5 Failing Relationships Funeral Homes Need to Fix ASAP

funeral service relationships

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that funeral service is a relationship-based industry I would (of course) be a rich man!

Our historical experience has shown that relationship building with our traditional communities has been effective, but I fear we have invested in those relationships at the expense of many others that are and will be critical to our future success.

Let’s take a look at 5 failing relationships funeral service needs to fix, ASAP:

1.  Internal relationships

Before we think about relationships with others in the industry, let’s think about the most important relationship there is: our internal relationships at the funeral home. There is often a huge misalignment between the front line staff and the management of a funeral operation. Ask a funeral director why they are in this tough business and they will tell you they are there to serve families during their darkest hour. On the other end is management who has the additional responsibilities of financial management.  While after all, it’s a business and not a charity.

However, these two positions, which ironically are very dependent on each other, are often at odds in the funeral service environment.  And it appears that the larger the organization, the more difficult the problem. This relationship alignment is critical to a successful future.  By communicating better and setting a foundation and achievable goals together, it can be done.

2. Overhead costs

Now that we’ve figured out our internal relationships, let’s figure out how we can fix our relationships with another important factor: overhead costs. Ask your accountant or yourself “how much did that last funeral service cost our organization?”.  More than likely, neither of you will probably not be able to easily answer that critical question.  The best they can do is take the monthly costs and divide them equally across the number of services in that time period.  So, a traditional full burial will cost the same as a memorial service or a direct cremation.

How can we truly understand this overhead cost and price our services appropriately?  This one may stretch our “relationship” definition, but I think the relationship to our overhead costs is too important not to fix.

3. Vendors

Most merchandise vendors have a selfish (and rightfully so) agenda to promote their products. They invest heavily in software, training, strategies and promotional materials that are used by funeral operations. There is nothing wrong with this except that very little investment is made on the service side of the equation.  This inequity creates a bias to promote the sale of merchandise over service.

The challenge is that merchandise is very dependent on services. No service =  no merchandise. And the higher quality the service, the higher quality the merchandise.  In order for everyone to benefit in the client-vendor relationship, we need our vendors to invest in the promotion of our services, not just their merchandise. As we’ve witnessed in the past few years, it’s not merchandise that our consumers are looking for, anyways.

4. Consultants

Consultants often reflect the status quo of the funeral profession.  It is very rare for a consultant to promote new risky directions.  In the relationship with funeral homes, there is no profit in risk. Why? Because if they get out ahead of the curve, few funeral homes will hire them. Plus, failure when risks are taken will often cost the consultant future business.

In order for our industry to fix our relationship with consultants, we need to realize that consultants aren’t superheroes. A a successful outcome is highly dependent on funeral home performance, not the consultants ideas. Once we learn how to take ideas and run with them instead of expecting Superman to fly in, new ideas and future best practices can be spread across the industry.

5.   Hospices

In the state of Ohio, hospices are involved with over 40% of the deaths and I am sure that most other states have an equally high number.  While attending the National Funeral Director Association (NFDA) conference in 2012, I attended Bill McQueen’s workshop on making cremation profitable. During his presentation, he revealed that 66% of hospice organizations encourage families to just do a direct cremation with no funeral service. Those numbers made me jump out of my seat!

In order to create a functional relationship with hospice organizations, we’ll need to prove our value to them and truly understand their needs and objections with the funeral industry. Since most of them don’t even trust us, we’ll have to use education to show them our value. My hope is that within the next five years, we’ll have a great relationship with hospice. I hope NFDA’s partnership with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) is the key to jumpstarting that relationship.

What relationships do you think need to be fixed?

Many relationships need to be fixed in order for us to effectively address the new needs of the consumer that is growing by leaps and bounds.  Many served us well in the past, but today we need to fix them one at a time.

What other relationships do you think funeral service needs to patch? Share them with us in the comments below.


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  1. Kevin Miller

    I think that with Hospice, we need to show our value with them. I firmly believe that there is a difference between saying goodbye to someone dying, and then seeing someone dead. I even believe that watching somebody die is enough. While your doing that, you are caring for that person and not yourself. The funeral is for you to realize what is happening in your life.

  2. Krystal

    Hi Kevin, I completely agree, Thanks for sharing your opinion!