What will the funeral of the future look like? It may have a big Disney Imagineering component.
At the recent International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA) convention, Brad Rex, President and CEO of Foundation Partners Group (FPG), outlined a bold new vision for the funerals of the future. The Orlando-based organization currently owns 39 funeral homes and six cemetery properties in 13 states, and they served 7,000 families last year.
In their research, FPG found that 70% of Baby Boomers said they want to attend something different from the staid, somber funerals of their parents’ generation. Yet, according to FPG, 99% of funeral homes offer the “traditional” funeral experience.
Their research also indicates Baby Boomer women are arranging 76% of funerals. How do funeral homes best work with this demographic? You make a lot of changes in funeral customer service.
Funeral directors, who are notoriously slow to change their business models, decry the growing flight toward direct cremation. In some markets, 60 to 70% of families are choosing direct cremation, avoiding traditional funerals, and striking out on their own to create a memorial service. These families do not perceive any value in the services or ideas many funeral homes offer. Change is necessary for funeral directors to remain relevant.
Brad Rex spent 12 years with Disney Parks and Resorts, ran the Epcot theme park for five years and was EVP and Chief Customer Officer for Hilton Grand Vacations. From his experience pleasing Disney Guests, with a capital “G,” FPG is serving funeral Families, with a capital “F,” the funerals of the future.
“When I joined Foundation Partners Group two and a half years ago, it was to reinvent the funeral experience. And a funeral is an experience,” said Rex. “Just as you think about having an experience at Disney and how unique that is, I believe we can make funerals very unique, personalized, celebratory events that have a huge WOW factor and blow people away.”
FPG’s new vision for funerals is their ShareLife® services. The process helps their Families more easily navigate the grief journey, with a range of other supportive services before and after a funeral.
According to Rex, the funeral of the future is an experiential extravaganza of sights, sounds and smells that evoke emotions and beautiful memories. Trained celebrants help Families create multi-sensory remembrance events that celebrate the life rather than mourn the death.
FPG funeral homes are incorporating enormous video screens for high-definition life-sized videos and photos. Their patent-pending system operated by an iPad includes surround-sound audio and scent generators that can fill the chapel with smells of Mom’s home-baked cookies or fresh-cut grass on Dad’s favorite golf course.
The funeral home provides online collaboration through computers and the Internet to help a widely scattered family gather information and plan memorial service details. They can meet in the family’s home, a coffee shop, or wherever the family wants to gather. Planning doesn’t have to take place at the funeral home.
If they do go to the funeral home to make arrangements, there’s no dreaded casket room to visit. Families can mix and match options on a big screen TV in the funeral home’s comfortable family room setting. With the click of a mouse, they can change casket styles, materials, colors, fabrics and finishes. Or they can view a wide range of urn options if cremation is the disposition choice.
They also review disposition choices, including burial or ash scattering. They offer the option to have cremated remains scattered in Israel at sites holy to Christians and Jews.
FPG will do funerals or memorial services at a site of significance to the family or other locations outside the funeral home. Within the funeral home, they can provide a live feed of the service over the Internet so those Guests (with a capital G) who cannot attend the funeral can view the event remotely.
In the planning process, the costs for all these choices is indicated on the side of the screen as each element of the service is decided. This way, the Family (with a capital F) avoids getting a sticker shock surprise at the end of the decision-making process.
FPG recognizes the importance of helping the bereaved spouse adjust to his or her new life situation. They offer the free LifeSteps™ …stepping forward, remembering always after-care program. The five-part series includes lessons on how to cook for one, home safety, and solo travel. They also hold a number of community events, including picnics in their cemeteries.
FPG does several things to make positive impressions before the funeral. When removing the deceased from a home, hospital or nursing home, they leave behind a white silk rose as an important and powerful symbol of remembrance.
When transferring a veteran into their care, they use a patriotic cot cover. People will stop what they are doing and salute as the body is wheeled by. They also have a flag retirement program tied to veteran funerals. In 2014, more than 2,000 worn U.S. flags were retired with veterans who chose cremation, covering either the casket or body in the retort.
Another program is an online service called Estate Assist. With a few key pieces of information, it can find and close down credit cards and other accounts – some of which the spouse might not even know about.
According to FPG’s customer comments and satisfaction surveys, they are doing things right. Foundation Partner Group’s funeral services generate net promoter scores that rank higher in customer satisfaction than well-regarded companies like Apple, Amazon, and USAA.
The company is growing quickly and they are making money in the process. Their revenue minus costs was up 5.6% for only part of last year.
“It doesn’t make a difference what the disposition of the body is – whether it’s burial or cremation,” said Rex. “If you can create an experience, that’s what sets you apart, and that’s where we need to go as an industry.”
“I believe we’re reinventing the funeral experience and it’s just incredibly satisfying when you have those families who say, “I never expected a funeral could be like this and you honored my Mom or my Dad in a way that no one else could have.’ And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”
Learn more at www.FoundationPartners.com.