The Funeral Home Business is BOOMING (or it should be!) 3 things you can do right now to radically improve your business if yours isn’t.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association (http://www.nfda.org/news/statistics), as of 2019, there are approximately 19,136 funeral homes in the United States. There were approximately 2,813,503 deaths in 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/deaths.htm. That is approximately 7,708 deaths per DAY. Even if you are terrible at math, like I am, you can still do a pretty easily calculation to see that there is a TON of opportunity for funeral homes. However, we at The Probate Law Firm hear time and time again how so many funeral homes are struggling. Funeral home directors often cite a trend towards cremation, large corporations undercutting them on price, rising costs and a bunch of other excuses. Yes, these are excuses. The numbers don’t lie. There is a ton of opportunity and you don’t have a ton of competition (relative to other industries). Think about it; how many restaurants do you drive by on your way to work vs how many funeral homes you drive by?

So why are so many funeral homes struggling? There is certainly no “quick-fix” or one thing that will solve every single problem. However, it does appear that many of these “struggling” funeral homes have at least one thing in common; they are stuck in the past and slow to embrace change.

Quick background on me: I am a 30-something year old attorney and own the law firm: The Probate Law Firm. I practice one area of law – probate (if that wasn’t clear from our firm’s name).  Probate is a very niched area of the law. We focus on helping people AFTER death – not before. So, my clients generally come to me after the funeral home (though usually 6-10 months after the burial). My clients are generally around twice my age (between 50-65). What surprises many is that I (and our collective staff), has never met close to 95% of our clients in person. Let that sink in.

We are a law firm. We are not dealing with millennials. We are dealing with a population referred to as Generation X (individuals born between 1965-1980 more or less). These individuals did not necessarily grow up with the internet and are not all tech-savvy. They are generally still “old-school” and may define themselves as “traditional”. However, they are comfortable with hiring an attorney who may be the same age as their children AND they are ok with not coming into the attorney’s office. They pay invoices with a credit card over the phone or online. Remember, this is not an Amazon purchase. Generally, their mother or father has just died and now they need an attorney to administer their estate. A lot of these people have never hired an attorney before and have no clue what to do. They are still grieving, and they may have just “googled” probate attorney and found us.

The interesting thing, even for me, is that almost all of our clients specifically say, “we don’t want to come in to the office. Can we do this over the phone?” To which we respond, “yes, absolutely. In fact, we don’t even offer in-person consultations.”

Ok – hopefully that sets the stage for what I am about to suggest.

Your clients and potential clients want and demand a more “modern” experience from you – the funeral home. I put “modern” in quotes because the suggestions below are not modern – at this point they are just normal.

So – here are a few simple (note – not necessarily “easy”), ideas you can implement this year to start capturing more business.

# 1 – Use an Online Appointment Scheduler

You offer a valuable service. Your clients need your service. Cremation is not “ruining” the funeral home business (that is a topic for a different article). However, your clients do not want to call you just to schedule an appointment. In fact, most of your client’s don’t want to call you at all. They want to arrange everything online. Maybe that is something you will want to explore but for now, just start with at least offering the option for clients to schedule an appointment with you via some sort of media. There are endless options: you can put a calendar on your website (assuming your website is not complete crap); you could put a link on your social media pages (which you all need to have); you can send a text link to potential clients and they can schedule from their phone. There are literally dozens of ways that you can provide options to the potential client.

The key thing is that you do one of them. I promise you that making a phone call to a funeral home is probably last on their list of calls they want to make (second only to calling a probate attorney). They know they need to call you, but they just don’t want to. However, they would be much more inclined to schedule an appointment with you online.

Most scheduling calendars will require the user to put their first and last name and usually both their telephone number and email. Now you have their contact information prior to you or your staff actually meeting with this person. This is gold.

Real Life Example:

John Smith’s mother passes away. She owned a piece of property and John is going to inherit it. He wants to sell it, however, he has to hire a probate attorney to go through the probate process so that he can get clean title to the property to ultimately sell it. John has never lost a loved one before and he has never hired an attorney. He asks his realtor to help him sell the property. The realtor refers him to www.probatefirm.com. John does some research on the website and decides he wants to schedule a consultation. He clicks on https://probatefirm.com/book-an-appointment/ and schedules a telephonic consultation in 4 days (he’s busy and doesn’t have time right now).

To schedule the appointment, he has to put in his name, phone number and email. Now, John is in the firm’s database. Now that we have John’s contact info, we have permission to start marketing to him. So, for the next 4 days, John is going to get a series of educational emails. He is going to get a personalized video from the attorney he will be meeting with on the day of his appointment. The video is going to explain to him what to expect during the consultation. He is also going to get automated text messages and emails reminding him of his consultation (because sometimes people just forget to show-up for their appointment).

The Probate Law Firm has now had numerous interactions building confidence and trust with John prior to his actual consultation. This all happened because John scheduled his own appointment. John might have never contacted our firm. Yes, the skeptic will say, “but he may have contacted you anyways.” Yes, that’s true. However, you can’t monitor those who did not contact you. At least give your potential clients the option.

There are a TON of calendaring programs. A few of the more well-known ones are Acuity and Calendly. Whichever you end up using, just make sure you test and tweak. Have a friend or family member try and schedule an appointment using the calendar and ask them how easy it was for them. You want the process of scheduling an appointment with you to be easy, simple and professional.

And lastly – this is only the beginning. You can now use this calendar to schedule calls with existing clients, vendors, referral sources, etc. How much time do you spend answering unplanned calls or playing phone tag? This will put an end to that.

# 2 – Use electronic Signatures

Believe it or not, we are all familiar with electronic signatures and do not find it “weird” to sign things electronically. Think about it: everyone uses a credit card or debit card. EVERYONE. Almost every day, we go to the grocery store, the gas station, a restaurant, a retail store and purchase something. Almost every time we pay with a credit or debit card, we are prompted by the merchant to sign our name in a little box. This is an electronic signature. We are used to this. It is not “futuristic”. It’s commonplace.

Similarly, you can and should be sending documents to your clients electronically so that they can sign from their phone, computer or tablet. Ask how your clients how much they like going to the post-office to send you signed documents or how much they like you emailing them documents for them to print off and sign and then mail back to you. How much do you like having to do that? You also don’t like spending money on postage and on calling the client for weeks to see if they received the documents you sent them.

There is an easier way (and it’s not revolutionary). Electronic signatures!

Again, there are so many services available: Hellosign and Docusign being two of the more popular ones. These services allow you to send the document to the client via email and the client can sign from their phone, tablet or computer. I can tell you that I’ve had 80-year-old clients sign these with no problem. It’s incredibly easy.

Also, it’s much more efficient for you. You can monitor and see if the client received and actually opened the document. You will be notified when they signed it. You won’t have to scan and save the executed document. Once the client signs, you’ll get a fully executed copy and now you can just drag and save in their file. This is a timesaver for you and your client will appreciate it.

Ok – so what if you insist on in-person appointments and you need your client to sign something in your office or while you are visiting with them at their home? I would recommend that you carry a tablet/computer with you and still have your client sign for the reasons stated above. It’s easier for you and the client. Also, how many of your papers are coffee stained, dirty, crumpled and just nasty?

Keep it simple. Keep it professional.

# 3 – Create a Welcome Video

First, let me start by saying you don’t need to spend thousands (or even hundreds) of dollars on a video. You can (and depending on the size of your funeral home – you should) keep this low-budget and simple. As you grow, you may consider hiring a company to do a professional video but for now, just do something simple. Good is good enough.

Ok – now that I have told you not to hire a production company and spend $50k on a video – here is what I suggest:

Your clients don’t want to deal with you. Sorry to break it to you but most people don’t get excited talking about death – either theirs or someone else’s. (Trust me – they don’t like deal with attorneys any better). But, like I have said, they do need you. However, they don’t know what to expect from you. Most likely they have never hired funeral services before, and I am sure they have heard horror stories (again – just like they have all heard horror stories about probate). So, you need to “soften” them up before they ultimately get to you or before their initial appointment with you.

So, what kind of video should you have? Well – you should probably have several. (Check out our FAQ page for some ideas Sample FAQ Videos). Do a series of 5-10 videos (or more), where you answer some of the most frequently asked questions people have. People love videos. I promise you that most of your competitors are not doing this – trust me – I’ve looked at hundreds of funeral home websites.

However, if you just want to create one video – I would suggest you do a short, no more than 3-minute video on what to expect at the upcoming meeting. Again, most people have never met with a funeral director, so you want to give them an idea of what to expect when they ultimately meet with you. If they have already seen your face and have an idea of what type of questions you will ask, they will be much more receptive and a lot less “nervous.”

In Closing

These suggestions/ideas/requirements are not new. They are not revolutionary. However, I can tell you, that a lot of funeral homes are not doing them. The funeral home industry is much like the legal industry. We have a way of doing things and have been doing things a certain way for so long that we are reluctant to change. And admittedly, we may not feel like we have to change. Revenues likely hover around the same mark and in low years, it’s easy to write that off to competition, or a bad economy, rising costs or a whole host of other excuses. However, if we are honest, it’s us, not them.

Look for ways to “modernize” your practice. You can still keep the “old school” feel. Trust me, I live in Miami but was raised in Tennessee and greatly appreciate a good handshake and a “my word is my bond” mentality. But that doesn’t get me business. You can still operate a funeral home company that has been around since 1908 and still treat people with the same respect and honesty that your great-great grandfather operated it with back in 1908. However, you can’t expect to get clients or keep clients in exactly the same way as he did back in 1908.

Thank you for reading and good luck out there!

I would invite you to visit us at www.probatefirm.com and sign up for our newsletter. We are always putting out content that helps you, the business owner. If you want a personalized response, please send an email to info@probatefirm.com and a member of our Team will get back to you ASAP.

To your continued success!

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Justin Stivers, Owner, The Probate Law Firm / Justin firmly believes that the probate process, and law in general, should be straightforward and results-driven for the client. When you hire an attorney, you do so with the expectation that you will get results from someone with a high level of knowledge and expertise. Justin Stivers was born in Florida and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee. He earned his undergraduate degree at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, before serving in the Peace Corps in Honduras. His career eventually led him to attend law school at the University of Miami, where he earned his Juris Doctor.
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