Cut Throat Competition in Funeral Service
Undercutting the competition in funeral service, has been going on since the 80's, when funeral homes began advertising cremations for as low as 99$ on sandwich boards. They did this to get new customers in the door. Since that time, the public has demanded lower priced service. Many low cost funeral homes are busy, and funeral providers feel they are destroying the value of what we offer.
By shopping around and getting the cheapest option, people believe they are making the right choice. In their minds, 'we are money hungry jerks trying to make a profit off of their dead family member, so why spend more than they have to?' Often, these shoppers are signing bare necessity documents, getting a box of ashes, and a few proof of deaths. What else could there be?
Just as with all industry, the cheapest isn't necessarily the best. We have been taught to be elusive about our practice and use a lot of euphemisms. We are doing a disservice to grieving families by not being forthcoming about what it is we really do, and the services we provide.
If you are even remotely concerned about low cost competition, taking out your business, you are not doing your job as an industry professional. That is why we have price shoppers.
People don't know what they're buying, so they don't understand how it can cost so much. Someone I know, had an immediate cremation. A bereaved person I knew personally, had conversation with someone who wasn't my customer, outside of the workplace about the arranging, administration, and documentation fee. He was angry and said, "how the hell can half an hours work, be worth well over $1200?"
Most people don't realize that, Just because they sat with the funeral director for half an hour, doesn't mean that's all there is to it. The public doesn't even know what a cash disbursement is. They should be asking, but they don't know what to ask!
Someone who is out of their mind with grief, doesn't want a big spiel. They want a quick answer because they are in panic mode, their mom just died. They want to make a decision and they believe the only difference between you and Joe down the street, is that dollar sign.
Maybe your employees don't realize, why you need to charge as much as you do. I want to tell you, why you might not be doing enough, and to affirm the value of your price list if you are.
Lets start with the identification. Most people want to see their family member, one last time, but many fear what they will witness, or that it will be a poor experience. This is the most important moment, when a family asks for cremation. Are you taking the time to do proper decedent care? Are you washing the body, setting features and doing the deceased hair, for the last time that a family sees their loved one? Or are you just leaving the body on the stretcher with soiled underwear, mouth hanging open and eyes staring up at the ceiling for a quick ID? (Yes there are funeral homes that do this, however I have never worked at one)
What kind of value, do you think your customers feel, when your efforts are showing? It is difficult to put a dollar figure on caring for a decomposing body. Unfortunately the Canadian government subsidy for funerals, is a maximum of $2500. I believe that an informed consumer would make better decisions, if they knew the difference of how their dearly departed would be treated after death.
In the past, I have been told that we shouldn't talk too much, about what goes on in the prep room. We need to inform families that death care is just as important to us as it is for them. People often don't understand the weight of psychological impact, until their family member has passed away and they go in to see that person one last time. They don't know that their mom could contract tissue gas and blow up 3 times the size. Many people don't even really know what embalming is. When a family comes in for information about a pending death; it is our job as professionals to let them know the details of what we are doing.
Unless you are a low cost provider, you're probably not going to get that price shopper. People think theres nothing to it; put dad in a cardboard box, and ship him off to the crematorium. In my mind, I can hear people quoting Jay-Z, saying "I got 99 problems... and an immediate cremation aint one."
When death occurs, nobody is thinking of all the paperwork involved. Sadly some funeral homes, leave families to figure this part out for themselves. Being executor of an estate is a daunting task. If families knew that not all funeral homes help you with the paperwork after the funeral; or even give some type of direction, what the next step is, they may think twice about their low cost purchase.
I have heard from families, that when they used a low cost provider, they didn't have any help with CPP documents. ISP, CPP and OAS were not notified on their behalf. They were not provided with any information about doing taxes for the deceased at the end of the year. Do you know where the land titles office is? I know these aren't mandatory services, but they provide value to the executor, your client.
As funeral directors, we should be able to advise and provide guidance on how to proceed once the funeral is over. A customer login on your website with an executors list, with option to print documents, would be a good place to start. We spend a lifetime signing contracts, paying bills, posting on social media, and owning homes. It is the executors job to deal with the aftermath of this. Valuable service includes providing the resources to handle after death affairs.
You might be saying, that's too much information to disclose. It is indeed a daunting task, but not as daunting as going in to see your deceased loved one for the last time, strapped to a stretcher. It is not as overwhelming as trying to plan a celebration of life, on your own in a matter of days, when you're grieving. It is not at all like being given the task of settling an estate, with no idea of what to do first. It gives value to our industry, in the public eye. It promotes trust and relationships. That is how we retain a families business.
Many of these low cost providers spend big bucks on advertising their low prices. So why aren't we advertising the services which set us apart from our competition? Why is there nothing in news papers or on radio, advertising the fantastic death care we provide? Or estate guides being included in the cost of their cremation service? That we provide assistance with even non mandatory forms? or that cash disbursements are enclosed in the funeral invoice; so that a grieving family isn't running around trying to pay everyone?
You might be thinking that I don't agree with the services of a low cost provider, you are wrong. They provide a very important low price option, for people who are struggling financially that have no estate. The public should have the option to choose the absolute bare minimum, should they wish to do so. We need to stop comparing apples to oranges and realize both types of funeral homes are a necessity within our community.
We all started in funeral service with a desire to serve people at their most difficult time.
If you're angry with the low cost provider you really need to step up your game and do more to prove to families the value of what you offer. People deserve to understand what they are buying and even in funeral service, you really do get what they pay for. Why are we doing our clients and ourselves such a disservice when we want to givethe opposite? Lets make them more informed.
This is Part 2 of my funeral price list series. New information will come out every Thursday