It is easy to find a funeral home advertising customer value with a red carpet treatment leading to total customer satisfaction. But to find a manager who spends time and money in studying customer behavior with actionable decisions based squarely on the results of those studies becomes more difficult. Look further for the funeral home which fully engages with customers to the extent that there is minimal loss, especially with cremation customers. See if that loss is replaced with a surplus of referrals from the existing customer base. At this point, the hunt produces far fewer finds. Why? Why do funeral home managers spend lots of money on attracting new customers and much less on expansion of their existing base? Most studies show the costs are several times greater than the amount spent to focus on and keep existing customers and their referred friends and relatives.
It is hard, that’s why. It involves changing the culture of the organization. Managers must devote a great deal of mindshare to gaining customer knowledge. The method of training must be changed. Or the starting of training which does not now exist must be initiated. In a service oriented business such as the funeral industry, current customers and profits are the top of mind priorities. Pushing these priorities aside in manager
and employee minds to make room for customer relationship thinking is not easy.
Old style surveys with time consuming collection and analysis are fading out. In addition to being costly, there are other reasons for their dismal and sometimes comical performance. One of those shortcomings is the number of questions which cause customers to ignore the survey or frustrate them if they opt for completion. Another is the gaming that develops among employees and managers. For example, during my last car purchase the salesman presented a satisfaction survey form afterward. He said, “Here’s the deal. If my score is good, I’ll give you a free oil change. If you give me a 10 across the board for all questions, you get the first 2 oil changes free.” Those oil changes were $42.00 each. I got both, but did some checking on the use of questionnaires in the car industry. Basically, it is a joke. Gaming is in full swing. There are additional reasons for poor survey performance. They generally result in reducing the gain in customer knowledge in relation to the time and dollar spent in trying to getting that knowledge.
The internet has given the means for better customer feedback on an ongoing basis at a very low cost. A modern communication channel for customer feedback is now possible and even more important with the shrinking economy. Managers are able to get more insight into what customers are thinking about their firm and its employees.
Businesses have a culture based on the principal of making a profit. Their organizational survival depends on accomplishment of that objective. But, there are different ways to make a profit. One way is to squeeze it out of each customer to the detriment of long term business sustainability. That method is reinforced with bonuses for higher average sales amounts, an emphasis on up selling caskets and urns and training in effective presentation of a complete range of services and products. Another way is to give equal weight to customer relationships and profits. We have all seen highly successful pre-need salespersons who required no lead generation process. They thrive on referrals and achieve income levels double or greater than the average pre-need earning level. This performance is due to an individual’s culture of giving great weight and mind share to customer relationships. Funeral firms can migrate to the same cultural balance of customer relationships and profits. Interestingly in most funeral homes, as the emphasis shifts from profits to customer relationships, the profits increase.
Just how can a manager bring about these changes? In the villages, communities, and towns of our grandparents, funeral home owners circulated and talked to a large percentage of residents. They had a “feel” for what worked much as the highly effective pre-need salesperson mentioned above. Today’s society is not the same. But, we now have important communication channels.
The first comes during the at need or pre-need sale in the arrangement room or the customer’s home. The customer is asked for a simple frank assessment of their experience to be sent from their home computer when they feel ready. Secondly, the response goes straight to the firm manager’s confidential dashboard where the information is used to improve operations of the funeral home.
Improved and strengthened relationships foster an environment where “referral ambassadors” can be identified and encouraged. The growth of this organizational culture allows cost reductions in newspaper and yellow page advertising. The ultimate goal is to retain customer families from one generation to the next and to grow the business with referrals. Just as the highly effective preneed sales person excels, the funeral home can do the same. It takes vision and perseverance to put the customer foremost in a managerial mind. That is what grandparents did in a third, fourth, and fifth generation funeral home. That is why those firms are still around.