All businesses that want to grow and prosper need to acquire new customers. That is a pretty simple concept. But one thing I’m always amazed at is how so many times business take for granted the customers that they have already acquired.
Think about that for a moment. . . . if you can continue to pull customers you already have back to your business, then it makes it easier to grow simply because you are never going backwards. And that equation is certainly true in the funeral industry even though one could argue that people die only once so you have a “one and done” clientele.
However, in the death care industry it is pretty common thinking that the repeat customer is that family that returns to your business over and over through generations of deaths. They have become known as “Heritage families”.
So, while you are out trying to market your business to new people in the community, doing pre-arrangement seminars to pull in more market share, and simply working every day at the task at hand, how do you recognize those Heritage families and make sure that they don’t get pulled in another direction for funeral service care? One mistake many small community funeral directors make is being too smug about thinking they have their “Heritage families” forever. Then one day they realize that one of their Heritage families is at the competitors.
The best way to keep heritage business is to give unbelievable service at the time you are serving the family at-need, regardless of what number service it is you are doing for that family — never take for granted that “they belong to your firm”. Then, after the service is done, more than ever in today’s world of all kind of messages, make sure that you stay in contact. E-mail and mailing address information is vital.
When I was operating our funeral home we knew many of the families we served and allowed them to charge the funeral bill on our books. I know that is not always the case anymore – but I weighed the credit losses I had against what a credit card processing fee (of 2-3%) cost — and I always came out ahead by not having, mostly credit worthy families, put the amount owed on a credit card.
I point that last paragraph out simply, because of that policy, I had a standard procedure of when I sent the billing — and that is where the retention of heritage families, post-funeral, started for us. I had always heard anecdotal discussions of people in my community going to the hospital or clinic and “getting the bill” before they got home. Because I was sensitive to that notion, I always made sure that families had three communications from us. . . in about 15 days. . . prior to us sending out the final billing statement.
First of all, I sent a personal thank you note about seven days following the funeral, then we sent out a religious book embossed with the deceased’s name on it at about ten days, and finally we sent an invitation to our aftercare network of services at the two week mark. The billing went out in about another week. My reasoning for that scheduling was that I believed when they saw a communication from us in the mail that they believed it was the billing statement. At three different times in about 15 days they opened this communication from us. . and it was a pleasant surprise. . . not a billing statement.
We continued to e-mail and mail invitations to our Memorial Day remembrance service (where generally they received a tree sprig suitable for planting in memory of their loved one), our Holiday remembrance service (where generally they get a tree ornament with their loved one’s name), our 16-week summer concert series we sponsor on the courthouse lawn, our Andy Bear project (where they work and make teddy bears out of their loved one’s clothing), and all the miscellaneous events we had going on over the course of the year for people hurting from grief. All of this worked to keep our name “front and center” in that consumer’s mind and never give them the idea that once the service was over – and we collected our pay — that they were forgot about.
However you do so, make your heritage families know how much you appreciate them. When you have a plan and system in place it is not so difficult to keep it rolling. Remember, keeping a heritage family is a lot easier and less expensive than acquiring new client families. . . don’t give them a reason to leave you when it could be prevented.