Definition: Family vs. Consumer


I am creating a presentation after being asked to speak on the the topic “The State of The U.S. Funeral Industry in 2015” for an organization.  In a post earlier, Adapt and Overcome; Time for Bold Leadership, I made reference to outside influences challenging the funeral industry such as economics, shifting consumer views, and technology.  While furthering my research regarding consumers, I had a discussion recently that makes me ponder a contributing factor to our challenges; our own “internal language.”

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting with the Life Celebration, Inc. team at its headquarters not far from Philadelphia.  If you have not had the occasion to do so, it’s quite impressive what this organization has created to assist funeral directors training and creating meaningful funerals. During the meetings, I had opportunity to have an in-depth discussion with Jim Cummings, Chief Experience Officer, regarding the Life Celebration, Inc. philosophy, training and offerings.  Jim made a statement that really resonated with me; “we have to change how, as funeral professionals, we view ourselves and the people we are serving.  They are not our families they are consumers, there is a difference.”

Jim has a very interesting point.  So, as part of my work for the before mentioned presentation, I looked up the definitions on

family (noun; plural; families) a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children,considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.  

consumer (noun) a person or thing that consumes & a person or organization that uses a commodity or service.

I have heard over the years and still today funeral directors refer to their customers as “my family.”   If someone didn’t know better, they would think funeral directors were actually burying or cremating a person from their own family unit (as defined and generally recognized by most of the population above).  If “my family” was accurate, a funeral director would not have to get all of the information for the death certificate nor waste copious amounts of time on the obituary.  He or she should know all this stuff about his or her “family” and funeral directors would be picking up the bill, or at least not profiting (we would never profit off of our own family…right?).  Where did this notion “my family” referring to consumers we serve come from?    Is there another profession that mirrors this philosophy; physician/patients, hotelier/guest, attorney/client, church/congregation, hospice/patient?  These other professions have compassion and love for those they serve, but don’t use the moniker, “my family.”

I believe this sort of “make believe posturing” in the funeral industry is one of the many contributing internal challenges we’ve created. Perhaps by viewing customers as what they are, consumers, we would not be failing to adapt to their needs.  If we can change the way we visualize ourselves, we will better understand those that we serve.  We would study their product/price points (not just sell whatever the vendors produce), their preferences for experience (rather than make them accept only what we have been used to offering), we would conduct services at different venues (not just our chapel or a local church) and we would communicate with them in the ways they communicate (social media, not the yellow pages) actually having something to say that is relevant to their needs.

If they are “your family,” why are they forsaking their loyalty to your firm and flocking to other funeral service providers like cremation societies, online providers, and so on?  Think about it; if they were your family, wouldn’t these consumers you are serving pretty much reflect your own family’s cultural, religious and historical funeral preferences?  Yet, we are bewildered why they won’t and don’t do what we want them to…like “our family” would.  The assumption that interjecting into a group of strangers or previously served consumer group’s life for 72 hours or so and assuming genetic ancestral linkage is just plain off base.

As usual and customary, I’ll get some push back from the Kiwi’s among us which, from my point of view, bolsters the Southern saying “a bit dog always yelps.”  My intent for this post and the presentation I am creating is to challenge conventional thinking and solicit other viewpoints to find solutions.  So, what do you think…are you yelping or helping?  From the Command Post through the fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

  1. I found you artical very interesting and brought up some very good points.
    I object to the discription of what we call solicitors as caring professionals you should be able to get a great deal of care for £320 per hour not the conflict they tend to create.
    To refer to you client as your family seems strange but if it keeps before your own eye the desire to treat them the way you would like your family members treated then it serves a purpose.
    A funeral is not the Harvard Marketeers opertunity to up sell.
    I would be like me seeing a family and offering them my latest poetry booklet or a cd up up lifting music.
    Our is a priverliged role, to provide a unique service to clients. It is not a business solely based on corporate balance sheets and a false shop front.
    May what ever you believe in save us from the hard sell.


  2. Jim brought up a great point. In essence, funeral service is 150 years or so of tradition, uneffected by progress. Training has not changed much and we are hoping against the odds that un-transformed funeral directors will be effective at adapting to, and communicating transformed ideas to our consumers. Those who are innovators will win the race.


  3. trowe2 said:

    I would think that the position of a consumer would be better it is a business after all. And being a business you would want to know what the people you serve thinks about the services you have provided, but how many ask?

    Think about it you want to be remembered by the people attending the services as prospects when they need your services. Consider the process, at any point do you thank the family for allowing you to serve them and announce the name of the business to everyone in attendance? Have you ever considered asking for reviews from the family or the people attending on how they feel you did in performing the service any use that information in marketing?

    Key point here, and use those reviews and the feedback to attract other people to your business when they need your services.
    Using the term family may show empathy with the family during the time of such sorrow but it is business. I have found through some research that many funeral homes in my area are still operated by the owners who started the business many, many years ago and they did not market the business then so they do not want to market the business today.

    Correct me if I am wrong, it is a business right, and you want to get more business than your competition, but, you don’t want to market the business.

    Ask 100 people to name the funeral homes in their community, most businesses would be missed because they are not top of mind and they are right in the community, people pass them daily several times. So for this reason I think family is not correct.


  4. Thanks for the post, I enjoyed it! I’m looking forward to following your blog!

    I’m happy to hear about the training that Life Celebrations is offering because one thing that is frustrating to me is how we’re so quick to say funeral homes need to “get with the times,” innovate, adapt, evolve, etc but what are the concrete ways to do that? For Smith Funeral Home in ABC, IN who has always taken pride in the tradition of her business what specifically needs to change for her to stay current? Is it as easy as a new display room? New furniture? A coffee bar? New website? Landscaping? Marketing campaign? Calling her families consumers?

    In my opinion, as someone who is invested in the funeral industry, instead of giving in to the “doom and gloom” we need to continue to find digestible ways to help funeral homes make a transition.

    I’ll be in the Philly area in March and I hope to look up Life Celebrations to learn more about their efforts.


  5. Jeff Harbeson said:


    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I enjoyed meeting you last week. It’s bit hard to answer your question about hypothetical Smith Funeral Home, but given what you asked: Show Room? No need to waste valuable square footage in a funeral home…update and show products virtually. Furniture? every 4-5 years a hotel conducts a complete overhaul, why not funeral homes? Coffee bar? a perfect replacement for a “showroom.” Website? Absolutely…consumers are undeniably seeking their information from the internet. If a funeral home site is inviting, informative (not too much funeral jargon), then consumers can make a choice. By the way, the funeral home should post their prices as well…only 9% in the US do so. Landscaping goes without saying…watch Curb Appeal? Marketing campaign? Without a doubt; a professionally managed message on Social Media to consumers is exactly of of the best ways to “tell their story”…if not, someone else will. Calling a family “consumers” does do anything; its a matter of understanding them as consumers…if a funeral home is treating everyone “like their family” then they are not meeting the needs of others.

    I agree about the doom and gloom, but reality causes change. The old model of funeral home is having difficulty competing and remaining relevant to consumers due to lack of messaging along with the inability to make hard choices…Please stop and visit the Life Celebrations Inc. team…by the way, did you look at their website/messaging and compare and compare it to Smith FH in ABC. Speaks volumes. Cheers! Jeff


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: