The 5 “Whys” For Slow Funeral Service Change


Almost every day, you can open up a magazine, read a blog or pick up a newspaper that tells you how you should change the way you run your funeral service operation.

At the core of most of these “change” opinions is the Baby Boomers. The Baby Boomers have been altering the landscape that was once dominated by their more traditional predecessors, the GI and Silent generations.

Although some change has occurred on the fringes, the funeral service industry, by and large, is the same as it was 20 years ago.

We hear about how we have to change through phrases like “adapt or die,” but we just haven’t. Why won’t we just change?

My answer to this question is that there isn’t just one answer, there’s many. Let’s dive in to my 5 “Whys” of why funeral service is slow to change:


#1: The size of the industry

The size of our industry prevents many vendors from getting too far ahead of the curve because there is simply not enough customers to support their livelihood. I believe each funeral service professional must seek and discover their path to the necessary change.

But still, changing is difficult. Most funeral service operations have a significant investment in existing real estate, people and the way things are done in the delivery of traditional funeral service.


#2: Overhead structure

Our overhead structure drives a lot of the challenges and resistance to change. Funeral service pricing, in the last decade, has kept up with medical cost indexes – being outpaced by only college education costs.

Why? Because funeral service is missing a couple of the normal pricing guardrails that protect the consumer and keep the service deliverer honest.

Families must make a decision in a short period of time, making it hard for them to shop around and compare their options. Although the FTC attempted to fill this gap, I believe that just the opposite has happened. I still have not found a single layperson who has been able to make any sense of the traditional GPL format.


#3: Customer feedback

The extraordinarily long cycle time of the business and feedback loop from customer to provider makes matters worse. Unlike Starbucks who gets customer feedback on pricing and products daily, I can make the case that repeat customers are the exception rather than the rule in funeral service.

And even when we have evidence to the contrary, we don’t respond to it like we should.


#4: Grief as a value proposition

I believe this is one of the root causes of slow change. And, it is the very reason we as funeral directors got into the business in the first place: to help people during their darkest hour.

Funeral directors believe that they have a fairly good idea of what a good funeral is. I, personally, have made the case extensively for a healthy grieving process as being the central value that we should deliver to our families.

But my experience is that, although accurate and valid, healthy grieving comes in many shapes and sizes and doesn’t necessarily address Baby Boomers or their emerging cousins, the cost-sensitive consumer.

The danger of healthy grief as a value proposition is that it becomes the rationalization or justification for the traditional overhead and pricing structure that is currently in place. Funeral directors are urged to create WOW funerals to promote healthy grief and command the prices requested.


#5: The “I know better than you” approach

Families that “don’t know what they need” are the targets of the “I know better than you” approach that ultimately drives a deeper wedge between the new breed of family and their perception of value.

It is much akin to telling a customer they need to buy this gym membership or to eat this food because they will feel better about themselves when they do. Many people are not ready to get “healthy,” and when we tell them what they should do versus what they can do, I fear, we are disconnecting them from the real opportunity to serve them well.


And now, one reason why we should change…

Instead of giving you another reason why we aren’t changing, I’m going to leave you with one reason why you should.

It’s that if we don’t change, our families will pursue the scariest predicament for us all: they’ll seek alternative solutions wherever they can be found.

It’s your choice, but we all know the truth. We all know what’s coming. Don’t be the only polar bear left on the melting ice cap… it’s time to adapt, my friends.

Has your funeral home adapted to the families of today? How so? Share your stories with me in the comments below.



Lajos Szabo, a licensed funeral director in Ohio and Architect by training, has been involved in funeral service since 1988. His portfolio of work includes, Schoedinger Funeral & Cremation Service, PMP Rooms, Cut Caskets, Meaningful Memories, Funeral of the Future research and several US patents specific to our industry.[RR1] Currently, Lajos is the President of Funeral Operations at funeralOne. He uses his industry perspective to provide organizational leadership and develop several key projects in pursuit of his personal mission: changing funeral service to more effectively meet the needs of people touched by death. funeralOne’s solutions include: website design, aftercare, eCommerce, and personalization software. For more information about funeralOne, visit



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