By Leader Contributor Nick Rayner, Content Lead at Growth Engine

In the unique business world that funeral directors inhabit, word of mouth is one of the most powerful ways to generate referrals and find new business.

There are different schools of thought on how to do this and just how much of your business should rely on them. Most advice about referrals comes down to “ask clients to refer you.” While this is sometimes appropriate, it also puts funeral homes in a difficult position, especially those that struggle to make direct sales.

Regardless of how much you rely on positive word of mouth to drive future business, everything is dependent on loyalty. Loyalty is built on positive customer engagement, which leads to trust. This means what you’re trying to do is build an ongoing relationship that typically begins before someone even uses your services and continues long after.

The Value of Relationships

To begin this relationship, you must go above and beyond for your customers, not just by delivering exceptional service but also by proving to be an indispensable resource. Every funeral home knows this and executes on it (or tries to). Once a family is assured you truly care about them, they will feel compelled to tell their network about the great work you do.

While you can be certain that you care about each family you help with their end-of-life needs, there are specific ways you can show this to families both in-person and digitally.

For today, let’s focus on the digital side of things.

You can improve relationships through digital marketing. The key is continuing to provide value, whether it’s through customer engagement via social media, helpful and informative content on your website or other online channels, or through semi-frequent check-ins via email and text.

With something as simple as follow-up email check-ins, you are nurturing the relationship and developing a truer human connection. This helps families understand you are invested in their experience beyond just a sale. You can also leverage social media to provide a local community that helps people share common experiences with grief. Once this rapport has been established, families are more open to information about memorial products, new services, and anything else you offer your community. This is where information and education are key, especially in deathcare where you don’t want your families to feel pressured.

Tracking Customers Long Term

To pull all this together, what you want to create is a customer database and utilize what is known as marketing automation. With these new tools, funeral homes can gather information in one place, including contact information, purchase history, how you’ve engaged with each person in the past, and whether they’ve been receptive to past communications. This way, you not only have a bird’s eye view of all the families you have served, but you can tell which ones want to hear from you the most. These people are the ones who are most likely to offer referrals and raise your status in the community.

Your business may have a system like this right now, spread across different media and platforms. It’s not uncommon to have a database of contact information. Some will have a spreadsheet simply detailing what purchases families have made over the years. Some funeral homes still have these things written down or stuffed in filing cabinets. However, to make the most of your customer engagement, digitization helps a lot.

One great example of this is with aftercare, one of the top ways to build referrals in the deathcare space. When you have your customer database digitized and integrated with marketing automation, you can use the contact information to send families grief support through scheduled emails and automatic text messages. These messages can be scheduled for key holidays, like Christmas or the Fourth of July, or for anniversaries like a wedding anniversary for a widow or the anniversary of the death.

The message content should focus on the journey through grief and healing — or simply offer sympathy and comfort. You could also schedule aftercare messages based on tasks family contacts need to complete after someone dies as a tool to help guide people through the process. Regardless of which method you use, the fundamental goal is the development of a deeper relationship through your interactions with the person over a longer period of time. This, in turn, leads to increased loyalty and referrals.

Building Trust in Deathcare

Pressuring families to give referrals is never a good look; this is doubly true in deathcare. That’s why funeral directors are understandably sensitive to requesting referrals or reviews.

However, when you use digital tools to build relationships, you have a record of a customer you recently helped with a problem. They’re signed up to your email list, and you’ve watched them engage with your content; you know what they like and can use this data to understand how connected they are with your firm. This data helps you know who could want to share their good experiences.

Digital aftercare, especially when used in conjunction with marketing automation, can build better relationships with your families and your community in general, which leads to more referrals and increased loyalty.

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