5 Ways the Funeral Service is Different From Any Other

Many years ago, when I was first became involved in this industry, I had no idea what a vault was, what a committal service was or how funeral directors could be so relaxed around a casket with a body inside!

All my experiences in other retail situations were turned upside down. Where else could you infrequently deal with customers at the worst time of their lives, talking to them about a product they didn’t really want (and know even less about)?

Welcome to funeral service.  It takes a certain kind of professional to handle the challenges and responsibilities running a funeral home requires.
But how different?

Let’s take a look at five ways we’re different from any other industry:

1. Who wants to talk about death?
Let’s be honest, no one does. Evading the reality (and topic) of death is the natural bi-product of a society that has an infatuation with youthfulness. This general fear of death creates a consumer who is terribly uninformed about the offerings and value of funeral services. So how do we get people more comfortable talking and learning about death?

The long-term support of the journey of grief is often counter intuitive – not only for the families, but for the funeral director as well. Allowing the family to feel and express their emotions rather than distracting and helping them evade the reality of death is very difficult for funeral directors dedicated to helping others.

2. Accurate customer feedback is difficult to get, let alone understand
Our industry thrives on anecdotal feedback.  Decisions are made based on your last customer experience.  However, getting a large enough dataset to be relevant can take a long time. And in that long timeframe, many variables will change – casting doubt on the accuracy of the real cause.

For this reason, it’s difficult to measure the impact that improvements you make have on your business.  The ultimate measure of success is repeat business. How do we know if the changes we make are effective since the next opportunity to serve that family might not be for several years?

3. Our responsibilities don’t align
Until you sit across the table from a family who has lost someone, you just don’t understand how difficult it is to wear the multiple hats that are expected of funeral directors.  We’re expected to be the trusted advisor to the family, and to represent the business interest of our firm.  Sometimes these “hats” are aligned, but often they are not.

The grief needs of the family are inconsistent with questions like “what casket did they buy?” The notion “let the buyer beware,” that is prevalent in many other industries, just doesn’t cut when dealing with someone who has suffered a terrible loss.

4. Family vs. the individual
Group dynamics often play a critical role in funeral service decision making. And it’s very rare that I hear discussions on how to deal with this important issue. Who is the real decision maker? Who will pay?  How are family members relating to each other and mourning the loss? Is the group dynamic stable or volatile? Anticipate these needs and managing all of those moving parts is unique to only the funeral service.

5. You can’t create additional demand
In this industry, clever advertising or marketing doesn’t create additional opportunities. The finite amount of opportunities is more prominently felt in funeral service – primarily to the limits that most customers will travel to a funeral home.

Funeral professionals often try to expand their business by building new facilities or competing more aggressively. The first option is prohibitively expensive, and latter leads to creating more generic services and competing on price. Why are we so facility-centric focused?

Let us know about other fundamental issues and which ones you would like to see more discussion.

About the Author: 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, PMP Rooms, Cut Caskets, Meaningful Memories, Funeral of the Future research and several US patents specific to our industry. Recently, Mr. Szabo partnered with the Schoedinger organization to create a virtual funeral home business model named Funeral Choices. Subsequently, he served as Chief Strategy Officer for Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Service, a 2,500 call 14 rooftop firm in Central Ohio. There, he was responsible for realigning this 150 year old firm to more effectively respond to the changing funeral service consumer. His role included refining company infrastructures, implementing information systems, resource allocation, MourningStar arrangement implementation, website development, social media integration and initiatives impacting the creation of healing experiences for those touched by death. Currently, Mr. Szabo has joined funeralOne as President of Funeral Operations where he will use 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.

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  1. Kim Stacey

    Lajos, this is an excellent post.Thank you so much for writing it. I especially like that fundamental truth in the second paragraph: “Where else could you infrequently deal with customers at the worst time of their lives, talking to them about a product they didn’t really want (and know even less about)?” So, so true! There are many challenges inherent in the at-need or pre-need conversation, including just plain old ‘resistance’, in all it’s forms. I’ve had family members who just have to leave the room, go outside to smoke a cigarette…and then return to the table.