Creating an Experience

Once upon a time I was the editor of a golf magazine, which was a pretty nice gig until 9/11, which, among far more serious repercussions, also sucked the air right out of the tourism industry, and my humble publication. But I learned some valuable lessons about experience marketing, which is what the best golf resorts do so well, and what most funeral homes could do better — create an experience.

I once wrote a story about a man named Joe Jemsek, who created a fantastic collection of golf in Chicago called Cog Hill, which is where the PGA Tour plays the Western Open every year. Joe was a pioneer in the industry, and a fascinating success story, having started as a caddy. Most people credited Joe with inventing the idea of the upscale public golf course, the “country club for a day” experience, during a time so dominated by private clubs. It was a brilliant idea, and today there are far more upscale public courses than there are private ones.

Joe’s business philosophy was simple: Give ’em what they want, and they’ll come back for more. And he did. He built four beautiful golf courses, and — gasp! — even put carpet in the pro shop. Everyone told him, “You can’t put carpet in the pro shop! The golfers’ spikes will wear it right out!” Joe just smiled knowingly and said, “Yes, and I hope they wear it out quick!”

Most of us don’t have to worry about people wearing golf spikes in our funeral homes (save for those “personalized” funerals), but we can take something from Joe’s lesson. It’s all about creating an experience, an experience people can’t get anywhere else. This is about more than good service, too, which is merely the price of admission (or at least, it should be). It’s about attentively — and intuitively — attending to your customers’ needs.

Quick, by a show of hands, how many of you allow food in your funeral homes?

Whether it’s shrimp cocktail at the funeral service, or delivered pizzas at the visitation, having some food served only adds to the experience. So if you don’t allow food, why not? Afraid they might spill on the carpet? Afraid that doesn’t fit the “traditional” funeral model?

That should be a good thing.

Like it or not, times are changing, and customers are demanding more from funeral service. They’re demanding the funeral experience be more about them, and less about the cars and caskets. And they’re demanding funeral providers put the “home” back in “funeral home.” That means comfortable seating, relaxed atmosphere, personal, meaningful funerals, and yes, even food.

It’s time to embrace this new model of funeral service, centered upon the life that was lived, and on preserving and sharing those memories with future generations. It’s time to offer your customers an experience, and an experience they can’t get anywhere else. Give them what they want, and what they need, and they’ll return the favor in the future.

In short, it’s time you let your customers have their cake — and eat it, too.

Don Shell is a staff writer for Life Story Network®, a Portage, Michigan-based multimedia company serving 15 independently-owned funeral homes in the Midwest. For more information, visit http://www.lifestorynet.com/, or email Don at donshell@lifestorynet.com.