It goes without saying

words: Dr Bill Webster, Grief Journey
Dr Bill Webster

A few months ago I wrote two articles on ‘The New Reality about Funerals’. I am sure that all of you read, digested and memorised every word (LOL!).

A funeral director friend said, “Okay Bill, so what should I do?” As I am on the fringe of the profession, I am happy to respond.

In the ‘good old days’, businesses could depend on loyalty just because people had always dealt with that company. Those days are gone, my friends. It’s no longer ‘what you did for me’. One word has changed the strategy completely: “What have you done for me lately?”

Loyalty has to be earned by developing strong connections, providing information directly suited to families’ needs and interests. Business relationships – like personal relationships – are built on trust, communication and mutual respect, requiring ongoing nurture and management.

Although we live in a technological world, I cannot escape the conviction that people are looking for relationships they can trust, and meaningful information and interaction. While almost every kid (and adult!) has their face buried in a phone, at root they are looking for relationship. Social media has become the place to find that interaction. Like it or not, it is a modern reality.

In today’s world, people want their life events to be meaningful, memorable and moving experiences. Just look at how restaurants, churches, golf clubs and other companies provide those experiences. How can the funeral profession respond to that need?

In August The Telegraph reported that “since 2011 there has been a 80% decline in religious funerals”, and a “staggering shift” towards unique, secular ceremonies.

I have found that while people may not want traditional ‘religious’ funerals, many want something ‘spiritual’ that reflects long held – if not often practiced – beliefs in something beyond this life. Whether religious, spiritual, secular or humanist, people want meaningful experiences around the death of a loved one.

How can funeral directors help change these trends?

Focus on what really matters to families. While technology and social media are essential, they can’t add value to your families as effectively as the personal touch. Be visible in your community. Your physical presence is the most tangible evidence of your values.

With technology, consumers have become more informed, educated and empowered. Customers seek businesses that speak their language and communicate to meet their needs.

What decisions face people arranging a funeral? How can we ease them? What problems do families face afterwards? Government forms, estate settlement, probate – the list is formidable. What could you offer to make that daunting process more manageable?

Clergy are undoubtedly concerned about this shift from religious ceremonies. How can we help them remain relevant in conducting and promoting funerals? A church seminar on the importance of meaningful funerals, estates, end of life planning and other relevant topics? Who can help address these significant issues if not you?

The oldest baby boomer is now 73. Increasingly, funerals are arranged by a younger, more mobile generation, who may prefer non-traditional services. But they will be looking for value-added services that increase their comfort and validate their decision to use your particular business.

Provide personalised, customer-focused service. When engaging with your customers, your primary concern should never be your product or service. Your interest should always revolve around the customer and your relationship with them. What do they need and how would they respond to this advert, event, or aftercare initiative? Will they be impressed?

At a recent wedding, the minister gave the couple great advice. “When you are courting,” she said, “you can’t do enough for your sweetheart to impress her. Flowers, gifts, thoughtful actions, texts – all the lovely things you’ve done for each other. The secret of marriage is not to do anything different.”

Barbra Streisand confirms it: “You don’t bring me flowers any more!”

You heard the story of the man whose wife asked him if he loved her. He replied: “It goes without saying.” But she responded: “That’s the problem, dear. With you, ‘it goes… without saying’.”

I’m just saying!

Dr Bill Webster is the author of numerous books and resources for grieving people. He has some innovative resources which funeral directors and professionals can make available to their clients as part of an after-care programme. Check out Dr Bill’s resources on his website.

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