How Your Funeral Home Can Make a Positive First - and Lasting - Impression with Families

Posted April 26, 2016

6 min read

CRäKN interviewed Jessica Fowler, the Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer at ASD – Answering Service for Directors. Fowler has answered the calls of funeral homes nationwide for more than 10 years. In that time, she has fielded more than 350,000 calls and 16,000 first calls. See what we learned when we spoke to Fowler about how funeral homes can engage with communities and what they should consider when it comes to communication and making first & lasting impressions with families.

Philanthropic efforts will help a funeral home begin to build relationships with families in their local community.

“Like many people working in the funeral profession, I am bothered by the substantial number of negative stories and depictions in the media that portray funeral directors in an unfair and unflattering light. By becoming involved with their local communities and by giving back, directors can take back control of the message and be their own spokesperson instead of the media.”

“When a major tragedy occurs, directors are uniquely positioned to provide support in ways that others cannot.” For instance, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, directors from all over New England traveled to Newtown and volunteered to help with coordinating services. Others held candlelight vigils for those struggling to process the events. In the days and weeks following Hurricane Sandy, John Vincent Scalia Funeral Home in Staten Island became a designated shelter and donation center. And in St. Louis where the homicide rate has steadily increased, funeral directors joined together to hold a “Stop the Violence” rally to bring attention to this problem.

“Funeral directors can greatly influence how their funeral home is perceived by the public by investing in philanthropic efforts,” says Fowler. Funeral homes that help their neighborhoods through community outreach often gain recognition and support by acting as a resource to families in the area.

Families are more likely to remember and appreciate a funeral home that supports the local area, says Fowler.

The Internet also brings increasing opportunity for funeral homes to start to connect with families. “As ASD’s Public Relations Specialist, I spend a great deal of time looking at different ways funeral homes communicate with their followers online. The Internet has empowered many funeral homes to reach more people and build lasting relationships,” says Fowler. “It is inspiring to see so many funeral homes finding new and creative ways to connect with their community through philanthropic efforts.”

Funeral homes’ digital presence serves to humanize funeral services and homes for families.

The use of online communication has created much more of an open dialogue between funeral homes and the public. Directors can use their website, blog, email newsletter and social media sites to relay information to residents in their area, suggests Fowler. “This provides an opportunity for engaging conversations and for funeral directors to build credibility as a thought leader in the community.”

“What’s more is online communication allows directors to remove the barrier between the public and the death care profession by showing the human side of funeral service. For example, directors can post bios of their staff, share personal experiences and use video or photos to give people a behind-the-scenes look at life at a funeral home.”

Many funeral homes now use online platforms to provide resources to the community in the form of helpful tips on everything from preneed to probate laws. Others will share details about upcoming and past events such as a service of remembrance or a social gathering for senior citizens. “For instance, at McGuinness Funeral Home in Sewell and Woodbury, New Jersey, the directors have a page on their website dedicated to community events.” The firm offers everything from grief support workshops to painting classes to free community shredder events.

Since funeral professionals must carry themselves in a dignified and solemn manner during services, participating in a community event gives directors a chance to show others their personalities and sense of humor. “Many people automatically associate funeral homes with tragedy and loss. Hosting a fun social event creates an opportunity to change this perception by bringing people together in a positive and uplifting environment.” These efforts encourage the public to think of the funeral home as both a resource and a place of healing, adds Fowler.

Focus on improving a family’s first impression with your firm.

When it comes to communication, funeral directors also need to take proactive steps to protect and monitor all open lines of communication. “Many firms spend a great deal of time enhancing the look of their facilities without considering the first impressions formed by families who call the funeral home or do research online. Funeral homes that carefully monitor telephone activity and website inquiries have a major competitive advantage and are likely to be seen as more responsive businesses by their communities,” adds Fowler.

“With call forwarding and mobile technology, it is easier than ever for funeral professionals to remain linked to their office activity from any location. Directors can program their phones so they forward automatically to a secondary number if not picked up at the funeral home within several rings, for example,” she says.

In a perfect world, the staff would answer every call to the funeral home, no call would ever be missed, and every first impression would be positive as a result. But the reality is this isn’t always possible. “However, having a designated backup reduces the possibility of missing an important call. Funeral directors need support to avoid burnout and to continue assisting families with patience and empathy,” Fowler adds.

Communicating with the public, especially after hours, is an area where directors often have different philosophies – but with the right technology in place, every philosophy can be supported. “While one director may like to be contacted for every message, the director in the next town may prefer to screen these calls more tightly. Understanding that every funeral home operates differently, firms such as ASD have created solutions that allow directors to tailor how calls are answered and dispatched.”

About Jessica Fowler

Jessica Fowler is the Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer at ASD – Answering Service for Directors. Jessica has answered the calls of funeral homes nationwide for more than 10 years. In that time, she has fielded more than 350,000 calls and 16,000 first calls. Jessica 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 and funeral trends. To learn more about ASD and the communication features mentioned in this article, you can contact Jessica at 800-868-9950 or visit www.myASD.com.

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