Where Funeral Homes Should Focus to Better Serve Families in 2017

Posted November 23, 2016

5 min read

“I don’t see any sudden shifts in 2017, says Mark Allen, Executive Director and CEO of the International Order of the Golden Rule (OGR), an association of independently-owned funeral homes that pledge to a strict code of ethical business and service standards conduct.

“The name of the game will be to provide experiences rather than a building. In the next year, traditional funeral homes will have to work harder to maintain their market shares as emerging alternative funeral providers slowly attract customers who believe traditional funeral directors are unable to provide customized experiences at affordable prices,” says Allen, during our conversation about what areas directors can focus on when looking ahead to 2017.

We sat down with Allen to talk about some of the hot topics in the funeral profession, including some of the top factors funeral directors should think about as we head into 2017. Here were 3 takeaways from our conversation on how funeral professionals can evolve and adapt as we head into 2017.

“The fact that funeral service is transitioning from a male-dominated profession to a female dominated one is an interesting shift that reflects two important trends,” explains Allen. “One, this shift comes at a time when there are more opportunities for funeral professionals to provide compassionate care that directly benefits families, and, two, there is a greater need to deliver new ways to memorialize families’ loved ones.”

Allen says that, while a generalization, he sees that women are often better at reading other people’s emotions and/or listening to families’ needs. And, again, in general, he says that women often excel at letting families know they’ve been heard.

In some cases, that means that women deliver what is perceived as a more unique, compassionate and healing experience. While this may be true, this simply offers men the opportunity to work on this aspect of dealing with families, argues Allen, who also adds that some of the best directors he knows are male.

Regardless of a funeral director’s gender, the point is consumers want a distinct, highly personal experience full of compassion—and one that helps them heal and honor those who have passed—even if they don’t know what experience will actually look like. “All funeral professionals must respond to families who are dramatically changing the rules in funeral service. Families have been telling funeral professionals for at least 15 years that cookie-cutter funerals are not acceptable. They want one-of-a-kind ceremonies that reflect the specific values of their loved ones,” explains Allen.

“Cultural norms have shifted and fewer families are dictated by religious rites. The time to worry if a family’s wishes are ‘undignified’ or ‘disrespectful’ is over.”

2. Don’t wait for the “magic date” when death rates start soaring.

Much has been written about the “truth” of death rates and how they’ll be changing in the future. Allen says his best guess is that the national death rate will continue to decline for about four or five years, then begin to gradually increase. “Contrary to what we were led to believe a few years ago, there won’t be a magic date on which the death rate will swell. The increase will be gradual until about 2030.”

Allen is quick to remind directors that, despite that forecast, funeral homes will have no guarantee that their market shares will increase. “Competition will also increase, especially from entities that use a different business model than of a traditional funeral home,” says Allen. There will be more professionals offering guidance without their own facilities—such as funeral providers that appeal to specific segments including families that want home funerals, eco-friendly burials, memorial parties or destination funerals.

“Families will continue to move toward making as many arrangements online as possible. When the death rate increases, hotels and florists will clamor to capture as much of the ‘booming’ business as they can.”

3. Change will keep coming…but “memorable” is going to stay.

The changes will continue to come for the funeral profession, thanks to new technology and an increased ability to offer highly creative, personalized experiences and products. Even though change is inevitable, the underlying idea of providing a memorable experience is still what will drive family’s decision-making.

“The best funeral ceremonies are always those that provide people with a memorable experience. One of my favorite examples is a 6-year old girl’s funeral that included a cookie decorating station and a hair-styling section for little girls. Another great experience was having karaoke at a visitation of a man who loved singing. Not only did friends and family members sing, but they had an opportunity to share memories about the deceased,” says Allen.

“The musician Prince’s urn, in the shape of his home and recording studio, is brilliant in that it reflects his life both symbolically and literally: it’s visually striking, it’s unexpected, and it depicts something that was very important to him.”

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About Mark Allen

Mark Allen is Executive Director and CEO of the International Order of the Golden Rule (OGR), an association of independently-owned funeral homes that pledge to a strict code of ethical business and service standards conduct. Funeral homes that join the association share common goals of exemplary service, uncompromising care, and compassion to families in their time of need. Learn more at www.ogr.org

Categories: Industry

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