Race to the bottom…

Recently, I was part of a marketing project by conducting a secret shopper program in three distinct markets.  The results were not really surprising, but certainly worth sharing with my fellow funeral professionals.  A “family member” visited in person or called funeral homes seeking information for their relative and death was imminent.  The scenarios were not random, but carefully scripted not to create any assumptions by those being solicited.

The best description of what took place would be “race to the bottom”.  In every situation (there were over 10 locations contacted in each market), the funeral director directed the “family member” to the least of services without provocation.  Now, before reading this and getting “all high and mighty” thinking that this would never occur at your funeral home, think again.  We talked to owners and employees alike.

What struck me most was when it was revealed that we were simply gathering information and comparing firms, not mentioning costs, we were provided with the lowest of prices for both burials and cremations.  Not one time were we provided any attributes of the vast array of services, ideas for memorialization, comparison of burial to cremation; just simply either discounted packages or a direct cremation quote.  The most discouraging was that there was virtually no engagement with the “the consumer” about their dying loved one, just “are you looking at burial or cremation”…and perfunctory questions.

I personally conducted a phone call inquiry for a funeral home owner to competitors as well as two of his own locations asking for the same information while on speakerphone with the owner present.  The owners’ assumption of what competitors did or did not do was of great concern.  The competitor quoted verbatim the same direct cremation components as this owner, and compared the owner’s price with theirs while saying to me “why would you pay more for the same service?”  But, the response from his own funeral directors was, as he put it “disheartening”.  The owner actually said “based on what I just heard, I would choose the competitor over my own firm.”

If you are an owner that reviews your P&L statement monthly, you may be wondering how you are maintaining your call level, but not keeping pace with the net profit per call in comparison to prior month or year.  If this scenario is exasperated with loss of market share; you’re going to be in a race to the bottom.  I continually prod and bring to light the necessity of training at funeral homes, but find a consistent training program rare.

Our industry has a tremendous amount of chatter about “meaning of ceremony, creating experience, and value of a funeral”.  But in practicality, when a family walks through the door or calls on the phone (at least in the project mentioned above), it’s a race to the bottom.  Training staff on the message you desire to be conveyed and their listening skills should produce positive results…if not, just keep underestimating the savvy consumer and overestimating your staff.  The race to the bottom is quick and a difficult trend to reverse.


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