Help Us, Social Media. You Are Our Only Hope.
The funeral industry is too often known for its worst practitioners. The practitioners who take financial advantage of the bereaved in their most helpless state. Those who price gouge and exploit. Those who use the dark side of the Force.
So how can you – the consumer – distinguish between the funeral homes that genuinely want to serve you and those that want to weasel their way into your wallet?
Some suggest that the distinction is as easy as corporate vs. family run, that corporate run funeral homes are the bad guys and family owned are suit wearing angels (i.e. Six Feet Under). And while it may be true that corporate tends to be more about the bottom line, the assumption that all family owned funeral homes are good is just plain FALSE. I’ve seen many family funeral directors that hide horns underneath their greased hair and will stop at nothing to “up sell” families into buying a more expensive funeral.
Years ago, Jessica Mitford with her “You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty” Jedi journalistic mantra managed to expose many a guilty funeral director. In her “American Way of Death”, Mitford wittingly embarrassed the abuses of the funeral industry in the 1960s and paved the way for the “Funeral Rule” in the early 1980s … the “Funeral Rule” that is meant “to protect consumers by requiring that they receive adequate information concerning the goods and services they may purchase from a funeral provider.”
The “Funeral Rule” externally demanded disclosure and transparency from the funeral industry. And yet, despite the “Funeral Rule” we are still seeing reports such as this:
In 2012, 23 of the 127 funeral homes, or about 18%, that the FTC visited undercover “significantly violated” the federal agency’s Funeral Rule, a 1984 law that requires funeral homes to give consumers itemized price lists, prohibits them from requiring the purchase of certain items like caskets as a condition to get other products and services, and bars aggressive selling of services not required by law, like embalming.
FOR THE SAKE OF THE CUSTOMER, HOW CAN THE GOOD, HONEST FUNERAL HOMES DISTINGUISH OURSELVES FROM THESE BAD FUNERAL HOMES?
Let’s be clear. Secrecy in this industry is the cloak for criminality. Just as the dark side feeds off emotions of anger, so the “bad” funeral directors feed off closed doors The funeral industry needed Jessica Mitford. And it’s a shame that someone had to come in from the outside to expose us.
Today, with the transparency of social media, the GOOD, honest funeral homes can disclose ourselves from the inside out. I’m not talking about a funeral home having a website. I’m talking about a funeral home having a blog, a facebook page, a twitter account, etc … a forum that invites feedback, that invites questions, criticism and praise … from you, our customers. I’m talking about voluntarily disclosing ourselves to the world. Fighting the dark side with the lightsaber of transparency.
Through the communication space afforded by the web, funeral directors can open the doors to the public. We reveal those places and practices that were previously held in secrecy. We take off the tie and let the public see the man and woman behind the suit. We create an environment where the consumer is NOT afraid to ask questions. We educate the consumer about their burial options. We explain to the consumer the laws that protect them. We set price standards. We tear down the veil of secrecy and the shroud of feigned “professionalism.”
The internet and the transparency it affords is a friend to the good funeral home. It’s an enemy for those funeral homes that have practices they’d rather hide. Simply put: If you want to hide, you stay away from opening yourself up on the web ’cause the web will eat you up with it’s questions and it’s brutal honesty. If you don’t have anything to hide, the web will (for the most part) love you. If we make transparency the industry standard, those who can’t be transparent will slowly (and sometimes suddenly) lose their business.
And that’s part of my goal at Confessions of a Funeral Director. The more I tell consumers about the industry, the more educated they become, the easier they’ll be able find us good guys. Empower the people.
And it’s those good funeral directors that need to take full advantage of social media outlets. Educate. Empower. Disclose. Accept the questions. The vulnerability. And by doing so you’ll create a group of consumers who will — on their own — be able to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys. Secrecy is friend to the bad funeral homes. While social is friend to the good.
With transparency and social media, we can slowly set a new industry standard. And you, the consumer … the ones we want to serve … will be better off for it.
Use the force, my friends.