Panning for gold

Charles 8 Comments


We have a list good funeral directors on the GFG website. It’s got stagnant. We’ve not added to it for a while, nor have we maintained a relationship with some of the funeral directors we recommend. Most of our recommended funeral directors are as good as it gets; some need to be weeded out. The upshot, though, is that, for want of vitality, the listing has begun to lose credibility. We’ve spent too much time on the blog, simple as that. 

We were scratching our heads here, trying to work out how best to revive our list and make it sustainable when one of our recommended funeral directors emailed this enquiry: 

What weight does your recommendation / listing carry? Would premises / facilities be inspected?  Is there a code of practice, or a means to deal with any FD that does not meet expectations?  

All good questions. 

To begin at the beginning. The rationale behind the project is easy to define. Because there is all the difference in the world – for some bereaved people it can be a life-changing difference – between a brilliant funeral director and a merely ordinary one, not to mention a bad one, it is a service to the bereaved to list those who will look after them best. Do that effectively, accentuating the positive, and you can stimulate market forces to eliminate the negative. Far more useful to build a bypass to the Co-op and Dignity than spend energy destroying them. It’s also a lot more fun. To sing the praises of unsung heroes makes the world a more beautiful place. 

A listing of this sort is a service to listed funeral directors, too, of potentially significant commercial value. Third-party endorsement by an org which has no business connections with the funeral industry, and is therefore wholly independent, really is worth something in a market where most people can’t tell the difference between one funeral director and another. 

The idea was that the listing would be of most value if it was based on subjective criteria consistent with the personality of the website so that people would be able judge its value according to their own values.  By and large we don’t do bland, we do like Marmite and we don’t try to be all things to all people. We reckon that the distinguishing characteristic of a good funeral director is that he or she is an outstanding human being, simple as that. We only want to list outstanding funeral directors. 

Funeralworld is another country: they do things differently there. For this reason, consumer advocates have to do things differently, too. It’s all very straightforward for the Good Food Guide, which can depend for recommendations and reviews on expert consumers. We found that out to our cost. We sought to establish a nationwide network of funeral consumer champions who would identify, review and re-inspect funeral directors in their area. We advertised and got lots of eager volunteers. But they simply didn’t measure up. They couldn’t differentiate between the best, the good ordinary and sometimes the markedly indifferent. They didn’t know enough. 

The same is continually true of a lot of consumer responses that come directly to us, though from time to time somebody does email in with a recommendation of outstanding value. In the same way, a lot of funeral directors who self-refer turn out to be excellent. Easily the best source of referrals is celebrants, but here we have to be careful to establish that their endorsement is not just an ingratiation exercise. Where we do get a good lead from a celebrant we have to be careful to protect their confidentiality. 

The alternative to applying subjective criteria is to apply objective criteria. We could develop an accreditation scheme on the lines of Charter Mark, now called the Customer Service Excellence standard, together with an inspection regime — a sort of Ofdeath. But it would cost a lot to administer, which would make it impossible for new businesses to afford. It would also mean accrediting blameless but dull funeral directors. As I say, we’re only interested in outstanding, and we very much like being able to get behind a really good funeral director who’s just starting out. We want to enjoy the freedom to recommend whoever we like, including funeral directors who don’t want to be recommended. And we want to enjoy the freedom to de-list anyone at the click of a mouse. Our recommendation is for one year at a time. 

That’s not to say that formal accreditation by an independent organisation is not a good and desirable thing. It is. But that’s for someone else to do. We seek no monopoly. 

We’re not interested in making money from the listing. Our credibility resides in our poverty.  But we do need to make our listing sustainable. We do need to re-inspect funeral directors. We do want to feature good long reviews and we need to pay for them to be written. We could paywall our listing, but we don’t want to. We could solicit donations from funeral directors, and we’ve tried that with conspicuous unsuccess, probably due to our inability to prove its value to them. We could probably do something about that. 

So, where do we go from here? We probably need to develop a GFG Secret Service of trusted agents operating under a cloak of secrecy. Call it benevolent deceit, if you like. Actually, it’s already begun working encouragingly well. 

We’re determined to make our listing work because the cause is a good one. 

We’re very open-source, here. Do tell us what you think. 




  1. Charles
    Richard Rawlinson

    How about FDs apply to use the GFG seal of approval in their marketing. You email a form for them to complete, answering questions that give you an initial idea. If they pass this stage, they are visited and interviewed in person. If successful, they pay an annual subscription to use the seal.

    If the written questions and interviews are sufficiently rigorous, then the seal has credibility and is a useful thing to win and self-fund. Rejecting applications is not easy but the pill could be sweetened by gentle advice on areas of development that might secure the seal next time. A limit on the number of seals would also help keep it desirable, a FDTse 100 perhaps.

    Benefits of the seal, other than using it on websites and print material, could be inclusion in GFG marketing: press releases to the media etc. How about an annual black tie awards dinner too, funded by ticket sales to FDs, where winners in different categories get a golden coffin trophy?

  2. Charles

    At first blush I thought Richard’s idea was a clever way to retain GFG’s integrity and impartiality.
    I then wondered how much difference a GFG seal would be considered to make in a fd’s marketing – something, certainly, but how much ……….. £100, £1,250? Would it need to be geared to the size of the marketing budget?

    What has been the response to your ‘additional sticker’ initiative?

    How does the Good School Guide run and finance its affairs and remain impartial?

    Long live the GFG and your good self, Mr Cowling.

  3. Charles

    It’s a constant conundrum – how to provide good objective information about an undertaker for the public when there’s no means of funding the scrutiny needed to ensure that they do what they say on the tin. At the Natural Death Centre we have devised a ‘Recommended Funeral Director’ list, which provides people with a choice of undertakers who have committed to adhere to a list of twelve criteria – see here – we feel this is a good starting point as a basic ‘sorting the wheat from the chaff’ process. Companies who can commit to the criteria pay a small fee to the charity,although nowhere near enough to fund the inspection visits that would be ideal to monitor their quality.

    Being aware of this, we are also working closely with Jon Underwood on a new, public feedback website that offers an opportunity for reviews of individual companies, hopefully due to go live in the near future. Public opinion / monitoring may be the solution to the insoluble problem of how to ensure standards haven’t slipped in good businesses, as well as a means of identifying those where basic standards haven’t even been attained.

    Personally, I think that a business that is recommended by both the GFG and the NDC (with appropriate window stickers to prove it)will have miles more credibility than one boasting the bog standard trade associations membership stickers on display – but maybe I am just biased…

  4. Charles

    I guess before I comment on how you could take the recommended ofFuneral Directors listing further, it might be good to enlighten us on what basis you make the recommendation at present.
    Is it based on personal experience or the experience of others, is there a premises inspection or code of practice to conform to…. Questions questions questions…..

    As a starter for ten, I would get recommended FD’s to sign up to have all their clients surveyed, the surveys analysed and a service level benchmark established, keep your client satisfaction above a certain level the you get on the recommended list.

    You could charge for the survey service and the recommendation wold be absolutely credible as it would be based on clients served.

  5. Charles

    It’s a tricky issue. The NAFD and SAIF inspect our premises and systems. I suppose this does offer some degree of quality control, but it’s in the interest of both organisations to maintain the highest possible number of members.

    I think recommending any FD without an inspection, perhaps even a mystery shopper exercise would be almost impossible. Word of mouth is surely still the best guide?

    As for the NDC list. I know of at least one firm on their list who have awful premises. The people may be terrific, but is that enough?

    Modestly I would of course be delighted should you feel able to include David Holmes & Sons in Hants & Berks!

  6. Charles

    Billed as ‘Britain’s best known funeral director’ Barry Albin-Dyer appeared on Radio 4 this morning, Saturday 26th May.

    When co-guest Bamber Gasgoine said that a recent funeral he’d attended was the best ever, with no funeral director involved I thought Barry’s response telling.

    He said ‘Like paining and decorating your own house, I don’t mind people doing it themselves, but they shouldn’t ask me for advice.’

    So now we know. He may well be Britain’s most famous undertaker, but is he anywhere near the best?

  7. Charles

    I think one of the biggest problems is that unlike many other consumer guides, clients are not that keen on providing feedback or recommending. This is partially because the GFG is not as widely known outside ‘funeral world’ as we might like, and partially because most people do not like to dwell on the subject. This probably explains why most recommended FDs are proposed by celebrants. Cliets, by and large, do not leave reviews or respond to surveys, they prefer to send a thank you card and leave it at that. Most of our client surveys so far have been returned…we are amazed, in fact, but we have only recently started sending them so its a little early to say!
    Not sure how you get round that one. Perhaps telephone ‘mystery shoppers’ are the most cost effective way forward? Or get recommended FDs from one area to check in on those in a totally different area? I see how difficult this would be.
    Sorry not to be more help!

  8. Charles

    Great starting questions indeed! I think there is a strength to the GFG listing of “Funeral directors which have a good, sincere feel to them”. The costs to have yet another membership organisation with written rules is worthy of caution. There are always the difficult choices too – great funeral directors, with limited facilities or investment backing -or great facilities, but run cold and clinically – how do you compare value.

    GFG – could ask its recomended FD’s to invite clients to complete an online survey on the GFG website – no need for postage etc, more objective than asking them to give that information to the FD.

    And also, how best can GFG promote its listing of 1st class FD’s.

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