By Bill Williams, president and CEO of Funeral Services Inc.

Trust is at the heart of every strong, lasting relationship. For funeral directors and cemeterians, it will be the deciding factor in earning new business, especially from the next generation of consumers planning to purchase preneed services.

In today’s increasingly polarized social landscape, trust has emerged as a company’s most valuable asset. News stories and social media abound with reports about businesses engaging in misleading advertising, selling faulty products, or treating customers or employees unethically.

It should not come as a shock that PwC’s 2023 Trust Survey uncovered that every industry it surveyed saw an erosion in consumer trust in 2023. The study, for example, reported that only 35% of consumers said they “highly trust” health care companies (down from 37% the prior year) – and health care was the highest-rated sector in the report. PwC also noted that 22% of survey respondents gave that same rating to technology, media and telecommunications businesses (a decline from 26% in 2022).

Funeral directors and cemeterians are all too familiar with the role that trust plays in building relationships with families in the communities they serve. Over the years, they have seen how the actions of a few bad actors can damage that hard-earned reputation. But here’s the problem: There is a trust disconnect between death-care professionals and consumers. Research by the Foresight Companies estimates that 54% of consumers believe our industry is honest compared to 76% of death-care professionals.

We need to bridge that gap. A survey by Edelman, a highly respected global communications company, shows that consumers are placing more importance on trust when making purchasing decisions. In its 2023 Trust Barometer report, Edelman found that 71% of consumers said it was “more important to trust the brands I buy or use today than in the past.” For Gen Z (ages 18-26) and Millennials (ages 27-42) – two demographics that have a significant impact on buying trends and who represent future customers – that level jumps up a few notches, to 79% and 76%, respectively.

One of the best ways to build trust is by leveraging the power of modern technology to connect with consumers. To be sure, seminars and open forums at retirement centers, libraries or recreational facilities where senior aggregate play an important role in winning new business. The internet, however, has steadily increased in importance as a lead-generation tool, and it is why our industry must allocate more financial and human capital to develop.

Bill Williams, president and CEO of Funeral Services Inc., prides himself on being a man of integrity. His word is his bond.
How to Become the “Go To” Informative Resource for Preneed Services

It is not easy to earn the trust of consumers when they do not understand a product or service your business is selling. And the simple truth is that most consumers are confused about preneed and how they can benefit from the service. The Foresight Companies backs that up with this statistic: 42% of consumers are not familiar with the services offered by funeral homes and cemeteries.

Ongoing engagement with families in your community is one of the biggest steps you can take to build trust. Edelman researchers found that 79% of consumers “directly interact” with companies, such as reading, viewing and sharing brand content, participating in a company’s events (online or in person), and providing direct feedback (via social media posts, online reviews or direct emails). To increase your interaction with families, here’s what you need to do:

Turn your website into a preneed resource: To be recognized as a trusted adviser for funeral services, you must make it easy for families to conduct their research. Your website has to provide a wide range of educational content to help visitors make informed decisions. Regularly publish informational videos, “how to” articles, downloadable PDF brochures and videos that help families in your community plan and purchase services, especially preneed services. To improve search results, make sure top-ranked keywords are included in your educational content and the meta description of applicable web pages.

Enhance your social media profile: It is essential to have a strong social media presence (Facebook, Nextdoor) to connect with consumers and demonstrate that you will be there for them at the appropriate time (preneed or at-need). You also need to invest in advertising on relevant social media sites. The campaigns will not break the bank, and you can target potential customers by location, interests, age, gender and occupation. There are a wide variety of cost-effective apps that can help you plan, schedule, create social media content and buy advertising to drive traffic to your website. Remember, the more you engage with families in your community, the better the likelihood they will trust your business.

Make it Easy to Plan, Buy Customized Preneed Services

In the digital age, the Internet has become the primary tool to purchase services. Advances in website design and e-commerce technology fueled that demand as consumers gained more control in personalizing the products/services they want. The travel and hospitality industries learned a long time ago. Your funeral home and cemetery should follow suit, and here’s how you do it:

Allow customized celebration of life services: If your website cannot allow visitors to create tailor-made memorial services, then you are losing business. The days of traditional funeral services are fading. Customers want to review a wide variety of memorial service options and, with a few clicks of a mouse, create a plan that meets their needs. Families value customization and will pay more for it than generic or standardized services.

Make it easy to change their mind, but still make a purchase: Your website should have robust eCommerce capabilities that simplify the purchasing journey and allow consumers to save and update their items. That kind of flexibility and functionality gives your families the control they desire and enhances the shopping experience. Your eCommerce platform also should have a frictionless process that makes it easy to execute a preneed contract, pay with a credit card and set up recurring payments (if applicable).

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “Our distrust is very expensive.” By following these tips, your business will be better positioned to earn the trust of families, generate more preneed business and position your company for sustained success.

Bill Williams is the President and CEO of Funeral Services, Inc.

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