that this facility could be used for more than funerals. Our current sign reads ” Lake Travis Event Center” with Weed-Corley-Fish under it.

    Today we are hosting weddings, banquets, bridal parties and so much more and this is well received within our community. Our cremation rate is high, but we have found a new source of income and are slowly perfecting our style. The first family I made arrangements with, I asked the wife when she would like to schedule her event. She told me she liked the term “event” and now everything we do is an event.
    Mike Foskey

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  23. Nancy

    Take a look at what Lee Castro & Joe Sanchez are doing at Legacy in Texas

  24. lawrence sacharuk

    hello…my name is lawrence ….i really liked what you say and have to offer…..i work in canada for a large company in the funeral business…….i want to take your advice and in my own small way try and change how people look at funeral homes and preplanning……Im a retired NHL player who lost his father and I understand grief and the need to plan….cheers ls

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  26. Mary Ann del Rosario

    Hi, Joe

    Your firm is fantastic ! it’s not easy to put up this kind of firm for there is still a resistance from families.I have my own business – events organising and branched out to being a funeral planner as my father pioneered the funeral parlor hare in the Philippines.
    Oh, by the way, my company is called ” AFTERGLOW CREATIVE MEMORIAL SERVICES” and we call ourselves ” Sympathy
    Steward” instead of the usual funeral planner or funeral planner.

    Let’s keep in touch.

    Best,

    Mary Ann del Rosario