Originally published on March 2, 2023 in Digital for Directors

In January 2023, NFDA released the results of its “Value of a Funeral” Consumer Study in The Director magazine. A key question they sought to answer was whether “pandemic-induced changes in the funeral service experience had taken root in consumers’ minds.” While the NFDA surveyed focused on the value which consumers perceive in funeral ceremonies, the services of funeral professionals, holding viewings, and attending a funeral or memorial service via live stream, the data uncovered some important insights into the value of live streaming funerals and virtual attendance.

Let’s set the scene by highlighting the fact that the number of people today who have attended a funeral in person or who have been involved in planning a funeral is just over one in two. Also noteworthy is the fact that more than 8 out of every 10 people believes it’s important to attend a funeral in person. This stands in contrast to a recently popularized myth that fewer people will attend a funeral if you offer them the opportunity to attend it virtually.

Looking for ways to connect with the funeral experience

Several articles written since the start of the pandemic on the topic of virtual funerals have shared a common theme: online guests can struggle to connect with the funeral experience as virtual attendees.

While that may not seem surprising, consider for a moment the lacking quality of those experiences. Most funeral homes still live stream funerals on Facebook, Zoom, or an old funeral streaming system—and only when a family asks for it.

The majority of funeral homes and cemeteries have not yet paid enough attention to creating a refined brand experience for their live streams that serves as a natural extension of the in-person event. They haven’t begun to achieve parity between their carefully-crafted in-person funerals and the “noisy,” casual online experiences they’re offering online guests.

In spite of this, the majority of people we’ve spoken to tells us that they believe attending a funeral virtually is a good option and almost as good as attending in person. This sentiment is often rooted in their gratitude to the family and funeral home for making their virtual attendance possible and including them in a moment they would have otherwise been forced to miss. And there’s overwhelming consensus among funeral professionals that live streaming is here to stay.

Ignoring virtual experiences is hurting the profession

Until mid-2020, online funeral experiences were uncommon, and a successful funeral business built its brand, reputation and customer base mostly on the merits of personal, professional, in-person experiences. If you believe that nothing has really changed, you likely would have also read NFDA’s survey results as confirming your bias that live streaming doesn’t help people grieve, doesn’t adequately convey the level of care you offer, and isn’t really worthwhile from a business perspective. The results, however, also revealed some disturbing trends that should be setting off alarm bells with funeral business owners, sales executives and pre-need planners everywhere.

What was perhaps most obvious was the fact that funeral professionals and businesses and missing key opportunities to connect with, educate and build trust with future customers who have needed to attend virtually.

It was also surprising to see that the perceived value of services offered by funeral professionals slipped downward during the pandemic—even though more were attending and necessarily planning funerals in 2020 and 2021.

Based on NFDA’s data, however, that was just one missed opportunity. They discovered, in fact, that people who have never attended nor planned a funeral actually have greater confidence in the value of those services offered by funeral professionals than individuals who had already attended a funeral virtually.

The point is that the funeral profession—by ignoring the quality and types of engagement possible with guest-centred funeral experience platforms—is squandering real opportunities to demonstrate value, make lasting impressions and influence future buying decisions. Dissatisfying virtual funeral experiences are hurting the growth of individual funeral businesses and the profession at large because they are happening in exactly the same environment in which consumers are spending more time and more money—online.

This general lack of attention to the details of virtual guest experiences was also evident in data on consumers perceived value in holding a funeral service. Those who had attended a funeral virtually were also less likely to see value in holding a funeral or memorial service as an effective means of paying tribute to a loved one, beginning their own healing processes or grief journeys, reflecting on their loved one’s life, and saying goodbye. These facts represent a vast opportunity for improvement, for consumer education and for growing market share. They should not be interpreted as a lack on the part of virtual media to engage guests in meaningful ways. The problem lies in the profession’s laggardly adoption of the tools and features which mainstream digital media already offer to serve their families. In fact, finding a simple, dedicated funeral experience platform that offers live streaming, direct guest engagement and family-led customization isn’t difficult.

If you want to learn more about how to improve the online guest experience you’re offering today, let us know. We can help you adopt a simple solution that will not only delight families but your staff, too.

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