How 3 Top Funeral Professionals Are Stealing From The Hotel Industry

When you think about it, the funeral profession and the hotel industry have quite a bit in common.

Both are full of professionals who’ve dedicated their lives to delivering unforgettable experiences to the customers they serve. Both typically only have one event or one interaction with customers to make a lasting impression. And both have the ultimate goal of leaving their customers feeling as satisfied and comforted as possible when they walk out of their doors.

So if the two professions are so alike when it comes to serving customers, why do funeral professionals underestimate hotels when it comes to funeral competition?

The arrangement makes sense… when today’s families begin looking for something different and more unique than their grandmother’s funeral, they drive down the road to their nearby hotel ballroom to hold a funeral service that is more comforting, celebratory and personalized than they ever imagined a funeral home to be.

But even so, funeral homes still have one thing that even the nicest 5-star hotel will never have… professional funeral directors on staff.

Unfortunately, that alone won’t steer families back to your business.

Funeral professionals today need to give families the best of both worlds — the customization of designing a unique, modern funeral celebration, paired with comfort and ritual of a traditional funeral service that only funeral professionals can provide. To get you started, here are a few ways that some of the top funeral professionals are looking to the hotel industry to learn how to better serve their families.

Paul Seyler: “Differentiate Yourself On Something Other Than Price”

For a long time, the biggest hotel chains (Marriott, Hilton and Sheraton) had very similar qualities… they were consistent, they had good quality, and they had service you could count on. But they didn’t really have any other way of differentiating themselves from one another, other than mixing up the price line. But then Sheraton went in and mixed up the whole game.

Instead of dropping their price in order to stand out from the competition, they went in and innovated on a whole other axis. They offered a completely unique, niche experience to different audience segments. They created The W for their modern-contemporary crowds, Le Meridien for upscale French comfort, and they introduced Element by Westin for those who liked the holistic vibe and wanted to be more in touch with the environment.

So what was the purpose of this? They created more unique (and better) reasons for people to choose their hotels over the competition. They created a competitive advantages and gave people a reason to pick them for things other than price tag. They gave up on trying to let their hotel be all things to all people… which is what all of the other legacy brands were trying to do, and what too many funeral homes are guilty of.

Doesn’t “I don’t want to give people a reason not to like me” sound a lot like the funeral professionals you know? Many funeral directors don’t want to be contemporary or specialized because they want to be attractive to all communities… but that’s when you allow yourself to be overlooked. Being niche and hanging unique funeral brands off of your core facility might actually give you some great opportunities you didn’t have before.

“Being bland and inoffensive doesn’t give people a reason to choose you,” Sayler said. “Not being disliked is not a good competitive strategy.”

Doug Gober: “Form A New Kind of Partnership”

When people are traveling or are put into a new environment that they are unfamiliar with, they seek sources of comfort. Maybe it’s an item that they bring with them to remind them from home, or maybe it’s the comfort of a familiar routine, like having milk and cookies before going to bed. Sometimes all it takes is having the same familiar cup of coffee every morning that you are used to at home.

Many hotels have recognized this small, yet significant gesture, and have brought coffee shops like Starbucks right into their hotel lobbies in order to give their guests that same familiar comfort of home. They aren’t micromanaging the shop or telling them that they have to act a certain way, or fill a certain role. They are just embracing them and asking them to do whatever it takes to make sure that their customers are comforted and happy.

Funeral professionals have that same opportunity with the partners in their own community. Doug Gober encourages funeral homes to give local coffee shops or sandwich shops a space inside of the funeral home, and tell them that it’s theirs to do with it what they want. “Don’t just say, ‘you can come in and set up here,’” Gober said. “Let them own the success. That’s a true partnership.”

By forming this new kind of partnership, not only are you giving families a comforting experience that they know and are familiar with, but you are also designating responsibility to someone who should truly own it — the coffee shop owner or sandwich store manager — so that you can go back to focusing on what you do best: helping families.

John McQueen: “Make Your Space Comfortable”

When we sat down with John McQueen for an exclusive one-on-one interview at ICCFA 2017, we were amazed at just how much outside inspiration he took for his funeral home from other customer service professions… especially hotels.

One of our favorite pieces of inspiration that he adapted into all of his facilities was bringing color, comfort and ease into all aspects of the funeral home. Instead of having a small, old wood bench sitting right outside of your funeral home doors, bring in cushioned, large outdoor chairs and couches. This little addition turns the waiting space outside of your door into it’s own reception area where families can share stories and relax.

Also, don’t be afraid to bring color and comfort into your funeral home. “You don’t have to be all doom and gloom,” McQueen said. “Create a children’s space inside of your facilities… If you’re old enough to love, you’re old enough to grieve.”

And above all, continue looking to other event spaces and customer service environments for constant inspiration of how you could better serve the families in your community.

“People aren’t going to compare you to other funeral homes because those aren’t the places they frequent. They’re going to compare you to the local hotel, or the local yacht club or restaurant. Your facilities have to be up to those standards,” McQueen shared.

Is your funeral home taking any cues from the hotels or event spaces in your area? What trends are you bringing back into your space? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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  2. John Robert Browning

    All very well and with awakening the expression of change and possibility. When and while the funeral profession continues to maintain a low disregard towards the employees,the ones who went school,served an apprenticeship,past state boards,the employees that made a consciences choice (am I getting through to you?)to make a career in the funeral procession. And pay a G.D. respectable wage,then that which was, is and forever will be just plain blowing smoke out the rear end of the industry. So to the funeral industry I say “WAKE UP!! WAKE UP AND SMELL THE CRAP YOU ARE SHOVELLING! CLEAN THE WAX OUT OF YOUR EARS!!