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Insights From ASD’s 2017 Funeral Home Marketing and Communication Survey

Feb 20, 2018

This article was originally published in Kates Boylston Publications Funeral Director's Guide to Statistics (2017 issue) by our Staff Writer, Jessica Farren (Fowler). This latest edition features the most up-to-date statistical information in the industry, and provides you with tools and knowledge to better understand buying trends, what services families want most and more. Click here to learn more or to order your copy of the Funeral Director's Guide to Statistics.



There are two fundamental questions every funeral home’s marketing strategy should address. The first, and most obvious is how do we get the phone to ring? Or, to be more specific, how do we persuade families in our area to contact our funeral home in their time of need? The second question, although equally important, is often overlooked when funeral homes analyze their marketing efforts. How do we ensure that every call, without exception, is answered promptly and handled properly? With so much emphasis placed on attracting interest, funeral professionals must be careful not to forget how communication can impact their funeral home’s reputation and growth.

This survey examines the synergistic relationship between funeral home marketing and communication. Overall, more than 1,700 funeral professionals responded to the survey. Participants were asked to answer questions about the strategies they have used to grow their funeral home’s market share, communication challenges they have experienced and mobile technology preferences. The survey also studies the impact of shopper calls on funeral home marketing and communication.

The survey was conducted by ASD – Answering Service for Directors, the leading funeral home answering service, and was sent by means of a questionnaire using the internet survey tool Survey Monkey. In an effort to construct a thorough analysis of the marketing and communication behaviors of funeral professionals, ASD polled both its current client base as well as funeral professionals who do not use the company’s services.

About Survey Participants

Current Position

The survey drew responses from 1,791 funeral professionals: About 37 percent (659) were full-time licensed funeral directors, 18 percent (321) were sole owners, 16 percent (282) were co-owners, 11 percent (211) were managers, 3 percent (57) were apprentices, 3 percent (52) were part-time licensed funeral directors, 2 percent (45) were office receptionists, 2 percent (28) were family counselors and 2 percent (27) were funeral attendants. About 6 percent (109) selected ‘other’ and listed a different position such as crematory operator, embalmer or event director.

Location

The survey was sent out to funeral homes located in all 50 states. About 46 percent (817) of the funeral professionals polled serve families in a suburban area, 33 percent (595) serve families in a rural area, and 21 percent (379) serve families in an urban area.

First Calls Handled Per Year

About 75 percent of funeral professionals surveyed handle more than 100 cases per year. More than a third handle over 300 cases a year. Below is a breakdown of this data.

First Calls Handled/ Yr

% of Respondents

Number of Respondents

0-50

7 percent

126

50-100

17 percent

302

100-299

44 percent

786

300-499

16 percent

291

More than 500

16 percent

286

Marketing and Growth Trends

Cremation Rate

Slightly more than half of the funeral professionals polled (898) have a cremation rate over 40 percent. Below is a full breakdown of this data.

Market Share Growth

Participants were asked how much attention is given to growing their funeral home’s market share. Nearly half of the respondents (41 percent) answered that a ‘tremendous amount’ or ‘a lot’ of time was given to growing the funeral home business. A nearly equal number (39 percent) of participants selected ‘a reasonable amount’. About 20 percent answered that very little or no time at all is spent growing their funeral home’s market share. These results suggest that while most funeral professionals want to achieve a competitive advantage, a surprisingly high number do not have the time or resources to focus on growth. It is also possible a portion of the funeral professionals interviewed may be less focused on increasing their market share because they feel they have already achieved this objective.

Marketing Methods

The survey asked funeral professionals to indicate what materials their funeral home uses to market the business and achieve goals. Below is a breakdown of the most commonly utilized marketing materials listed by survey participants.

  • 60 percent use promotional brochures and pamphlets
  • 55 percent send surveys to families served in the past
  • 41 percent have a defined business plan
  • 38 percent have a defined marketing plan
  • 32 percent use website lead conversion tracking
  • 21 percent use phone call conversion tracking
  • 19 percent send newsletters or bulletins to families served in the past.

This data reveals how marketing can often take a backseat to other business matters within a funeral home. While more than half of those surveyed have implemented at least one type of marketing initiative in the past, these statistics suggest a lack of consistency and follow through may hinder results. Less than half of survey respondents utilize a business or marketing plan when implementing different strategies. These statistics indicate that many of the marketing efforts used by funeral homes may be executed without a focus on long-term goals. The old mantra, ‘throw it against the wall and see what sticks’ seems to be governing these decisions, leading many to adopt a trial-and-error based approach. Without such a business or marketing plan in place, funeral directors may begin to see marketing efforts as fruitless because they have not created metrics for tracking results.

Another example of this lack of focus was revealed by asking funeral professionals how they market to families they have previously served. While more than half (55 percent) send out surveys to families they have served in the past, only 19 percent send newsletters or bulletins. The data reveals a surprisingly high number of outreach opportunities are being missed by funeral homes. Newsletters and bulletins allow funeral homes to expand their aftercare programs and help their community to view them as a resource. While it is certainly helpful to gather feedback from families, it is just as important, if not more so, to maintain these relationships and demonstrate your funeral home’s ongoing support. These two marketing goals should be closely aligned, yet more than 80 percent of funeral professionals surveyed did not make this connection.

ASD also asked survey participants if they currently utilized a marketing company to promote their services. Less than half (48 percent) are currently using a marketing company. This number reveals many of the funeral homes that have created marketing materials and strategies have done so with little to no guidance.

Communication Trends and Challenges

Shopper Calls

Participants were asked what percentage of their funeral home’s new business they estimate comes from shopper calls. For clarification purposes, the term ‘shopper’ was defined within the survey as any person who is contacting a funeral home they have no prior experience with to gather information on services, options and/or pricing. About 60 percent of funeral professionals polled attribute between 10 and 40 percent of their new business to shopper calls. More than a third (36 percent) of respondents attribute over 20 percent of their new business to shopper calls. Below is a full breakdown of this data:

Percentage of new business obtained through shopper calls

Percentage of Respondents

Less than 10 percent

31 percent

10 to 20 percent

33 percent

20 to 30 percent

19 percent

30 to 40 percent

8 percent

More than 40 percent

9 percent

Average Duration of Shopper Calls

How much time do funeral professionals typically spend answering questions from shoppers? The majority of survey respondents (38 percent) answered that the average duration of these calls is 5 to 10 minutes. Only one quarter of survey respondents spend more than 10 minutes on average when handling shopper calls. Below is a full breakdown of this data.

Shopper Call Duration

Percentage of Respondents

Less than 2 minutes

3 percent

2-5 minutes

34 percent

5-10 minutes

38 percent

10-15 minutes

17 percent

15-25 minutes

6 percent

More than 25 minutes

2 percent

Telecommunication Disruption

ASD asked participants what telecommunication problems their funeral home has experienced in the past 12 months. Below is a breakdown of the most common disruption issues that affect funeral professionals:

  • 19 percent have experienced a power outage
  • 13 percent have experienced call forwarding issues
  • 12 percent have had miscommunication issues arise between on-call employees.
  • 6 percent have had issues with missing urgent calls
  • 4 percent have had issues with crossed telephone lines
  • 4 percent have experienced ‘Other’ issues including problems with their phone system or company (36 percent), Internet issues (26 percent), issues with solicitation calls (20 percent), answering service issues (13 percent), or cell phone issues (5 percent).

Cellular service problems were the most common issue reported, which is consistent with national statistics. According to Pew Research, 72 percent of cell phone owners in America have experienced dropped calls occasionally, while 32 percent say they experience this problem on a weekly basis. Mobile reliability statistics vary greatly by region, with consumers in urban areas experiencing the highest number of overall network problems (J.D. Power).

The second most common issue reported was power outages. This is a widespread issue that has increased in recent years, with the U.S. Department of Energy data showing that the number of reported power outages in the country rose steadily between 2000 and 2014, with the annual average of outages doubling every five years. In fact, The United States endures more blackouts than any other developed nation. According to Inside Energy, “An aging infrastructure, combined with a growing population and more frequent extreme weather, are straining the electric grid.”

With VoIP technology now replacing traditional telephone lines in many funeral homes, only 13 percent of the funeral professionals surveyed have experienced issues with call forwarding. While there is very little data to be found on how call forwarding has evolved on a national level, a recent Software Advice study from 2015 found that buyers view call forwarding as the most critical PBS functionality, ranked 4 percent higher than Voicemail. Of the funeral professionals surveyed, 66 percent are currently call forwarding to an answering service. Less than 3 percent are currently experiencing disruption issues with their answering service. Of those who are currently using a service, 88 percent are satisfied with their current provider.

Communication Challenges

Participants were asked to identify the key communication challenges facing their business. Below is a breakdown of this data:

  • 75 percent: Growing the business/Attracting more customers/Increasing demand
  • 39 percent: Improving staff skills and knowledge
  • 25 percent: Monitoring customer satisfaction
  • 22 percent: Improving internal processes and procedures
  • 17 percent: Improving management and IT systems
  • 14 percent: Changing business directions, services, product lines or operational systems
  • 8 percent: Establishing and improving relationships with suppliers and trading partners

Three out of every four people surveyed felt that growing their funeral home was a crucial communication challenge facing their business. Considering the fact that less than half of the survey participants actually own a portion of their funeral home, these numbers demonstrate how increasing demand for services is a major focus for every person working at a funeral home, not just owners.

It is interesting to note that while the majority of the funeral professionals polled recognize business growth as the most important challenge, most funeral homes (52 percent) do not use a marketing company and about 15 percent do not use any marketing materials. This indicates many funeral homes are unwilling or unable to invest in marketing despite recognizing the challenges of attracting new families.

Another interesting finding is the percentage of funeral professionals who identified internal communication as a key challenge faced by their business. More than half (61 percent) were concerned with improving staff skills/knowledge, improving internal processes/procedures or both. While growing the business is priority one, many also find it challenging to keep their staff working cohesively and efficiently.

Training Communication

Funeral professionals surveyed were asked how much training their funeral home provides to staff on telephone etiquette. Responses were split almost right down the middle with nearly half of respondents (41 percent) answering that a ‘reasonable amount’ of training was provided to staff. A third answered that a ‘tremendous amount’ or ‘a lot’ of telephone training was offered to their staff, while a nearly equal number (29 percent) answered that ‘very little’ or ‘no training at all’ was provided.

Survey participants were asked about their firm’s documentation process for training materials. About 42 percent have documented operational policies, processes and procedures in their funeral home. Nearly a third (29 percent) have instructional guides and training manuals for their staff.

Recommendations

Survey participants were asked several optional questions about their current satisfaction with communication and marketing service providers.

Cell Phone Company

Of the 1471 survey participants who responded, 91 percent were satisfied with their current cell phone company.

306 survey participants provided recommendation feedback:

  • Verizon Wireless: 68 percent
  • AT&T: 16 percent
  • U.S. Cellular: 6 percent
  • Sprint: 5 percent
  • T-Mobile: 2 percent
  • Other (Metro PCS, Bell, Telus, Cricket, Charter, etc): 3 percent.

Marketing Company

Of the 1471 survey participants who responded, about 45 percent were satisfied with their current marketing company, 52 percent did not use a marketing company, and 3 percent were dissatisfied.

54 survey participants provided recommendation feedback:

  • MKJ Marketing: 21 percent
  • Precoa: 17 percent
  • Adfinity: 15 percent
  • CGI: 6 percent
  • Disrupt Media: 3 percent
  • Other (Leap Tie, Thanexus, Crest Communications, local companies, etc): 38 percent

Mobile Apps

204 survey participants provided recommendation feedback on mobile apps. About 73 percent of apps recommended were created specifically for funeral homes while 27 percent were general business apps.

Top Funeral Specific Apps

  • ASD Mobile: Allows clients of ASD – Answering Service for Directors to access and respond to messages, track calls, disguise their outgoing cell phone Caller ID and more. (52 percent)
  • Find A Grave: Powered by Ancestry.com, this app offers a database of more than 100 million graves in half a million cemeteries around the world. (8 percent)
  • Vital ICE: A public safety app that stores user medical information and emergency contacts. Many funeral homes have sponsored their community’s Vital ICE as a way to give back to their local area by providing a life-saving app to residents for no cost. (4 percent)
  • Everdays: Everdays helps you notify family and friends when a loved one passes, eliminating the need for multiple phone calls, text messages or emails. (2 percent)
  • Embalm Calc: This newer app helps embalmers mix embalming fluids correctly by performing fluid calculations. (2 percent)
  • Other Funeral Specific Apps (FloralXpress, SRS Computing, Passare, Legacy Touch, etc) (5 percent)

Top General Business Apps

  • Dropbox: This popular cloud-storage app allows users to share documents between devices, upload photos, email large files, and collaborate on projects with their team. (16 percent)
  • Waze: A great app to help drivers avoid traffic jams, Waze uses crowd-sourced alerts from real drivers, providing users with real-time information on traffic flow and what areas to avoid. (5 percent)
  • Flight Aware: This free flight tracker and flight status app allows users to track airline flights in real-time. (2 percent)
  • Other Business Apps (Trello, Red Booth, Poynt, TurboScan, etc): (4 percent)

Comments made about mobile apps by survey respondents:

“ASD Mobile. Great to have the call right there and to know there is a first call up to 10 minutes before the "call" is live, plus the ability to go back to track calls as well.”

“Dropbox is excellent. With this app, we can access and send copies of our General Price List, casket selections, and items such as readings for funeral mass, prayer card selections. It makes it so easy to help those who are making arrangements out of state.”

“Vital Ice. We made this app available to our entire community for free download to assist our local first responders.”

Kates Boylston Publications, January 2018


Are you surprised by any of the findings of ASD's Communications? Leave us a comment - we'd love to hear your thoughts on our survey results!



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About The Author

Jess Fowler

Jess Fowler is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD's company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess.Fowler@myASD.com


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