Do you follow up with each family after the service is over beyond delivering a death certificate or mailing an invoice? Do you have a plan to touch each family several times after the funeral is over? If you don’t, you have an aftercare problem. If you don’t think you have an aftercare problem, you’ve luckily not experienced opening the obit section to see one of your families using a different funeral home…yet.
Pardon the frequency of the word but, the problem with this problem is that few think it’s actually a problem.
Now, I am as sick and tired as everyone with articles beating the same drum about serving a “changing consumer” and “new kind of family” and the proverbial “adapt or die” option, so that’s not what you’ll read here.
I will only stress the importance of continuing the relationship with each family and that has never changed.
The families from the “good ole days,” when burial was 100% and there was no internet, the need to maintain relationships was as important then as it is today. The outside forces of today that are affecting and possibly threatening a funeral home’s existence does not make following up any more, or any less important. It’s always been important, and always will be.
Back to your problem.
If you are not following up, you have a problem. A decision not to follow up doesn’t escape reality. If you’re not following up, you have a problem. The fundamental rule of business, as it has always been, is that a customer must be interested enough in your product or service to do business with you the first time and receive enough value to come back again. The value for the customer isn’t only in the product or service, it’s in the experience they have with a company. This supports the adage that “People will forget what you said but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”
If you are not following up, there is no “service after the sale.” A sale without service is a transaction. Consider how that contrasts with the many, many funeral homes using some version of “serving you in your time of need” as part of their tagline. We know that a family’s time of need doesn’t end when the graveside service is over.
You can solve your aftercare problem with two steps.
Make follow up a protocol, not just a priority
Most funeral directors want to do some kind of follow up, but any program will fall victim to a funeral home that gets busy unless it is made a part of the service. The efficacy of any program is dependent on it being a required item on the service completion checklist.
Aftercare is broad term, so we won’t get into what types of follow up you should do (home visits, phone calls, sending cards, etc.) but whatever it is, you must be able to do it consistently and if you can’t, consider another option. Getting motivated and deciding to do a home visit with every family won’t last long if you don’t have the staff to do it.
Create a program and system that works for you
When you decide on the follow up method that works best for you, the next step is to build a system to support it. Just like the home visit idea for every family will crash the first time you get busy, so will any follow up method without a system in place to ensure it gets done. If a thank you card or letter is one of your post-service touchpoints, having a printout that lists all the cards that need to get mailed on that day / week is critical.
A calendar and a commitment is not enough
At its core, effective follow up requires only a calendar and a commitment. However, we are stretched thin, our bandwidth consumed by tasks requiring more time than we have, and something must give. In most cases, customer follow up becomes a casualty.
To maintain relationships, motivation is not enough. A system that schedules post-service touchpoints, along with a mandate that they are completed is required.
Ellery Bowker is the founder of Aftercare.com, an automated program that helps funeral homes and cemeteries stay in touch with families during the first year following their loss. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org