by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. 


Editor’s note: This article is excerpted from Dr. Wolfelt’s book, “Funeral Home Customer Service A-Z.” 


Have you ever noticed the power of words? Well-chosen words give structure to an entire chain of experiences. To insiders, certain terms may seem completely neutral, but when it comes to your public’s perception of funeral service, stay alert.

Let’s look at a few examples:


In taking information from a family member, a funeral service staff member inquires: “Where is the deceased now?” or, worse yet, “Where are the remains now?”

The person has just experienced the death of a family member. He or she is often in shock and hasn’t even started to absorb the reality of what the death means. Using terms like the deceased is not only impersonal and crude, but it also doesn’t assure the family member that the funeral home will carefully take care of the precious body of someone they have loved.

Instead, funeral service team members should say your mother or whatever term best captures the family member’s relationship to the person who died.

in arranging the time of the service with the family, the director says, “We have an opening at 2 p.m.” This terminology makes it sound like your funeral home has to squeeze the family being served in between other appointments.

When your schedule is busy, try something like, “Would it be convenient for the service to be held at 2 p.m.?” Or course, when you don’t  have other services scheduled, allow the family to suggest what would be best for them.

A phone call comes to one of four funeral homes in a company. The caller asks if the funeral hoe is handling so and so’s service. The staff member says, “That lady is not at this branch.”

Remember, you have funeral homes or chapels, not branches or facilities. A branch is something a bank has. Don’t make it sound like you represent a large, impersonal company.

In talking during visitation hours with a family member, a staff person mentions, “We have thee other cases in the funeral home right now.”

The words cases is impersonal, cold, and distant. Instead, refer to other services or families we are serving.

A similar example is when a funeral director announces during a clergy breakfast, “I’m sorry, but because of our busy caseload, some of our staff couldn’t be here.” Never use the word caseload. It makes it sound like you work in a factory, not a funeral home that serves families.

When explains the funeral home’s schedule of services to a visiting clergyperson, a staff member says, “We have three calls on the board right now.”

Calls on the board is impersonal and emphasizes the importance of numbers, not people.

A visitor comes through the door of the funeral home and asks if you have Mr. Jones. The staff person says, “Oh, he’s down in number five.”

When talking to family members, try not to refer to your visitation rooms just by number. A more appropriate response would be to say, “Yes, let me show you the room,” then walk the visitor to the room, making him feel welcome. Better yet, on the way, introduce yourself and find out who he or she is. This is not only an opportunity to make guests feel welcome, but to begin to build relationships with them.

In responding to a client’s quests about how buys the funeral home is, a staff member says, “Well, we do about 300 a year.”

It is easy to understand why a layperson would perceive this as an insensitive remark. A preferred response would be, “We are honored to serve around 300 families a year.”

Someone calls to learn if you are serving a particular family. The staff person answers, “No our competitor has that one.” The word competitor is not one you should use when speaking to the public. Many people don’t even understand what you mean when you say it.

Instead, if you know who is serving the family, tell them and offer to give directions if necessary. If you don’t know, offer to try and find out and call them back.

In talking to a visitor to the funeral home, a staff member says, “We have been working aggressively to increase our market share in recent years. We project a 10 percent increase in volume annually over the next five-year-period.”

These words, in this context, make you sound like a businessperson who is more concerned about numbers than serving families. Keep these kinds of comments behind closed doors.

We can probably think of other words or phrases (like bottom line) that can give clients the wrong impression of your funeral home. Please e-mail your examples to me ( when you get a chance.

You may also want to have a staff meeting to review the above examples. I would also suggest that everyone in funeral service try to was up on the use of industry jargon, even when talking behind the scenes to coworkers. That way you won’t be as likely to use that language unconsciously when you are speaking with families you serve or the people in your community.

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is a respected author, educator and consultant to funeral service. Wolfelt also advocates for the value of meaningful funeral experiences in his death education workshops across North America each year and conducts an annual training program on the “WHY” of the funeral for funeral directors in Fort Collins, Colorado. The 2017 training will be held June 12-14. For more information or to receive a brochure, call the Center for Loss at 970-226-6050, visit or email

This article originally appeared in the “ICCFA Magazine.” Fine the PDF here.