Funeral Home Marketing: On-Stage vs Off-Stage

My oldest sister gave me “the look.”

It was a look I had seen many times growing up, and it meant that she was getting very annoyed about something.

We were at my mother’s visitation. My siblings and I were lined up beside her casket, receiving condolences from extended family, friends, and old acquaintances.

When the visitation began, I noticed that some of our elderly relatives were having a hard time opening the heavy front door of the funeral home. I asked the funeral home owner to assign someone to help with the front door, which he did.

The man he assigned to the door greeted everyone with a big smile and a cheerful “Hi! The Callaghan’s are over there,” and he’d point to our visitation room.

My sister had noticed this greeting and thus began “the look.”

Next, one of the Funeral Directors joined the other gentleman at the door. I hoped that would bring a more professional tone to the greeting, but it only made things worse.

The two men spent the next half hour standing outside our visitation room, telling jokes and laughing loudly.

We were greeting our guests and choking back tears while these idiots were standing ten feet away laughing.

I have three sisters, and they all gave me “the look,” which was their way of saying, “please deal with this.”

I asked the funeral home owner to put a stop to the laughing. He shrugged and said that he would talk to them. But, unfortunately, the laughing continued.

Enough was enough….I walked over to the men and told them to leave immediately. That’s when I noticed that both men smelled like they had spent their lunch break at a local tavern.

That particular funeral home served over 300 families a year, and the two jokesters were both long-time employees. I wonder how many other families had the same bad experience?

There’s that word again….experience.

In last week’s newsletter, I discussed the importance of intentionally planning the experience at your funeral home. Everything from the rose you leave on the pillow after a removal to the dove you release at graveside can, and should, be part of an overall experience plan.

Having a plan for creating memorable moments is essential. However, here’s something else you should factor into your plan.

Your funeral home should have a clear line between “on stage” and “off stage.”

Joseph Pine and James Gilmore wrote the book “The Experience Economy – Work Is Theatre & Every Business a Stage.” In it, they discuss the importance of making sure your entire team knows how to perform when they are “on stage.”

In a funeral business, you are “on stage” whenever you could potentially be in contact with a family or their guests. Depending upon your funeral home’s layout, you could spend most of your day “on stage.”

Years ago, I spent a consulting day at Glenn Funeral Home in Owensboro, KY. One of the things that impressed me the most was the clear delineation between “on stage” and “off stage.”

Most funeral homes have a separate employees-only area, but Glenn Funeral Home takes that to another level by providing backstage exits throughout the facility. A design like that makes it easy to facilitate the funeral experience without being overly obvious or intrusive.

To create funeral experiences, you must have a clear line between “on stage” and “off stage.” And most importantly, you must train your staff to conduct themselves in a certain way whenever they are “on stage.”

The owner of the funeral home where we held my mother’s visitation didn’t understand this concept. For example, when I met with him before my mother passed away, it was in his messy office surrounded by stacks of files he hadn’t bothered putting away and bags of cremated remains in the corner.

No wonder his two long-time employees thought it was ok to tell jokes when they were just feet away from my mother’s casket.

No wonder his funeral home fell on hard times and was recently sold to a better-run competitor.

To succeed in the experience economy, you must adopt a theatre production mindset. Your “off stage” employee-only area can be chaotic, messy, and even boisterous. But when you step on stage and engage a family… it’s showtime.

Until next time


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