How Can Funeral Homes Sell “The Experience”?

The Willard Intercontinental Lobby
1400 Pennsylvania Avenue

Trends and surveys show us that the younger the person is in America the more apt they are to value “Experiences” over “Assets”.  It is an interesting subject to me – as a younger part of the Baby Boom generation – I’ve always valued assets and usually have watched my money on the experiences.  Experiences such as going to a Major League Baseball game — I’ve never bought the top price ticket — I’ve been satisfied with sitting in an upper deck and saving my money (the asset).

Although as I’ve gotten older I’ve found myself tending to buy a “better experience” if I can justify it.  Last week my wife and I were invited to the White House to be part of the Thanksgiving celebration on Tuesday prior to the First Family leaving for Florida.  We’d never been to the White House before so we knew that we would really value the experience.  I’m not a frequent visitor to Washington but when I have went before I’ve chose to stay outside the city either near Reagan airport or across the Potomac in National Harbor, Maryland, and either Metro or Uber into the city when needed.  Rates were always less expensive and I just felt safer outside the city.  I wasn’t concerned about missing the “DC Experience”.

However, this time, with my wife we chose to go for the full experience.  We decided to stay at the Willard Intercontinental one block from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue where the rates can be $500 per night as compared to about $125 near Reagan airport.  For two nights, staying where Lincoln stayed for a month prior to his inauguration, where Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed where he finished his “I Have a Dream” speech, and where representatives from all states met for 23 days, trying to put an end to the Civil War before it started, seemed to be something that would give our short trip a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  In the end I proved that even an old asset protector will pay for an experience when it means something to them.

I was content with my experience even though I paid more than I had to for the visit.  The question that I have in our death care world is how do we get consumers to believe that they may be very happy paying more for the services they use from funeral directors when they don’t know – prior to using those services – that they will be a more satisfied client by using them?

I have access to a survey of funeral and cremation consumers from 2015 that has over 80,000 sales records and 25,000 surveys recorded in it.  From this it appears that 36.4% were direct cremations.  Of that number, 27.6% was at-need direct cremation and 8.8% were direct cremations performed after pre-need files had been opened.  It is interesting for me to note that the same type of services created revenue to the funeral home of $2,022 when the cremation was at need and for those that had pre-need accounts the revenue per case was $2,714.  A difference of $692 per case or an increase of over 34% for pre-arranged direct cremations over at-need direct cremations.

What does that tell me?  I look at that 34% increase in per ticket sales and figure that it must be that during the pre-arrangement conference the funeral director was able to explain the values of a visitation without the body present or the value of an urn or some other aspect of the offerings that the family found would be good “experiences”  – and mean something – for them.  And, much like me with the hotel, they agreed and they were not afraid to pay for it.

We all know that we are moving into an ever increasing direct cremation society.  It is up to us as funeral directors to figure out the “experiences” that the consumer wants and is willing to pay for to, not only move our business to better profitability, but to truly give the consumer what they sometimes don’t think that they need.  It’s a delicate dance – but one that done correctly improves both the business’ and the consumer’s life.

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