How it Begins:
There is a common trend funeral homes are seeing across the country where more and more families want to purchase funeral services without having to step foot inside a funeral home.
One of the most common questions I get asked by funeral professionals revolves around how to offer services and merchandise to these families, online. In order to answer this, I think it’s important to first understand who this is affecting, and why this trend is happening.
Who is the “Internet Consumer?”
A common misconception is that it’s only millenials who no longer want come to brick-and-mortar locations. However, based on hundreds of conversations I’ve had with funeral professionals across the country, I’ve learned it actually affects a much older population (70 and younger).
I don’t think that age is the best factor to consider when categorizing someone as an internet consumer. Rather it’s best to describe them as people who have grown accustomed to using the internet in their everyday life, regardless of age.
Why is This Trend Happening?
It’s important to note, this trend has already affected almost every other industry. The reason is because the internet and accessibility of information has changed the relationship between a buyer and a seller. Thirty years ago, a buyer was forced to rely much more heavily on the seller for information, giving more power to the seller. Now that almost any question can be answered in a couple of taps, most of the power has been transferred to the buyer.
As technology progresses, today’s consumers have been trained to expect instant information and a certain level of convenience when interacting with businesses. These expectations transfer over as they begin to arrange funeral services. Since the funeral industry is so slow to adapt, most funeral homes aren’t prepared to meet those expectations.
Funeral professionals sometimes make the incorrect assumption that if a family doesn't want to come into the funeral home to arrange, they simply don't care or don't want to spend a lot of money.
By understanding why this trend is happening, we can see how this assumption can hurt sales, and also damage the funeral home's perceptions of the very communities it serves.
How to Sell to the Internet Consumer:
In order to sell to the internet consumer, you must first understand their buying process. By the time they call your funeral home, they’ve most likely already skimmed through your website, looked at your competitors and read every available review.
They will most likely have specific questions when calling, and prefer independent decision-making over the hard-sell by phone. Another byproduct of so much information on the internet, is that today’s consumers now have shorter attention spans. The old tact of keeping them on the phone longer so that you can tell them everything about your funeral home can be counter-productive.
Transferring of Information:
Even though buyer and seller dynamics have shifted, the seller (you) is still responsible for effectively communicating important information during the buying process. Because the internet shopper is so accustomed to instant information and convenience, it may be hard for you to explain everything necessary over the phone. They may feel pressured, and only want answers to to their specific questions.
The internet consumer prefers to find information on their own, so make sure you present this information clearly and concisely on your home page. Remember, attention spans are short so it’s important to take advantage of the valuable space on your homepage “above the fold” (where it doesn’t require scrolling). It’s also a good idea to send information over in a follow-up email, making it accessible at a time and place convenient for families.
The easier it is for an internet consumer to complete a transaction, the more likely you are to win their business. You do not want to make a potential customer jump through hoops when they are ready to become a paying customer. They need to clearly understand what the next action is, and it needs to be convenient.
I’ve noticed that the conveniences some funeral professionals offer to their families are very different from what a modern consumer would actually consider to be convenient. To the internet consumer, having to download, print, sign, scan and then email forms back is not convenient! Verbally giving you a credit card over the phone is not convenient! Having to have a sit-down meeting just to understand prices is not convenient! Looking at a pdf catalogue of 500 urns and calling to tell you which one I want is not convenient!
Social proof is confirmation that peers who’ve previously used your services had a good experience. This is usually done in the form of reviews on third party sites, which have a much larger reach than traditional word of mouth. Because of this, an internet consumer will often trust the opinion of a large group of strangers over the opinion of their best friend. The more social proof you have, the more likely you will convert your website visitors into paying customers. With almost every local search starting online, there is a lot of sense in building out a process to get reviews on social media (namely Google, Yelp and Facebook).
To build an effective process around getting reviews, you must first understand why people don’t write reviews. The majority of people don’t write reviews because they are lazy. Even if you train your staff to ask every family to write a review, it’s unrealistic to expect families to remember to look up your business page and write something when they get home. It makes more sense to build a process where it is easier for lazy people to actually write something. For example, you can send a series of emails/texts that bring them directly to the place where you want the review. If you do the leg work for them, you’ll see it pay off.
Since attention spans are shorter, it would not be reasonable to expect a potential customer to remember everything that was discussed on a shopping call. To increase your chances of becoming their first choice, it’s always a good idea to follow up with the important details you want them to remember.
When designing a following up process, I’d recommend doing it in writing via email over a phone call. Emails are less intrusive and require less effort than calling which means staff would be more likely to stick to the process. Also, with email you’ll be able to present more information in a standardized process which can also be automated. This makes it easier for you to measure results and make adjustments as necessary. A simple series of follow up emails can greatly increase your chances of winning the business.