We’ve been talking about the best place to start modernizing our cemetery, which is by increasing our customer value. Today I’m going to share some tips to help you get to know your cemetery customers better.
Every community is unique, so while we can learn a lot from cemeteries across the county we should start with our local friends and customers to get their perspective. Especially since they are who we serve. So let us begin:
1. Be careful making assumptions
Cemeteries, like many other small businesses, have a tenancy to rely on the same ideas and thoughts of yesteryear. It’s natural to make assumptions about how our customers feel, but if we are going to break the mold we are going to have to step out of our comfort zone and ask them for their true perspective.
“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” Henry Winkler
The best way to stop making assumptions is to simply ask questions and listen. Keeping an open mind to our customer’s needs is never a bad idea.
2. Learn & Leverage Social Media
Social media is one of the best places to find out about our customers. Connecting and engaging with them has never been easier. The insight we can gain from posting and reading the comments is invaluable. Where else can you get so much feedback from a diverse pool in such a short amount of time?
If you are not active on social media you missing out on a lot of information that can help your cemetery.
3. Train your counselors to ask questions
“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Teddy Roosevelt
This is a reinforcement of point number one, with an emphasis on training. Far too often, we personally know how to take care of our customers, but we don’t take the time and energy to share that knowledge with those who need it the most. Oh, undoubtedly we have made attempts… but somewhere along the line we got too busy or for some reason gave up. Why? Because training takes time, patience, and follow-up.
Don’t fail your counselors, train them and re-train them to ask and listen.
4. Establish an annual survey
One way to get consistent feedback is to commit to surveying the community to find out what really matters to them, what they find is fair, and how it affects their decision-making process. Here are a few methods:
- Snail mail it. This can still be effective because if you have a mailing list, it’s probably your most reliable source of data.
- Collect & send emails. This is a great approach IF you have an email mailing list. If you don’t, please, start collecting them.
- Social media. It’s public, but it’s so much faster and can actually be perceived as “more real” than other methods.
5. Hold an event
Holding an event is a very inviting and casual way to learn about your customers. It provides an atmosphere for conversations that are on a different level than any survey or office encounter you may incur.
Think outside the typical summer holiday schedule (Memorial Day, 4th of July, & Labor Day) and create a reason to gather at the cemetery. Here are a few ideas:
- Have a Halloween Party for the community. Invite families and have activities for the kids and drinks and hors d’oeuvres for the adults.
- Hold a grief counseling training with local clergy and counselors to network and share experiences and philosophies.
- Host or sponsor community awareness initiatives with first responders or public safety officials.
6. Create a customer profile
A customer profile is a description of your ideal customer. While it may seem like a strange concept for a cemetery consider it can be really helpful. Private and Public cemeteries would do well to establish a well-defined customer profile. This resource can help you build one.
If sales are not what they used to be, you can change that by adjusting your offerings to be more inclusive. Neighborhoods change and if your cemetery is in one you may need to change with it. For example, many cemeteries have opened the following sections or gardens to attract more customers:
- Religious Preference
- Green Burial
7. Ask for customer reviews
Today everyone seems to research online prior to making a purchase for anything! Now with the nature of the cemetery business, it certainly would not be appropriate to ask for a review during the period of grief and despair. However, after that time passes you have such a powerful opportunity to have your customers speak for you and the care you bestowed. To have this in writing, online is very rewarding.
On the other side of the coin, a poor review can be just as devastating. However, consider the words of one of the most influential leaders of our day:
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”Bill Gates
Too often times we fear our unhappy customers and distance ourselves from them. This approach never helps anyone. If we could embrace their feedback we can learn from our mistakes and bring about improvements that can take our customer experience to new heights!
In conclusion, as we seek to modernize our cemeteries, consider these questions: Why are you making improvements and is your customer first on the list? If that’s the case, then, do you know your customers and what they want? Let’s endeavor to keep our customers at the forefront of all our improvements.
If you’re looking to modernize your cemetery, there is no better place than to start than evaluating your customers and the value they see in your services. When customers are the focus of our modernization efforts then it will greatly lessen the risk of failure… and failure is a legitimate concern. Research studies on organizations attempting to implement new technology find that over 50% of organizations’ efforts fail to do so successfully. Why?
The reason for this may surprise you. We are often motivated and convinced to make improvements because of our staff, finances, operational efficiency, or regulatory compliance. Leaving our customers out of the equation altogether.
7 ways I’ve seen cemeteries increase customer value:
- Change your rules. Drop the rules that are offending and alienating your customer base. Create new rules that benefit the customer and lead to more revenue. What rules do you have that are insulting your customers?
- Offer more products & services with purpose.
- How many more times are you going to say “No, that’s not available” or “No, we can’t do that” to customers? Is it really impossible? Are there no compromises you can make? Consider changing that “no” to a “yes” with service fees.
- Think of the existing pain associated with the purchase of your current services, perhaps you can ease it with an extra level of service.
- Aftercare. This is one incredible method. It makes lasting impressions on families and will do wonders for your customer loyalty.
- Segment your offerings by type of customer. Adjust your product offerings and pricing to be affordable to all. Establish Good/Better/Best packages to vary by level of service to establish larger margins when appropriate. If you have a one-size-fits-all mentality you may be losing customers who do not fit the mold! The power choice is critical to consumers, don’t give them any reason to find alternatives to your services.
- Be more involved in the community and local businesses. Get active in local chambers, clubs, local/youth sports, and popular events.
- Increase your market basket by motivating customers to buy more items at one time.
- Share your data. Get your grave records online, immediately! You are missing out on brand awareness, influence, authority, and marketable online traffic.
- Make the hard decisions. There are two primary reasons I’ve heard cemeteries out-right refuse to change in this area of adding value to customers.
- Lack of talent. Employees in leadership positions without desire or vision for customer service.
- Conflicts of interest. Many cemeteries have influential employees or board members with their hands in a competing business that encroaches upon the cemeteries’ ability to sell certain offerings such as- markers, flowers. These relationships although deeply rooted, are disastrous, and illegal in other industries for good reason.
Today, there really is no excuse for not knowing our customers! We have so many tools to help us. My next post on “How to really get to know your customer” will set you a good path. Remember, we want to modernize for the right reason – customer value.
After traveling across North America and working exclusively with cemeteries over the last 8 years, I’ve found the number one reason most cemeteries continue to struggle. Whether the struggle is finances, talent, regulatory, morale, or “the times have changed”… it all boils down to one principle that has been lost!
Struggling cemeteries have forgotten to put customer value first.
Customer value is the amount of satisfaction your customer senses in your product or service.
I’ve heard the following excuses as to why “our cemetery [can’t, won’t, does not need to] change”:
- It’s too big or expensive of a problem
- We’ve never needed to do that before
- We’ve been in business for nearly 100 years no reason to change now
- We need to finish our XYZ project first
- Our customers have not changed
- We’re already more modern than most cemeteries
For an industry that has prided itself on “being there for you”, it’s sad to see how far out-of-touch many cemeteries have drifted.
If your cemetery is struggling, here are a few tips to help you start modernizing:
- Re-evaluate. Take a look at your product and service offerings. Now, I realize you have it memorized, but I need you to find it on paper… Go to the safe, inside the drawer, under the typewriter ribbon supply there is a dusty folded letterhead on linen paper… Ask yourself, if the times have changed? if people have changed? if they don’t understand the service… Hmmm, perhaps we should consider a change.
- Listen. Every Community is different. Embrace the variety in your community and build a product and service offering that meets their needs. If it still takes your staff 20-35 minutes to locate a burial location for loved ones, take a few of those minutes to ask the customer about their needs.
- Talk. Attend local cemetery association meetings and get to know what your fellow cemeterians are doing. If it sounds like just more of the same… stop and find someone who is doing something new and is succeeding at it. Look online for other cemeteries your size, that have a modern look, give them a call and schedule some time to chat.
- Take Action. Take what you have learned and implement it. It’s become proverbial, but take a cue from Nike and “Just do it!”
In my upcoming articles, I’ll be sharing with you a number of things I’ve seen cemeteries change that has made dramatic impacts on their customer value. Until then, if your cemetery has made changes with great success let us know, so we can share it with others!