8 Questions to Ask For a More Personalized Funeral

Posted July 11, 2018

6 min read

Throughout Danielle Burmeister’s first few years at Homesteaders Life Company, she regularly interviewed funeral professionals.

(Homesteaders is a pre-need funeral insurance funding provider that helps promote and support funeral service. Burmeister is Homesteaders’ Marketing Communications Lead.)

As the daughter of two funeral professionals, she’s always had knowledge about being in the profession, but these ongoing interviews helped her to keep her finger on the pulse of what funeral directors around the nation were thinking and feeling.

During those interviews, she’d ask directors about their businesses. She’d also ask about their staff, their community outreach, and their pre-need programs.

“I ended every interview with the same question: what has been your most memorable service?”

Burmeister explains that the stories they would nearly always tell her involved sudden, tragic losses: the military officer killed overseas, the elementary school student who passed away after a long illness, the victim of a tragic school shooting. “Not once did the respondent share memories of a service for someone who died of old age or after a long and well-lived life,” she says.

“Instead, they focused on the time they took the funeral procession through the drive-thru at the deceased’s favorite restaurant, or when they read a favorite children’s book at the funeral of an elementary school librarian. Those things stood out in their memories because they were vivid expressions of a unique life–and a unique loss,” she continues.

In that realization, there is a deeper insight: the services and celebrations that are most memorable—the services that stand out most—are those that are deeply personal.

Burmeister says it best: “I have yet to hear a funeral director talk about a service that was memorable because they arranged for a beautiful casket spray, played ‘Amazing Grace’ and served buttered ham buns.”

It’s Now More than a Trend: Why Personalize Funerals?

In the last decade or so, we’ve seen a shift in the way consumers value funerals. “On the whole, we’re becoming less community-centric, less religious, less rooted, less appreciative of tradition,” explains Burmeister.

This change has had ripple effects that reach far and wide, And the funeral profession, a business that focuses largely on the value of ceremony, has been deeply impacted by these shifting consumer preferences.

Offering your families personalized funerals—that is, the ones that end up being the most memorable celebrations—is important for a number of reasons, but the true core of the value is that they breathe new life into the value of the funeral itself. “Funeral directors are the ones able to help with this in a way that meets the needs of consumers who want to do things differently than their parents or grandparents.”

Burmeister says having a more personal, deeply relevant experience helps loved ones confront loss, celebrate someone’s life, and begin to process grief, too. Let’s take a closer look at creating a personalized memorial service.

Creating Experiential, Personalized Services

You want to help families to create a hyper-relevant, personalized experience to celebrate someone’s life. That might involve elements such as gifts, food, flowers, the way stories and memories are presented, ceremonial extra touches, photo displays, video footage and more…So where do you start?

Funeral professionals are already doing many of the right things when it comes to crafting that experience. “They are typically very detailed, and meticulous professionals attuned to social cues and able to easily connect with strangers and make them feel welcome and at ease. All of these characteristics make for good experiential event planners,” explains Burmeister.

What funeral professionals can continue to work on is identifying areas in their “run of the mill” services that are ripe for personalization.

To do so, Burmeister recommends asking 4 simple questions whenever you plan a service:

  1. What can we display to honor the decedent’s hobbies or interests?

  2. What can attendees wear to celebrate his/her passions?

  3. What can we serve to eat/drink that will help remember him/her?

  4. What can we give attendees that will remind them of their loved one?

Most directors will find their own authentic way of asking these questions in one way or another.

After asking these questions or similar questions, make plans to implement at least a few of the ideas that come up. “It’s a simple way to add personalization to every service,” explains Burmeister.

More Tips on How to Personalize Every Experience

Funeral professionals are already well versed in asking questions during an arrangement conference. But, naturally, many times these conversations can tend to be overly focused on collecting vital statistics and other information needed to file for and obtain a death certificate.

Aim to shift the nature and the intent of your conversations with families. Using open-ended questions is one of the quickest ways to do so to uncover meaningful, relevant information. It may mean you do less talking, and more listening, than before.

Next, be sure to make space in the arrangement conference for this more open-ended exchange. “I’ve seen funeral professionals do this exceptionally well by facilitating basic data collection in advance, so the entire arrangement conference is focused on planning a personalized service. There are a number of ways to do this; the simplest is just to provide a guided form for families to complete and bring with them to the arrangement conference,” explains Burmeister.

The Right Questions Can Guide Your Discussion

When you foster trust, combined with enough time and space to ask more open-ended questions, it’s much easier to get a sense of the personality and preferences of both the deceased and the surviving family members.

From there, you can piece together some ideas for personalization. You can always follow-up for more information or with more ideas later.

If you’re not sure how to engage in that sort of dialogue, you can use any of the following questions to start the discussion:

• What do you want people to remember about your [mom]?

• When you think about your [dad], what do you picture him doing?

• What was special about your relationship with your [brother]?

• How has your family historically celebrated milestone events like birthdays, anniversaries, and retirements?

Follow any of the tips presented here, and you will be well on your way to helping create a uniquely personal funeral that can help loved ones confront loss, celebrate life, and begin to process their grief.

Focus On Better Serving Your Families

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