The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Getting the best you can afford

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

funeralchoice

 

When the GFG started blogging all of 6 years ago, an appalled and furious undertaker rang his solicitor and instructed him to take out an injunction requiring us to cease and desist.

The solicitor told him it didn’t quite work like that; had the GFG libelled him?

No we hadn’t. But we were doing something no one had ever done before. We were disturbing the peace, talking publicly about the funerals business on a blog, asking impertinent questions. New. Shocking. Damnable. We weren’t the national treasure back then that we are today.

It’s the internet wot done it, the greatest change agent that consumer advocacy has ever seen. It informs bereaved people and enables them to shop around. Are they all going to rush to the cheapest? Not all by any means, they’re going to buy the best they can for what they can afford. How many people use TripAdvisor to find the cheapest? Price is important of course; funeral shoppers are extremely sensitive to being ripped off. But what they’re looking for above all is value for money, and that means hunting down the best possible personal service available in their price bracket.

Ironically, that’s often one of the cheapest.

Reputation testifies to quality of service, which is why undertakers prize it so highly. But it’s not enough any more for them to rely on word-of-mouth because funeral shoppers can now research more effectively on the internet where customer reviews are reckoned more reliable than haphazard hearsay. They like to make their minds up for themselves, not rely on the heads-up of a neighbour or the testimonials on an undertaker’s website. Everyone has those, so they tell you nothing.

The internet is the new maker and breaker of reputations.

The best undertakers have nothing to lose and everything to gain by embracing this. awlymn-logoAW Lymn publishes all essential information online, including prices. It also publishes, monthly, its client feedback. It is alone in doing this.

At present, the nationwide consumer reviews site is Funeral Advisor, funeral-advisor-logowhich is gaining traction not because it has a marketing budget of millions but because funeral shoppers need it to work and are therefore making it work. It is credible because it is sponsored by the National Death Centre. It doesn’t carry much info on prices, though.

Which is why there’s room in the market for a price comparison site and, as it happens, we now have one: FuneralChoice. I know the people behind it. They are everything you’d hope. FuneralChoice is a labour of love which hopes to find a way of becoming sustainable by proving its value.

FuneralChoice’s’s coverage is nowhere near national, but it’s spreading. I decided to look in London and typed in a postcode: SW1P 1SB. This is what I got. Click the pic to bring it up to full size.

funeralchoice2

Effective, isn’t it? I decided to go with Leverton’s. It’s not the cheapest, but look, it’s recommended by the Good Funeral Guide, which is notoriously hard to please. As for Evershed’s, the cheapest, I wonder if its clients love it? I can’t tell because FuneralChoice doesn’t enable client reviews and Evershed’s hasn’t asked us to accredit it. Shame, that.

You notice how Co-op Funeralcare and Dignity cluster at the most expensive end? It’ll be the death of them.

The ideal is a website which enables browsers to determine value by measuring price and other info against customer satisfaction — a capital-intensive instrument calling for big databases and complex software.

On the horizon there is RightChoice, a sophisticated instrument which is in the final stages of development. Definitely one to watch.

Does this spell the end for the GFG and NDC as consumer resources? Far from it. People buy a funeral far less frequently than they eat out, go on holiday and buy a car. Their knowledge of the market is close to zero. So there will always be a need for guidance by informed observers of the industry. Our knowledge and expertise are indispensable.

Our relationship with price comparison websites will be symbiotic. Our reviews of undertakers we recommend greatly enhance the info they carry. They in return publicise us and our recommended funeral directors.

It all helps put customers in the driving seat where they belong.

RightChoice

18 comments on “Getting the best you can afford

  1. Tuesday 26th August 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Agreed. Price value and quality may not be related. This is where NDC,s enthusiasm for cheap direct cremations could put at risk some of the good, well equipped dedicated FD’s with legitimate overheads and realistic income expectations for the work we do.

    My big concern with the growth in advice websites or organisations including GFG, NDC and the websites referred to is that we as FD’s will need to spend a lot of time and money keeping up to date and being well represented in these places and sites if we want the work (costs that must be passed onto client families). Can’t you all work together to offer one central point of advice and current information???

    Furthermore, with some calling for improvements in service, even regulation, this can’t happen in the face of cut throat price competition.

    Greed is one problem. Cheap and nasty is another!!

    • Tuesday 26th August 2014 at 9:41 pm

      Hello Mark,

      Please forgive me if I have misunderstood the “thrust” of your post, however, I do get the impression that you may not quite have grasped the difference between direct cremation, and a cheap funeral.

      Direct cremations are usually requested by people that do not want a funeral – it’s not the price that decides the client.

      They tend to be less expensive because we cannot charge for services we have not provided.

      We too feel that we offer a good, well equipped dedicated service with legitimate overheads and realistic income expectations for the work we do.

      I must agree that whilst cheaper priced funerals may be good news for the buyer (and buyer beware), I am at a loss myself to understand how some of the newer, lower cost providers out there can stay in business, or show any form of profit.

      Your “cheap and nasty” label may well apply with some firms you must know about, but please use the term wisely and selectively. You’re probably right about the greed though…

      Best regards

      Nick

      • Wednesday 27th August 2014 at 3:36 pm

        My comments are mixed and advice needs to make it clear why one service is cheaper than another. It could be due to quality of service- or to level of service. Two very different things. I provide direct cremation where requested but not through a separate business identity to my core service. I have also in some cases provided a full funeral for little more than some direct cremation costs which get advertised. (Is such personal discretion contrary to cries for transparency in pricing?)

        With such complexities, this is why i fear the growing number of advice groups and websites risks bringing confusion or out of date information which does not help the bereaved.

  2. Nick Willcocks

    Tuesday 26th August 2014 at 10:39 am

    Thank you for your posts regarding our website http://www.yourfuneralchoice.com.

    We are still in the early stages of this venture, and we have a lot to learn. Our objectives are to work with the funeral industry to promote funeral directors that offer a good service at a sensible price.
    We would like to engage with funeral directors and work with them to improve our offering. We are aware that we cannot provide all the necessary information for people to make informed decisions about their choice of funeral director, but we can be a good starting point for them and hopefully point them in the right direction.
    We are listing funeral directors not just in order of price, but also the system is designed to list funeral directors who are accredited by the Good Funeral Guide and other appropriate organisations at the top of the searches, so that people can have easy access to the funeral directors that have signed up to these standards. This system is being improved as there have been some glitches. As with any new venture there is constant tweaking needed!
    We appreciate all the feedback provided, and would welcome more. If there are corrections needed please tell us. We operate the site ourselves, and can therefore make most modifications pretty quickly.

  3. Jonathan Taylor

    Sunday 24th August 2014 at 8:49 am

    The picture of green and purple boxes, stacked up on top of each other like coffins in a warehouse, with a brief description and a price, gives a bereaved family about as much idea of their precious grieving ritual as a similar list of restaurants would give of tonight’s dinner. Once you’ve chosen one and eaten, it’s too late anyway to compare it with the rest.

    It’s a start, I suppose, given that these ‘restaurants’ used to hide down back alleys, as many still do. But what people need is not so much a menu as an actual taste of what’s inside the box, and, so far, taste is something the internet can’t convey.

  4. Friday 22nd August 2014 at 5:30 pm

    I think a well run successful price comparison website is a terrific idea and well overdue. My only reservation is will the largely uninformed public really compare like with like?

    My own price as quoted on the site is for a fully flexible, client driven funeral. I am fairly certain that the little box indicating date and time restrictions on other funeral firms listings geographically close to mine, might not be noticed. The potential client will only find out the real cost of the service they seek when they are on the rival funeral directors premises and have arranged a date and time that suits them, not the funeral directors busy diary.

  5. Ian

    Thursday 21st August 2014 at 7:18 am

    Without getting into an economic debate, I don’t think that markets decide fair prices. If they did, petrol and fuel would be a whole lot cheaper.

    Very little has really changed in the last two decades in the funeral industry, and most of them are peripheral things that don’t actually change anything.
    IMO the biggest change is the increase in funeral plan numbers , and on that basis dignity and the coop will be the real winners out of it all, so don’t hold your breath if you think that they will ever disappear.

    Marketing has a bigger effect on price than markets do. None of which provides any real benefit to the client.

    • Michael Jarvis

      Thursday 21st August 2014 at 9:10 am

      Hmm…it’s quite a leap of faith to imagine that funeral plans are the nest egg that will sustain the trade into the future. Business expenses and funeral costs outside the undertakers’ control are rising at a faster rate than returns available in the financial markets. There’s a school of thought that can foresee trouble ahead.

  6. ian

    Wednesday 20th August 2014 at 12:50 pm

    Has no one realised that the only people that actually comment on this blog are the (a) the same few and (b) nearly all in the funeral profession?
    Pricing is an issue for a lot people but not necessarily the deciding factor.
    When I first started up on my own I advertised my costs – and made them cheaper than everyone (by a lot) as a boost to get started. With no reputation its all you really have other than a shop front. But I wouldn’t use cost as a marketing tool now.
    The concept of a fair price is massively subjective. I think I charge a fair price for the service I provide. But i’m sure everyone else does too. I certainly see no value in doing something like this just for the love of it. Oh, how I loved getting out of bed at 2.00 am last week, driving to a nursing home and collecting a lady who had very badly soiled the bed, covering herself at the same time. Oh Joy. I’d love to do that for £2k all in!

    • Wednesday 20th August 2014 at 1:41 pm

      Oh, I think we are all aware of that, Ian — always the same commenters, all people in the funerals business. There are lots of other readers, but they keep their heads down. Pity, I’m sure they have useful things to say. Yesterday the website had 1,890 visitors, and a lot of them are blog visitors. See what I mean?

      I entirely agree with you that if a quoted price takes no account of value, then it’s as good as meaningless. Those who think that the only goodun’s a cheap one are mad. As to what’s a fair price, well, I guess that’s something the market decides? As to what constitutes value, well, that’s a bigger discussion I think.

      Speaking as someone who couldn’t do what you do, I have no problem with FDs paying themselves a decent wage for good work.

    • Thursday 21st August 2014 at 11:40 am

      Of course cost may not be a factor for some people and value is entirely subjective.
      In Oxford, I am not the cheapest Funeral Director but I am also not the most expensive.
      The reason why I think this comparison website is a good thing is because for such a long time I think people were under the impression that the larger companies would offer a cheaper funeral than anyone else and with a fleet of vehicles, could also do it quicker.
      However, I arranged and conducted a funeral this week because the Co-op and Dignity told the family the Crematorium was fully book for the next 10 days. Obviously it wasn’t and I could undertake the funeral within the families time constraints.

      I think people’s perception of funerals are changing. The people that “paid into the Co-op” for their funeral costs have largely passed away and the next generation of people dying didn’t pay into a plan.
      It is their children who are arranging funerals and it is they who are demanding a more personal service rather than the revolving door of the larger companies.

      Again, cost is a contributing factor, but it isn’t the be all and end all. I am £350 less expensive than Dignity and £250 cheaper than the Co-op, but I believe that I offer a far better service.
      I can’t justify charging the prices they do. I have a carefully worked out business plan and what I charge I think is absolutely fair and reasonable. Any more and I couldn’t justify it.

  7. Tuesday 19th August 2014 at 7:41 pm

    Choice is always a good thing, but can you have too much of it? As a consumer I wonder if another comparison site is needed? As with everything, the definition of ‘good’ and ‘best’ is subjective – what’s right for one is completely wrong for another. If we’re not very careful, before long every internet search will bring up a full page of comparison sites, and they’ll all give different answers (try googling ‘best insurance quote’ and you don’t get any insurance companies at all, just comparison sites).

    Whilst I totally agree that the internet it having a massive effect on our business, and those of us who have chosen to embrace its potential are seeing a boom, I do worry that the example of the search given in this post quotes prices without disbursements. Yes, if you delve deeper into the website it does explain this, but it’s not the real price, and a consumer wants to see the full cost. Who hasn’t been in the situation of seeing a great insurance quote only to click ‘buy’ and get asked ‘does your car have wheels – add £400’, at which point frustration kicks in and you’re back to square one?

    But perhaps it’s because we’ve got all our prices online, and a handy little gadget called an estimate generator http://stneotsfuneraldirectors.co.uk/estimate-generator/ which is getting used more and more (2 clients who have used other ‘local’ funeral directors in the past came to us because of it last week) that I don’t see the need for more comparison sites. The public are very internet-savvy, and soon find any website that stands out.

    That said, anyone who is trying to do right for the consumer, as funeralchoice appear to be, should be commended. If you type in TW15 2UG and change the range to 1 mile, there’s a real bargain to be found…!

  8. Charles

    Tuesday 19th August 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Do, Liam. They are decent ethical people trying to get it right for funeral consumers. This is not a nice-little-earner website. I believe it to be in the interest of all the best FDs to support them.

  9. Liam Roberts

    Tuesday 19th August 2014 at 4:51 pm

    Without doubt this is a fantastic idea that can only benefit the consumer and ethical funeral directors alike. However, as a friendly word of caution I have already noticed some inaccuracies amongst the current listings, which suggest an in depth understanding of the industry is somewhat lacking amongst the good people who are clearly trying their best to make this work. They do welcome such feedback and are openly inviting any help offered from within those that allegedly know more. I might just give them a ring and would suggest that others on here could also offer their assistance accordingly.

  10. GMT

    Tuesday 19th August 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Check you out Charles Cowling from the GFG, Im Impressed and like Lucy I signed up to FuneralChoice some time ago.
    I agree the Internet is to blame, but lets be honest we would be knackered now without it….
    Even Clergy are now replying to emails sometimes the same day when they received them instead of waiting 3/4 days for the return post.

    I speak my mind Charles, its probably a northern thing and its got me in hot water from time to time but many a family have commented on my pricing in my adverts, asking me is the price you say all that is needed, and when i confirm it there next remarks are when Mum passed away about 5 years ago we used our local coop and the price was more then than what your charging…

    The cost is important and to be honest why should a family not shop around when it comes to a funeral, lets face it we all do it when buying a car, kitchen or even a holiday.
    I have only had a increase in my professional services this year, the rest has remained the same from December 2012. all my prices are on my website, in my window and on every advert i put in my local paper, I keep in touch with some old colleagues from my days at the coop and dignity, and Im reliably informed my adverts and recent radio advertising gets the top brass furious.
    I recently sponsored my local radio called with a show called ‘Going Underground’
    Only got 1 person who did not approve and that was my mother, i explained “Its your generation, i appreciate that but it got people talking”

    Talking of dignity, i have come across a recent price list in my area
    Arranging and Conducting the Funeral £1425
    Caring for the Deceased £850
    Hearse & Pallbearers £550

    Professional services is now £2825

    Cardboard Coffin £660
    Willow Coffin £1015

    With my increase in Professional services Im less than half the price of dignity,
    people need to see these prices and the best way is a price comparison site on independent FDs websites, No other FD in my area has there prices on there website…The coop used to have a price list on but removed it very soon after I had a flyer campaign telling people what a like for like funeral would cost with dignity, the coop and me…
    I did receive a solicitors letter from the coop advising me that Im being watched…

    • Tuesday 19th August 2014 at 3:30 pm

      Given the documentaries over the years on various funeral directors and sites like the GFG pointing out that should you use a national firm, chances are they will end up in a “hub” and then paying a good £500-600 minimum for that privilege, more people are shopping around for a good price They are also want someone to look after the them and the deceased.
      Years ago the national companies really started treating this industry like a business and the creation of the “hub” really didn’t help. They can churn out eight funerals a day and at one time, for the right price. I feel people didn’t mind being rushed because the price was right.
      However, with the “alternative” options available for funerals now and it is a whole different generation arranging funerals, the industry has and will change.
      While people’s idea on time frame hasn’t changed, their perception of time has. People don’t want to feel rushed. They want to know their loved one is being looked after. They want to spend more time choosing hymns or music. They want continuity of care and they want a lot more for their money now, and so they should.
      Comparison sites are fantastic. It gives someone a really good idea about costs before they walk in the door and the more information someone has before they call or see a funeral director the better.

  11. Liam

    Tuesday 19th August 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Technology is a wonderful thing, there funeral industry is ‘getting with the times’ – however the funeral advisor website is insecure. To back up my argument, change the number at the very end of the URL: funeraladvisor.org.uk/1000 – This opens funeral directors to an influx of spam.

  12. Tuesday 19th August 2014 at 12:52 pm

    I signed up to this some time ago and think it is a fantastic resource for the public.
    In my experience people want three things….1) Are you really going to take care of my loved one? 2) How soon can we have the funeral and 3) what is it going to cost me?

    I still can’t believe that national funeral companies aren’t putting their prices online. What have they got to hide?

    Times are really changing and cost can be a big factor. If I was looking online, I would go with the funeral director who has their prices on their website so I know what to expect before I walk through the door the next day.

    Sites like this really can only be a good thing and I really urge all independent funeral directors to sign up to this site or put their prices online now….this really is the future.

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