Recently I was interviewed by Bart Miller for an article in The Bulletin of Selected Independent Funeral Homes regarding our use of technology. We have seen more change in the last five years than in the previous fifty and we have always been early adopters in terms of technology because once you fall behind, it can be very difficult to catch up. Soon after 1995, when we started our cremation society, we used traditional advertising and direct mail, and as the internet became more popular, we stepped up to the plate by posting our prices online and setting up an economical ecommerce business. This allowed us to service families across New Hampshire.
Over the years, we have found that not only are people willing to make online arrangements, in many cases, they prefer it. People patronize cremation societies for all kinds of reasons, and some appreciate the convenience of making arrangements in their own home without outside pressure. (We still make arrangements the traditional way, of course.)
Regularly, I get calls from funeral directors who see our website, our advanced ecommerce capability, and our solid social media presence, all working together in powerful symbiosis. They are overwhelmed and say they couldn’t do what we’ve done, and I explain that our site has been evolving over 15 years.
The vast majority of funeral home websites do not display price lists, so it would be a significant undertaking to enable ecommerce. It is critical to adopt the mindset that the website is an extension of the arrangement office: everything provided in the office should be online. Once the directors have this mindset, they don’t fear that their competition can see their prices. In all truth, the competition already knows your prices, so if you can’t maintain transparency in your pricing and you are unable to explain it to your customers, you have a serious problem. When I think of my online activity, if I am shopping and I see ‘call for pricing’, it makes me suspicious and I am uncomfortable with this lack of transparency. Online consumers shopping for funeral or cremation services are no different than any other.
More and more of our business is becoming technologically embedded and automated and we are excited about this convergence. For example, we have a new funeral home software package which replaced ten stand-alone programs. Now that everything is in one place, transactions are much smoother and quicker, functioning efficiently with less staff and significantly reducing the potential for human error.
We recently hired a director of social media and business development, who, in addition to traditional marketing, maintains our website, social media presence, search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising. With the power of the internet, people are searching for terms like ‘low cost cremation’ and ‘green burials’ and it is critical that we maintain a presence there. I am asked frequently why we have a social media presence, and one example that came up the other day was that we had an estate attorney present a seminar on preplanning. Shortly before the seminar, we posted on Facebook and Twitter that we had a few seats available and sure enough, some of our followers called us to sign up. Had we not been using social media, we would have missed these folks.