8 Tips for Turning Families Into Customers

If you don’t want to sell to client families, how do you get them to accept what you have to offer so that your funeral home can be successful? People hate the hard sell and in our business, it’s kind of … distasteful. After all, you don’t want to match the perception of funeral directors as sleazy, untrustworthy and downright fraudulent.

But what if you could influence families to be more open-minded to what you are offering?

It turns out you can.


I recently re-read a book by Robert Cialdini titled Influence. (If you want the skinny, there’s a good summary on the Shopify blog.) It’s about using psychology to influence customer behavior. Basically, there are six ways to get people to accept what you are offering. They are: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, liking, authority, social proof and scarcity.

Those sound in line with your values, don’t they?

Here’s how Cialdini’s principles of influence could work for your funeral home.

6 Ways to Influence Client Families

1. Reciprocity

Ever been to visit someone and got an unexpected gift? I have, and I didn’t feel good about not having a gift to give in return. You’d better believe that the simple gesture raised that person in my estimation – and I made sure to have something to give back the next time we got together. That’s what reciprocity is all about – and it works for client families too.

Provide something they are not expecting – like a free gift, an added extra in their funeral service, or even a free tribute video and you will help them to trust you. In a subtle way, they’ll want to give you something in return. The next time they need to organize a funeral service, guess whose funeral home will be at thetop of their list?

2. Commitment and Consistency

I have a friend who tried to lose 30 pounds for two years and failed time and again. You know when she finally succeeded? When she joined Weight Watchers. Groups like Weight Watchers work on the principle that when people make a public commitment to something and have to recommit to it consistently then they are more likely to follow through.

Commit to getting involved with your community and they’ll be more likely to think of you when it’s time to plan a funeral service. You could do this by:

  • hosting a regular event about end-of-life options and encouraging families to share their views.
  • making your chapel available for other celebrations so it’s natural to think of it when it’s time for a funeral service. See our blog on What Funeral Directors Can Learn from Wedding Planners for more tips on this.
  • sending out a regular email newsletter with useful information.

3. Liking

Liking is a simple word, but it packs a punch, because it’s about building trust and a connection with client families so they come back for more. Think about it… would you be more likely to make a purchase from a friendly salesperson who has your best interests in mind, or the sales rep that just wants to upsell you constantly?

Client families are no different, so be likeable and trustworthy when you interact with them. It’s not about selling; it’s about being authentic and human. Some ways you can do this include:

  • creating personal relationships with families by tailoring the information you give to their particular needs.
  • being truly passionate about what you offer and presenting it in the best way.
  • understanding and delivering what families want rather than what you would like to “sell” them.
  • smiling (where appropriate) so you create a pleasant atmosphere – after all, you’re there to help families celebrate life, so don’t scare them away by being too grim.

4. Authority

Ever heard of the Milgram experiment? It was highly unusual, but it looked at how far people would violate their own moral code if an authority figure told them to do so. As it turned out, the answer was pretty damn far.

In the experiment one person was designated as the teacher and the other the learner, with a third person in charge. The teacher had to press a button to administer an electric shock to the learner if the learner answered questions incorrectly. The teacher didn’t know that there was no real shock and heard screams of pain (pre-recorded) as the intensity escalated. Even those who felt uncomfortable and wanted to stop continued to administer shocks when the person in charge told them to do so. It proved that when you establish authority, people listen.. (The experiment’s been repeated many times, always with the same results.)

Relax; we’re not suggesting this experiment for your interactions with client families, but the key takeaway is to establish yourself as a respected authority in the funeral profession. That means showing that you know your business and are qualified to advise them so they get the kind of funeral service they want. Build your authority with:

A great example of demonstrating authority on a funeral home website.

5. Social Proof

There are a lot of studies to show that people respond well to the knowledge that others like what you offer. This is called social proof and the biggest online retailers use it well. A typical Amazon product or checkout page shows what others have bought and also provide personalized recommendations. How can you use social proof to build your relationship with families? By collecting and using testimonials, both online and offline, and by showcasing success stories. As we mentioned in our blog on increasing traffic to your funeral home, creating video testimonials is even better. The more you connect with families via your website and social media, the easier it will be to get and use social proof.

6. Scarcity

Ever been to Macy’s on a sale day? It’s insane! Limited stock and great prices equals a perception of increased value and a mad rush to complete a purchase. Scarcity sells. OK, so you can’t put a funeral service in the bargain basement, but you CAN use the principle of scarcity to make some of your additional offerings more attractive.

One way I’ve seen funeral homes do this is to focus on funeral preplanning, because it’s true to say that the sooner families take care of this, the more affordable it will be. Inflation alone takes care of that.

Two More Ways to Earn Families’ Trust

7. Share Your Big Why

Beyond the points raised in Cialdini’s book, there are a couple other ways to help families better understand the value of the services you offer. A recent Kissmetrics article on psychological triggers says you have to tell people why they should choose you. This is called qualifying. Funeral homes often struggle to communicate their value – it’s something we’ve talked about before. Here are some tips to help you get started:

All of these show families why your funeral home is the one for them – and there’s no hard sell involved.

8. Tell a Story

Finally, tap into hearts and minds with the magical power of storytelling. We love stories that transport us into another world and tap into our emotions. Stories are human – so BE human. On the web, use the right headline and images and share videos. And when you’re with families, forge a personal connection. Tell them stories of how you’ve conducted services in the past that  brought families together, and made people feel better about their loss.

In the end, it’s all about communicating how you can help families honor the life of their loved one. Using positive psychology to help them understand the value of what you have to offer can  not only turn them into loyal customers, it can help them pull through a tough emotional time and emerge a stronger, healthier family.

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