Public Opinion Concludes Funeral Service Has Dropped The Ball!

Success in the funeral service business depends on the public’s trust and good feelings about those who work in this industry. However, the public’s perception of the funeral service industry–and of funerals in general–is changing dramatically, as indicated by an extensive 2012 public opinion study by Olson Zaltman Associates (OZA) at the request of the Funeral Services Foundation. Below is an outline of the studies findings. Cremation Solutions will follow up this post with how the funeral industry has responded along with some conclusions on changes the public would like to see.

The Methodology

FoundationFuneral Foundation Study, which took place in the summer of 2012, interviewed more than a dozen individuals in Georgia and Kansas, with ages that range between 50 and 70, including those with a range of religious beliefs, of different races and ethnic backgrounds, and an equal number of men and women. They talked to each person between one and one-and-a-half hours.

The Findings

OZAThe OZA study, which sought to determine and elaborate on the public’s perception of funeral homes and end of life services, learned the following insights from their interviews:

Scarry Funeral Home1. The public views funeral homes as dark, confining and sometimes scary places. In the OZA study, respondents said things like funeral homes “are real formal and not really inviting, like art museums and galleries” and “they are sterile, cool and out of date.”

2. The mood of a traditional funeral is opaque. Those interviewed said things like a traditional funeral is “dark and difficult to see” and “it’s just about death, not the life of the person.” They are open to a moving and spiritual ceremony, just not one that focuses on the gloom doom of death.

Funeral Chapel3. People have negative feelings at a funeral home. At a typical funeral, those people interviewed felt “alone” (this was especially true of males in the study), “isolated,” “uneasy” and “like I’m being controlled.” They would avoid funeral homes because of the way they make them feel.

4. There is no transformation at a typical funeral. Most of the respondents felt that the typical funeral left the attendees feeling sad and depressed rather than feeling happy to have known the person who died. They yearn to connect with the life that was lived and want to share in keeping the memories alive.

The End5. The message of the traditional funeral is “This is the end.” Those interviewed in the study said things like “a traditional funeral forces me to accept that this person’s life is over.” They also mentioned that at the end of the funeral, mourners felt that they couldn’t talk about the deceased, that the person’s “chapter” was closed. This is the complete opposite of people desire to re-visit and continue the message of the deceased!

6. People want to be more in control of their end of life service. Those interviewed want their own funeral to be their “crowning performance.” They want to be the writer, the producer, the director, the star. They don’t want their funeral to be just like everyone else’s. After all, their life isn’t just like everyone else’s. The majority of respondents wanted to decide things like the setting, the “props,” the mood and the soundtrack/music of their end of life service. They want their life message to be heard. “I Lived, I mattered. This is what is important to me, continue my work and make a difference.

Good Funerals

Here’ To You!

7. People want to put the “fun” back in funeral. The ideal end of life service for most of the people interviewed in the service was one that celebrated the life of the person who died. Respondents said things like they wanted people to wear bright colors rather than traditional black clothing; that they wanted the music to be up-beat rather than solemn, even including rock or other contemporary music; and that they wanted the setting for the service to be somewhere that had been meaningful to them, such as a park or a beach.

8. People want funerals to be informal with room for improvising. Rather than follow a strict, formal script, many of the respondents wanted their end of life service to be a casual, free-flowing affair, where guests would feel comfortable standing up and sharing anecdotes and memories about them.

Life9. People see their funerals as a final way to share what was important to them. Those in the survey shared examples where the minister or service leader didn’t really know the deceased and thus had difficulty sharing what was special to them during their life. One respondent talked about her father’s funeral, where the minister “got it wrong” by lauding him as a war hero even though he was a pacifist and only served in a support capacity during World War II. Others indicated that they would like to have their service highlight their religious beliefs, even including printing literature about their church for mourners to take with them after the service.

10. People feel that a good service is transformative. Many of those interviewed indicated that, to them, a good end of life service would be transformative, leaving those attending feeling good about themselves and about the person who has died. Most saw dancing, singing and laughing as an integral part of an ideal service.

11. Many were concerned about the high cost of a funeral. Virtually all respondents were concerned about their families’ spending too much on a funeral, so much that it would leave them financially strapped. They have a hard time seeing the value in traditional funeral services. It’s no surprise more and more are opting for an event put together by friends and family and using the funeral home as a disposal service.

This is How it's Done!

This is How it’s Done!

12. Consumers see funeral directors differently than they see themselves. Another OZA study, in 2011, interviewed funeral directors and found that the majority view themselves as “caring creators,” people who help families design their ideal service, heal wounds and build foundations for the future. However, the 2012 consumer study concluded that consumers don’t see funeral directors as creators, but rather as “rulers,” or even “bullies,” telling them what they can and cannot do with their–and their loved ones’–end of life service.

The general perception of funeral directors, as gleaned from the study, was that directors are cold and impersonal, inflexible and “remote and robotic.” One interviewee said that they felt funeral service professionals were more interested in “getting the job done” than in helping the family in a difficult time.

The Conclusions

The analysts on this study drew several conclusions from their interviews:

  • While most funerals are still traditional funerals, non-traditional end of life services are becoming more and more popular.
  • The so-called “Boomer” generation is less traditional and more individualistic than previous generations. The sponsors of the study extrapolated that future generations may be even less traditional.
  • The “green” movement is becoming increasingly attractive to consumers who purchase services from the funeral services industry.
  • Consumers attitudes are changing about the meaning of life and death.
  • Most consumers equate traditional funeral services with death, whereas many would prefer an end of life service to focus on life. A ceremony that reflects on the life while building a foundation for mourners to feel good about their relationship with the deceased as they carry those believes into the future.
  • These feelings about death and end of life services transcend race, geography, sex and religious affiliation.

Final thoughts

Based on this study, it’s clear that the funeral services industry has a lot of work to do to adapt and change to best suit what the public is looking for in end of life services. Simply doing what we’ve always done is, increasingly, not enough to meet the expectations of this less traditional and more individualistic new funeral services consumer. How we, as an industry, meet this challenge is affecting the very existence of funeral homes as we know them today. Record numbers of funeral homes are now closing their doors as those who adapt thrive. As discounters and cremation societies rapidly grow their businesses the opportunity to show the public the value in funeral service continues to diminish. Remember just like one poorly embraced cookie cutter funeral can take away the chance of your funeral home doing a dozen future funerals, One memorable celebration of life that moves people to say WOW! that’s the kind of funeral I want, can and will set the stage for future funeral plans.

The possibilities are exciting. Our funeral providers have an opportunity to shape the way end of life services continue in the 21st century. We have the chance to be the stage managers behind individually-choreographed funeral services where Celebrants and green funeral options will get people thinking and talking about creating meaningful and memorable funeral service. Just because that’s not the way we’ve always done it doesn’t mean that’s not the way of the future.

We invite you to share your thoughts about this study and how you see the funeral services industry evolving in the next decade. Please leave a comment and join the discussion.

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11 Responses to Public Opinion Concludes Funeral Service Has Dropped The Ball!

  1. Excellent post Jeff…the question is if anyone in the industry is really listening? Keep up the good work! #thefuneralcommander

  2. Dave Savage says:

    We hope that many of the ideas and materials in our soon to launch book will encourage families, clergy, chaplains, funeral professionals and other advisers and friends to suggest ways to make memorial and funeral services and ceremonies more heartfelt and relevant. Our website (being remodeled) already has lots on related content, embedded videos and resource links to spark important conversations. You can add your advice and marketing materials to private label editions.
    We would would appreciate your advice and conversation about what we are providing. Some of it affirms and supplements what is provided in officiant training programs.

    Dave Savage – Co-author, educator and officiant – Atlanta HeartfeltMemorialServices.com

  3. Rebecca Dziuk says:

    I am a hospice nurse and “my very close brother” died suddenly.He was a bachelor, but very close to all family members and friends We had a small family service at the home of my living brother and then a larger service at my home (his sister) for all the friends and ‘Extended family”. My deceased brother was cremated in that we knew he would not want his money spent on a large funeral ( with casket and all the ceremony). It was very moving, private memorial to his life. I think people need guidance from funeral directors on death certificates,how the deceased would want to be memorialized, possible advice about fiances, how to write an obituary , advice on wills , photographs of all phases of a person’s life, a “CD “available of the photographs of those who might want to buy,and then a genuine, heart felt memorial to the individuals life, lending advice to friends or family who can speak to his life ( fun, true, speaking about the deceased as he/she really were).
    Maybe the next phase of funeral directing, if families choose cremation, with our society and the closeness of families vanishing and people no longer going to church, “the funeral business should have many different ways a person can be memorialized”. A determination of how much a family is willing or able to spend should be the biggest consideration. I have had had two families, where the the family of the deceased mortgaged their home to pay for the funeral and then eventually lost their home to pay for the $10.000 funeral. ( both families had small children and were low income families ) The pressure for formal funeral was huge, and they did not know any other way. How a funeral home is going to make money, I do not know, but many options should be given and supported by the funeral home business, in a very loving sympathetic manner.
    i appreciate all you do everyday It is not an easy business.

  4. The solution, as I see it, is to include Celebrants in the process. The uplifting, personal, inclusive services the respondents are calling for is exactly what I create. Unfortunately, I find some funeral directors resistant to using Celebrants because they believe I’m taking another piece of a shrinking pie. What they need to understand is that I’m actually able to improve their services and increase their business.

  5. Donna Russell says:

    Some very good and valuable points are raised in this article, for the public and the funeral professional. I think it comes down to choice, if one funeral home is not able or willing to provide the service the consumer is looking for there is probably another funeral home in the area that is. When I read this article what came to mind is consumer….pre-plan to get the service you are looking for. When left to the family to plan a service after one is deceased families are much more reliant on the funeral professional to guide them to what has been the norm. If you have ideas on what you would like your funeral to look like make it known to those around you, it is a gift to your family so they aren’t left wondering what would he/she have wanted.

  6. Mark Powell says:

    Good article Jeff. Funeral homes in general are as the survey found. Being in hospice I have helped hundreds of families and individuals choose and plan their ‘last wishes’. The biggest problems as I see them are as follows:

    1. HIGH COST – Many, if not most, funeral homes have raped families for over a century. They prey on grief to up the $$$. Even in my dad’s case I had an empty limo follow us all over town because it didn’t show up at the house but later at the funeral service. No adjustment was made even after some aggressive negotiation by me. Just the letter of the contract.

    2. WHO IS THE CUSTOMER – They have either forgotten or never knew society has changed. For crying out loud don’t they know they are dealing with the Hula Hoop generation (Baby Boomers). We are the generation that grew up with Rock n Roll and an attitude of ‘we will never grow old’. And now you want tell us we’re going to die!! Please!

    3. LIGHTEN UP – Be friendly. Most people believe that if they are ‘a good person’ they are going to heaven or another celestial place, even if you don’t. Learn to make the passing of a life as a celebration of better things to come not as Jim Morrison sings “This is the end. My only friend the end”

  7. kathy pence says:

    Great I feel the same way in the industry over 26 years first sell yourself then sell the product trust needs to be earned .by the customer your working with .

  8. What about the concept of utilizing Aquamation technology to transform one’s inherent energy into bestowable light or heat that could be donated back to their church, their community or to a charitable organization of their choosing? Why would anyone want to allow a loved one’s intrinsic power to be lost in the ground or to be destroyed by fire and simply become a pollutant to the air quality of the living when their energy can be transformed into something of meaning and significance with Aquamation?

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  10. Jeffrey Hicks says:

    One of the issues of community perception is there are too many who represent our profession as the “funeral industry”. The dictionary defines industry as – economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories. When we who are a part of our profession do not even know how to represent ourselves to our communities their perception will continue to decline. We are the funeral profession! Let’s represent it as such. Be open to change! Meet the families needs and stop doing things as we always have.

    Jeffrey W. Hicks, MBA

  11. Pingback: The Future of Funerals | Celebrations of Life | Celebrant Funerals | Cremation Solutions

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