(As appeared in the January 2017 issue of the My Homesteaders newsletter)

A few months ago, I was sorting through a pile of funeral surveys, and I came across a family (let’s call them the Smiths) that indicated, “I have prefunded my services.”

I checked the drawer and, sure enough, they had an irrevocable CD that was established years ago, long before insurance or cost guarantees were offered at our firm.

It would be helpful to our staff, I noted, if I reached out to the Smiths to fill out a bio sheet and obituary outline, along with a general overview of the couple’s wishes. So I picked up the phone to thank them for taking time to complete the survey.

“Your time is valuable, and we can only grow from the opinion of families like yours,”  is my standard opening line each time I contact a survey respondent.

What I learned in that call – a call that we already “knew” was ours – was a valuable lesson that the Democratic National Committee recently learned (and, no, this is not a political post):

You cannot take anything for granted!

When I called this family, I discovered they were interested in information on costs because they wanted to know if we could match the Cremation Society’s price.

That’s right, folks. The Smiths may have left us without any warning years after trusting our firm enough to give us a funded “plan.”  They would have chosen an impersonal and indifferent service provider instead, and – the worst part – we would have never known why.

Selling them once is not enough

Funeral home owners who do not have an active pre-need program that proactively promotes their firm will always be vulnerable to scenarios like this.

A file in the drawer with nothing but a bank CD is not a plan – it is a false sense of security for both family and funeral home.

When the Smiths “prearranged” their funerals years ago, the value of funeral service was never discussed.

Likely, someone from the family called in to state they wanted a funeral trust, and whoever answered on the other line set the appointment. The Smiths arrived and signed the prepared paperwork.

Fifteen minutes later, and probably sandwiched between two death calls, a “pre-need file” was in the drawer – a “won” family that would provide the firm two future calls, in about eight years.

Fast forward five years, and now the Smiths are the toughest type of customer – the dreaded price shopper. Sadly, this case exposes a harsh truth:

We can never stop working to win over customers!

When you don’t have a passionate pre-need representative actively telling your story and promoting the value of funeral service as their sole mission with families, you don’t have a first line of defense against this type of loss.

If you’re not inviting your community to engage in a conversation about funerals with tools like direct mail, regularly scheduled speaking engagements, active networking with influencers and other end-of-life professionals or family service follow up and aftercare, you – and your business – will continue to be vulnerable.

And, I assure you this: Your competition is already out doing those things or will be very soon!

Imagine you are losing families like the Smiths consistently (and without warning), when all you need to do to retain their business is have a conversation about their true wishes and educate them on your services.

Without an active program, how can you recover when you lose already “won” customers?

Professional Pre-need Counselors

A skilled pre-need counselor can reach out to these families and educate them on the value of a well-planned memorial. Often, these pre-need counselors will find a huge majority of price shoppers are actually value shoppers – more savvy than stingy.

You’re going to lose some customers, just like we may lose the Smiths even after our best efforts. But without an active pre-need program and a foundation of communication and relationship building, you are relying on fate alone to take care of the future of your business.

This is not a wise approach.

One final thought: The funeral home the Smiths used to fund their CD is the only funeral home in their community. The Cremation Society the family had heard about is more than an hour away.

The funeral home’s at-need call volume is less than 200 calls per year, but they are on track to produce more than $1 million this year in pre-need volume.

Why is this funeral home – one with little or no local competition – so committed to an active pre-need program?

Because they take nothing for granted.

This article by Epilogue Planning Professional’s Jamie Sarver-Allar also appeared in the January 2017 issue of the My Homesteaders newsletter:


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