With technology increasing consumers expectations of transparency, the effect on the funeral industry needs to be considered. Ian Strang, CEO of Funeral Booker.com gives his opinion on the way people are selecting their bereavement partners.
The funeral industry has long been overdue a sprinkling of digital transformation, from both the consumer and supplier sides of the market.
Increased population movement within, as well as into, the UK has meant that consumers often no longer know their local funeral director, crematorium or cemetery. Furthermore, funerals are often booked remotely by a relative who may never have been to that area. The industry can no longer solely rely on high-street locations or word-of-mouth passed down through generations.
In any line of business today, consumers demand to be served in a transparent manner through the digital device of their choice. However, until recently, a lack of technology within the funeral industry has rendered its consumers powerless, restricted in their choices by a lack of information on pricing and service quality.
One Funeral Director might charge twice the price of another Funeral Director two hundred metres down the road. A Funeral Director who has served the family for generations may now be a corporate behemoth, wrapped in the sheep’s clothing of an old family name above the door. And the language of the industry remains antiquated, couched in terms such as disbursements or interment that are alien to many nowadays.
To that end, we launched Funeralbooker, with the aim of connecting consumers with the best funeral directors. We allow consumers to quickly and easily understand who the right funeral director is for them - using clear pricing entered by the funeral directors themselves and reviews from actual customers who have used the platform. To date, our service has been embraced by consumers and funeral directors alike. We now count 20% of independent funeral directors as our partners and although not all the industry is yet to embrace transparency, there is a sense that the move towards online pricing and reviews is not going to go away. With the benefits of the internet being rapidly adopted by independent funeral directors, it would surely be reasonable for other parts of the industry to assume that similar changes will come at pace to their respective domains. In the same way that bolder Funeral Directors are embracing the move online and benefitting from their early adoption, wise service providers of crematoria and cemeteries will be looking ahead. Future consumers in this industry will not have the same limited demands as previous ones – investment in technology will be needed to keep up. Keep up with whom, some might ask? A reasonable question, perhaps, since many crematoria have existed in a geographical monopoly for years. In the same way that Funeral Directors have relied on their High-Street locations, crematoria have been able to operate with very little competition, receiving a steady stream of business from the local area. Consumer power has been even more limited than with Funeral Directors. For many years, there has been very little that families can use to differentiate crematoria apart from the fact that they might have historical connections to a certain location through their deceased relatives. In terms of recommending crematoria or informing a family about different local options, crematoria are often reliant on the Funeral Director. With the advent of technology, consumers using Funeralbooker can now see cemeteries and crematoria on a map with clear pricing information. They can make a price-sensitive choice and, at worst, engage in discussion with the Funeral Director about which venue to use and, at best, to dictate their choice of venue. However, as we have found with Funeral Directors on our website, price is not the only deciding factor for consumers and indeed not even the most important one. All our data and customer feedback indicates that consumers select Funeral Directors based on the description of their business, reviews and their service offerings, equally as much as price. Indeed, in the future, we will likely release the ability for Funeralbooker users, who have arranged a funeral through the website, to rate their experience with their crematorium or cemetery for others to view. It is not a great leap to envisage that soon, consumers will want to actively select a crematorium based on those same sorts of details. Services offered could become key differentiators for consumers, increasingly empowered to take control of their funeral options through transparency of information online - and most importantly - easily comparable information in one place online. Furthermore, growing market segments such as natural burial will likely embrace the opportunity to gain increased visibility to consumers online in the decision-making process, providing increased competition for incumbents. It could therefore be argued that three areas are key to safeguarding or growing future revenues with the technological changes coming to the funeral industry. Firstly, by investing or continuing to invest in new technologies, as well as grounds and facilities, to stay ahead of competition. These services may turn out to be deciding factors for the modern consumer, whether in the form of individual requests like live-casting or simply as table stakes, for example having eco-friendly accreditation. Secondly, by ensuring that business websites are modern and contain all relevant information that the consumer may need to decide on a venue. Finally, by maintaining quality profiles on comparison websites, as and when they appear. Having your own website up to date is important for those consumers who view it, but the reality may be that many may not end up visiting it before making their purchasing decision, because their online journey takes place elsewhere. In times of technological change, those businesses who not only adapt, but actively embrace the change, are likely to be the ones who succeed. As Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”.
For more information, please contact;
Ian Strang at Funeralbooker.com. firstname.lastname@example.org