What Can Your Funeral Home Learn From Disney?

funeral home experience

Whether you’re ready or not, 78 million Baby Boomers are making their way into your client family base. And they expect an entirely different experience from your funeral home than you’re used to offering. In fact, 71 percent claim they see no value in the traditional funeral service experience.

That means creating a remarkable family experience could be the difference between surviving and thriving in today’s market. And who better to take advice from than the pioneer of customer experience himself, Walt Disney?

Disney World isn’t coined “the happiest place on Earth” on accident. From underground tunnels so characters are never seen out of costume, to faux fresh baked cookie aromas piped outside of bakeries; every detail is designed to create an experience that’s nothing less than magical. Founder Walt Disney’s personal mission was to create happiness and magical experiences for their guests and that still guides the company today.

And while creating a magical experience might sound far-fetched for funeral service, it isn’t as far off as you might think. Read on to find out how you can take a few lessons from Disney to reinvent your funeral home’s family journey – from the moment someone lands on your website until months (or even years) after the service:


1. Create a Great First Impression

“You don’t build it for yourself. You know what the people want and you build it for them.”

– Walt Disney

In order to offer families an amazing experience from the get-go, you’ll have to think about the first thing they’ll see when they come in contact with your firm. Since 97 percent of consumers are turning to Google to research products and services, there’s a good chance the first place they’ll go is your website.

Since Walt Disney was one of the world’s first user experience designers, there are definitely a few hints we can take from him on creating an amazing experience on your website (taken from Mickey’s 10 Commandments):

Know your audience. Walt Disney went through great pains to understand what was his important to his customers so that he could offer it to them. Find out what information is important to your client families and how you can offer it to them on your website.
Wear your guest’s shoes. Imagine you’re a first time visitor to your funeral home website. Are all of your questions answered? Do you feel compelled to contact your firm, or does nothing stand out? Seeing things from a family’s perspective could help you understand what you could improve upon on your website.
Organize the flow of people and ideas. Use good storytelling techniques on your website rather than lecturing families on the features of your products.
Avoid overload. Resist the temptation to tell too much on your funeral home website. Don’t force families to swallow more information than they can chew. Instead, stimulate and provide guidance to those who want to keep looking for more information on your firm.
Avoid contradiction. Your community needs to know who you are and what differentiates you from other funeral homes they may have seen.


2. Be Show Ready

“I don’t want the public to see the world they live in while they’re in the Park. I want to feel they’re in another world.”

– Walt Disney

From the first days of Disney World, Walt Disney placed a premium on being “show ready” at all times. That meant being in character and ready to deliver the Disney experience to any visitor who came through the door, no matter what time of day it was. Think about the last time you went to Disney World. Was there ever a moment where you saw an employee not smiling, popcorn spilled on the floor, or gum on a seat? No. Everyday, Disney prepares their parks and their employees to be show ready, no matter what.

Think about ways you can make your funeral home show ready. How are your employees answering your phones? What does your funeral home look like to new visitors? Are employees ever “out of character”, smoking in the parking lot? Train your employees to keep themselves and your funeral home just as show ready as Disney does, and I can guarantee your families will appreciate the effort in the experience you’ve created for them.


3. Include Your Staff

“You can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”

– Walt Disney

Disney calls its staff “cast members”. This serves as a reminder that they are always in the middle of a performance that affects how people perceive the company, as well as the experience they have. Every member of the staff is involved in delivering a delightful Disney experience and even suggesting ways to make it better.

To do this, create a culture in your funeral home where everyone, from the receptionist to the owner, is responsible for creating a positive experience to client families. Anyone in your team can welcome client families, listen to their concerns and guide them to the person best qualified to solve their problem. If someone thinks that’s not their job, then they aren’t helping you – and they certainly aren’t helping client families.

4. Make Every Family Feel Important

“The more you are like yourself, the less you are like anyone else, which makes you unique.”

– Walt Disney

I remember one time, a friend of mine planned on proposing to his girlfriend during their stay at Disney World. So, he worked with the Disney team to choreograph a magical moment where he would propose to his girlfriend at 10pm on the dot, which is when Cinderella’s fireworks go off every night. My friend was so grateful the Disney team was able to help, but they didn’t just help him make it happen. They went above and beyond. After the proposal, the Disney team presented my friend and his new fiance with a cake congratulating them on their engagement, as well as a glass slipper for his fiance. If that doesn’t describe amazing customer service, I’m not sure what does.

It’s all about paying attention to every detail you can to try and make your families’ experience a memorable one. While it’s important to meet their needs, it’s equally as important to go above and beyond by doing something that will surprise and delight them. Perhaps it’s a complimentary tribute video you create for a family that seems to be having a really hard time with their loved one’s loss. Or, maybe even just offering to take a family out to do something in honor of their loved one after the service. In your funeral home, spotting what families need and providing it before they ask is going above and beyond. It’s what will separate you from your competitors and make your firm into a place that families will remember and recommend.


5. Don’t be Pretty Good, Be Great

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

– Walt Disney

Walt Disney was all about what he called “plussing” – adding tweaks and refinements to make each experience better, whether that was going on a ride or buying food. And he encouraged all employees to be a part of the process, getting some pretty good suggestions which have led to the Disney experience we all love today.

You can do this by asking your employees for suggestions on how to improve the experience for client families, and training them to listen attentively to what families say to pick up clues about how to improve the service you offer. Aiming to be great, rather than just good, means you can offer client families a memorable experience.


6. Get Feedback and Measure Results

“I can never stand still. I must explore and experiment. I am never satisfied with my work.”

– Walt Disney

Walt Disney spent decades gathering data on every aspect of the experience he offered so he knew exactly what to do to make it better. That’s why the doors open in front of you when you line up for a bus, and you feel in control of your time, because you can decide whether to wait in line or grab a Fast Pass and come back later. And that’s why there’s almost always enough ice cream, no matter how busy the park gets.

How could you learn from this at your funeral home? Try tracking every interaction with client families and learning from this to make their experience better. Track how phone calls are answered and by whom, how long it takes to resolve the issues raised by client families, how many compliments and complaints you receive and how many people pass your name on to others. That will give clear guidelines on what’s working and what’s not.

And while you’re at it, get feedback from everyone who visits your funeral home. Sure, you can send out surveys and email newsletters, but why not just ask while you’re in conversation? And train your employees to do it, too.


7. Be Prepared to Change

“Disneyland is like a piece of clay: if there is something I don’t like, I’m not stuck with it. I can reshape and revamp”.

– Walt Disney

Every visit to Disney World is different. Even though the experience remains magical, Walt Disney and the current heads of the company are always open to changing what doesn’t work. After all, that’s part of the reason for getting feedback and measuring results.

So if what you’re doing now isn’t bringing in the client families you want to attract, then be prepared to examine every aspect of your current operations and reshape it so it gives families what they want.

Let’s face it – when you visit a funeral home, you’re not looking for fun, but a funeral home that is able to help client families create a treasured memorial for a loved one, will succeed.


Final words

The next time you wonder why it’s so difficult to serve families in a time of change, take a second look at the way you’re serving them. Are you offering a magical, Disney-esque experience? If you’re unsure, try dropping $150 on a ticket to Disney World and call it consumer research. Because after all, there aren’t many businesses in this world that offer an experience like Disney’s.

“Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.” – Walt Disney


Joe Joachim


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    […] making a great impression and provide the service to match, like Disney does. […]