Take the Assessment: How Effective Is Your Funeral Home's Communication?

Posted July 5, 2018

9 min read

The following is a guest post written by Lacy Robinson, CFSP, Director of Member Development for the National Funeral Directors Association. As an experience facilitator specializing in customer service skills, Robinson has practical yet creative ways to approach communications and relationship-building with families.

Increasing your communication skill level can directly impact a family’s experience at your funeral home. Your ability to build trust with families, discover valuable information, and give relevant recommendations can bring additional meaning and value.

Knowing your strengths and areas of needed improvement will jumpstart your actions to rethink and retool.

Take this short, 10-question assessment to determine your skill level in communicating with families. Respond to each question in a way that best reflects you, and not just the ideal response.

A family tells you they want to meet with the owner who they have known for many years to make arrangements. What would you do?

  1. Apologize for the owner being out of town.
  2. Explain the owner is out of town and tell the family your funeral home experience.
  3. Communicate your understanding of the family’s concern and proceed with telling the family about your experience with emphasis on your relationship with the owner. You also mention that you have notified the owner of their loved one’s death and plan on following up after the arrangement conference.

At the start of an arrangement conference you…

  1. Offer your condolences and begin asking questions from the arrangement form.
  2. Express your condolences and begin with, “So tell me about your mom.” you then you ask, “Had she been ill long?”
  3. Express condolences, give yourself a proper introduction, and manage the family’s expectations by giving them a brief overview of what will be taking place during the arrangement conference.

The family mentions that all seven of the grandchildren are under the age of 10. You respond by…

  1. Asking if they want each name listed in the obituary.
  2. Telling the family you have a private room available for children with books and a television.
  3. Encouraging the family to bring the children to the funeral home and then proceed to explore ways in which they are able to participate. You also emphasize the importance of talking to their children about grandma’s death by giving each parent the Youth & Funerals booklet addressing children and grief.

A family mentions they have several out of town family members flying in for their dad’s funeral. You…

  1. Reiterate how great their dad was and how many people loved him.
  2. Inform the family the chapel will accommodate up to 250 people.
  3. Offer to email hotel recommendations that offer a bereavement discount to share with out of town guests. You extend an offer to provide transportation to and from the funeral home as well.

A daughter mentions to you that she would like to incorporate flowers from her mother’s garden into the floral piece for the casket. What do you do?

  1. You say, “Yes, absolutely. Please bring the flowers prior to the public visitation and I will securely place those in the floral piece.”
  2. You say, “That would be great. Can you think of anything else you would like to do?”
  3. You say, “Absolutely. Tell me more about your mother’s flower garden. What kinds of flowers did she enjoy growing?”

During an arrangement conference, a son is sharing with you how his father came to be a collector of Coca-Cola memorabilia. During the conversation…

  1. You have great eye contact but your mind is distracted with everything you need to complete before tonight’s visitation.
  2. You nod your head and lean in to show you are interested.
  3. You nod your head, lean in, take notes and ask questions indicating you are fully engaged in this conversation.

Fishing was more than hobby to the deceased. It was a way of life for him. Your recommendations for personalizing his service are:

  1. A fishing pole and gear with pictures displayed.
  2. A fishing-themed embroidered panel with casket corners, in addition to the deceased fishing equipment displayed.
  3. Fishing depicted on the casket and personal items displayed, deceased wearing his fishing vest, fishing buddies serve as casket bearers. The grandchildren share their favorite memory of their grandpa at the funeral.

A daughter says she plans on scattering all of her mother’s cremated remains. What do you do?

  1. You mention urns specifically designed for scattering, but add that they serve no purpose after scattering.
  2. You make the recommendation of keeping a portion of cremated remains for herself.
  3. You suggest keeping a portion of cremated remains and ask about when and where she plans on scattering her mother’s cremated remains. You transition into a discussion about permanent memorialization.

You ask the daughter for her mother’s social security number and highest level of education achieved. She is very hesitant and timid to provide that information. What do you do next?

  1. You explain why you are asking for the information.
  2. You communicate your understanding of her concern and explain why you are asking.
  3. You explain why the information is needed, the strict confidentiality procedures in preventing identity theft and your understanding of her concern.

A mother and father comment that their son’s friends have been posting on his Facebook wall. You respond by…

  1. Commenting that Facebook has become a valuable tool in people expressing their grief.
  2. Offering to email the online tribute link that is located on the funeral home’s website and adding that it’s place where people can also share their memories and condolences.
  3. Offering to email the online tribute link along with instructions on how to effectively handle their son’s online accounts and profiles.

The family paid over $400 for their mother’s obituary and the newspaper published it on the wrong day. How do you respond?

  1. You blame the newspaper and say there’s nothing you can do.
  2. You refund the family $200, keeping your fingers crossed that everything else goes exactly as planned.
  3. You empathize with their frustration and work to put a plan in place to notify as many people as possible about the service times. You also tell the family you will be contacting the newspaper immediately asking for a resolution.

Communication Skills for Funeral Home Success

For every #1 answered you receive 1 point. Add up this subtotal.

For every #2 answered you receive 2 points. Add up this subtotal.

For every #3 answered you receive 3 points. Add up this subtotal.

Now, find your total number of points. Here is what they mean:


If you scored below 15 on the assessment, it indicates that you are shy in expressing your professional credibility as well as additional services the funeral home can provide. This reluctant approach prevents the family from feeling confident in decisions they make and the time they invest in your funeral home. You may often hold back in making strong recommendations due to not spending time exploring more about the deceased’s life.

To improve in these areas, practice communicating your capabilities and what makes you a professional. Help families believe in you by managing their expectations and keeping them informed at every phase of the experience. Work on asking questions that explore different aspects of a person’s life and base your recommendations on the information shared with you.

Appreciate the fact that families depend on you. Do not back down when a third party is involved and negatively impacts a families’ experience. Always be their advocate.


If you scored between 16 and 22 on the assessment, this signifies that, overall, you listen to your families and process the information they disclose to you. You may have a tendency to question the impact of recommendations and information you provide. For this reason, you often give families a good recommendation but not the best recommendation. Continue to listen to what families are saying and the stories they share.

Explore the possibilities to tell the life story through personal items and unique products. Think of ways family and friends could participate in the service. Gain confidence in yourself by keeping notes on positive reactions and responses from families. Use these testimonies and ideas to share as you explore possibilities. To aid in anticipating the needs of families, always be asking yourself the question, “How can I help this family even more?”


If you scored over 22 on the assessment, it reveals that you are confident in your interpersonal communication with families. You realize the importance of conveying your personal credibility and you take an active role in preparing families for what to expect.

You can continue being an advocate for families and especially children. You possess the ability to think creatively and often take the extra step in providing superior customer service. When making recommendations, be careful not to make them too early in the arrangement conference.

Your confidence is definitely a strength, however, being too confident will lead to downplaying serious situations. While you have many strengths, it’s healthy to demonstrate an open mind and positive attitude in accepting assistance from team members. When your plate becomes too full, allow others to help. Keeping your effective approach with families intact and your communication skills sharp will be your greatest challenge as your continue to provide the highest level of service to families.

About Lacy Robinson

This is a guest post written by Lacy Robinson, CFSP, Director of Member Development for the National Funeral Directors Association. “I have the great pleasure of traveling the United States and beyond facilitating NFDA’s Arranger Training Program,” says Robinson. “Whether you scored 15 or 24 on that short assessment, there is always a new skill or communication technique to learn in Arranger Training. What’s even better is that everything presented can be utilized immediately in the arrangement conference. If you’re thinking of attending, but want to know more call me and let’s talk.”

To learn more, look at Robinson’s upcoming training dates here.

For all the latest funeral trends and ideas you can also follow Lacy on Twitter @LacyNFDA and on Pinterest.

Categories: Industry

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