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Monthly Archives: December 2013

How many times have I heard “no, we don’t do/offer/provide that at our funeral home, our families wouldn’t like it.”  When I hear the statement, I usually follow with my standard “well, I can understand after all of the research and testing you have conducted, I probably wound not do/offer/provide it either.”  Of course knowing there is no shred of truth to my sarcastic remark.

Are personal biases, fear of something new, laziness, or stubbornness the reason that we in the funeral industry suppress change?  Are we preventing families from hearing about, understanding, being educated or provided the opportunity to choose based our own personal preconceived notions?  Now before everyone gets their feathers ruffled, I’m not picking up the first stone to throw, so we are all guilty.  Think not?  Which casket, vault, urn, fluid, fleet, stationery, brand does your firm use and why?  Even more serious, which is your favorite football team or brand of shoes?

What propels a funeral home owner, manager and director to finally try something different?  What is the impetus to make the change?  Is there any research methodology to find the best presentation, positioning, price, service, packages, and family response to formulate a fair assessment?

I am going to solicit my fellow funeral professionals to comment share and experiences of “our families wouldn’t.”  Even more interesting, share if and when the skeptics changed their mind  and proclaimed “I can’t believe it, but our families do like…”

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Effort only fully releases its reward after a person refuses to quit.~Napoleon Hill

I am blessed to be associated and working with very bright, energetic people.  By innovating, developing and now testing their products and services, these funeral industry entrepreneurs exemplify the quote from Mr. Hill.  January 1, 2014 will be the launch date and announcement of a new service that will make a positive difference in both the lives of the families we are serving and the funeral homes we dedicate so much of ourselves.

So for a question as you start your day, what are you and your team working on and refuse to quit that will make a difference in the funeral industry?

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The Personal Saving Rate is at 6.5% (according to the Financial Reserve Bank of St. Louis).  Only 44% of households have an individual life insurance policy, and 30% have no individual or employer-provided life insurance, according to a survey by Life Insurance Market Research Association.

What challenges do these facts present to families that are faced with paying for funeral expenses of a deceased loved one with little savings and no life insurance?  What plans and options are in place at your funeral home to meet the financial needs of the families you are serving?

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If you have been anywhere near a news source, you are aware of the dilemmas government leaders are facing explaining the Affordable Care Act roll out, website, what the Act does and does not do.  Let me be clear, I am not writing this blog to respond in any way to this particular issue.

However, I thought about the oversight of those in charge/responsible of the development process and roll out.  The highly publicized scrutiny by both elected public officials and the media has had a huge impact on consumer opinion.  So, to correlate such issues to the funeral industry; what are you doing at your firm to “dot your i’s and cross your t’s?”  From my experience, most funeral homes have a “policy and procedure” manual, but it’s something that an employee signs after they get the job…basically a perfunctory action.  I personally know of firms that have no such documents or process.

To manage crisis, we must work to prevent crisis.  Simply putting in place guidelines, procedures and policies are not the answer.  Training, review, and consistent leadership focus sets the tone for employees to understand their operating parameters, and if outside those guidelines, stop and ask up the chain of command for direction.

As I meet with funeral homes across the country conducting arranger training, I am continually confounded by the inconsistent performance by funeral directors of some of the basic tenants of our industry.  I am shocked that many funeral directors do not understand their own GPL prices and information listed.  Just recently in a group training session, a funeral director shared not ever providing families a GPL…she just explains the prices charged from of the goods and services statement at the conclusion of the arrangement to the family.  The funeral home owner almost passed out!  That’s only a $10,000 fine from the FTC.  But why should the owner be surprised?  What are the arrangement procedures, is it a written policy of the firm to provide a GPL, how many times has the funeral director been trained and observed during arrangements?

So if you are a funeral home owner or manager and a crisis occurs, how are you going to respond to not only the governing authorities (State Board, FTC, OSHA, etc.) but plaintiff (not if you are sued, you will be) attorneys, and the press about the mishap?  Will you have the guidelines and training in place to show that this was a “rouge event/employee?”  Or will you just explain how you are running a business that not only performs procedures on dead bodies, but you get paid substantial sums of money from consumers for your goods and services with no credible policies, procedures, training and supervision of your staff?

Based on what I’m personally witnessing with the current Affordable Care Act scrutiny in the news, I would urge that if you own or manage a funeral home, get out in front of problems or issues and take charge.  Or, just continue to do nothing.  If one day you are “under the microscope” explaining your position, you’ll wish you that you were proactive, not reactive.

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Recently, I was part of a marketing project by conducting a secret shopper program in three distinct markets.  The results were not really surprising, but certainly worth sharing with my fellow funeral professionals.  A “family member” visited in person or called funeral homes seeking information for their relative and death was imminent.  The scenarios were not random, but carefully scripted not to create any assumptions by those being solicited.

The best description of what took place would be “race to the bottom”.  In every situation (there were over 10 locations contacted in each market), the funeral director directed the “family member” to the least of services without provocation.  Now, before reading this and getting “all high and mighty” thinking that this would never occur at your funeral home, think again.  We talked to owners and employees alike.

What struck me most was when it was revealed that we were simply gathering information and comparing firms, not mentioning costs, we were provided with the lowest of prices for both burials and cremations.  Not one time were we provided any attributes of the vast array of services, ideas for memorialization, comparison of burial to cremation; just simply either discounted packages or a direct cremation quote.  The most discouraging was that there was virtually no engagement with the “the consumer” about their dying loved one, just “are you looking at burial or cremation”…and perfunctory questions.

I personally conducted a phone call inquiry for a funeral home owner to competitors as well as two of his own locations asking for the same information while on speakerphone with the owner present.  The owners’ assumption of what competitors did or did not do was of great concern.  The competitor quoted verbatim the same direct cremation components as this owner, and compared the owner’s price with theirs while saying to me “why would you pay more for the same service?”  But, the response from his own funeral directors was, as he put it “disheartening”.  The owner actually said “based on what I just heard, I would choose the competitor over my own firm.”

If you are an owner that reviews your P&L statement monthly, you may be wondering how you are maintaining your call level, but not keeping pace with the net profit per call in comparison to prior month or year.  If this scenario is exasperated with loss of market share; you’re going to be in a race to the bottom.  I continually prod and bring to light the necessity of training at funeral homes, but find a consistent training program rare.

Our industry has a tremendous amount of chatter about “meaning of ceremony, creating experience, and value of a funeral”.  But in practicality, when a family walks through the door or calls on the phone (at least in the project mentioned above), it’s a race to the bottom.  Training staff on the message you desire to be conveyed and their listening skills should produce positive results…if not, just keep underestimating the savvy consumer and overestimating your staff.  The race to the bottom is quick and a difficult trend to reverse.

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What is old and lost, is found and new again.  I am continuing the innovation blog series I started a few weeks ago about people that have created a product or service in the funeral industry that is closely defined, “improve something with a new idea or procedure, or produce a product using a new or better way.”

In many of our cultures and societies of years past, when a death occurred we outwardly displayed our mourning with jewelry, black mourning arm bands or buttons.  Many people also wore black for a period of time. An Irish mother and her three daughters that experienced the loss of so many of their loved one’s has revived this old tradition as a result of a conversation between them. Recalling their own family wake of their father, some visitors had walked past them not realizing that they were daughters and how uncomfortable that felt.  They talked about the embarrassing whispers of people asking who was who and the stories that are lost about him as a result of missed opportunities to share cherished memories.

From their very personal experience, Kate Hamilton along with her very traditional Irish mother and sisters created MourningCross Bereavement Pins www.mourningcross.com as a modern outward display of mourning and in particular to support attendees at visitations wakes and funerals, identity and sympathize with, all of immediate grieving family members.

The MourningCross Bereavement Pins have many applications for not only the families, but for Funeral Professionals:

Identification of Family Members:  At funeral service activities such as visitations, wakes and services, immediate grieving family members are easily identified by wearing MourningCross Bereavement Pins.

Grief Continues After the Services:  A family members mourning does not cease at the conclusion of services.  Much like customs of the past where black arm bands or clothing were worn, wearing a MourningCross Bereavement Pin during the time of mourning is an outward display for the immediate grieving family members to “share the story of the life lived.”

Removal Leave Behind:  Upon removal of the deceased from the place of death, many firms leave a MouringCross Bereavement Pin on the pillow of the deceased.  Hospice, nursing home and hospital workers also experience grief of the people they have cared for.

After Care Groups:  Funeral homes offer or support surviving family member’s aftercare programs in their communities.  MourningCross Bereavement Pins are a perfect symbol for those to identify with each other as they walk through the grief process.

Either provided to the direct survivor, sold individually or offered for sale as part of your funeral home’s packages (register book, memorial folders, acknowledgement cards, etc.), the MourningCross Bereavement Pins will provide the families you are serving with a modern display of a lost tradition…and as Funeral Professional, you will assist the family with their walk through grief.

I have personally talked to a mother that lost her daughter that was a recipient of a MourningCross Bereavement Pin at our funeral home, and purchased additional Pins for her family as a modern outward display of mourning their loss.  Trust me, MourningCross has meaning, significance and is cherished by those that choose to wear them.

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Earlier this week, I contemplated expressing my thoughts about receiving news that stuns…words that come to us that we never forget.  Unexpected news that alters the path of life we were traveling, perhaps changing us forever.  My friend and Pastor, Quigg Lawrence recently received news that his oldest daughter Annie, a young woman in her early 20’s had a massive cancerous tumor.  Aside from the obvious, my thoughts were how such a man that is in continuous support mode of others, is now in need of the blessings he has brought to so many.

However, I was prompted to write this morning because last night, my wife received the news that her father, who lives several hours away, had a stroke.  As with other times in our lives when we have received such news, we are temporarily stunned.

Everyone at some point in their life will receive news that stuns.  What follows the stunning news is a myriad of emotions, and then reality starts to settle.  We never forget the words delivered, the location we were at the time, and often the look on the face of the person delivering the news.  Several years ago my wife received a phone call that she had Melanoma and was scheduled for immediate surgery.  I vividly remember her face delivering the news and in my mind searching for words to comfort her.  Even further back in time, during the Thanksgiving holiday, my wife and I delivered the happy news to our families that we were going to have our first child.  In a matter of a few minutes of delivering the happy news, I received a phone call:  Deployment for Desert Shield/Storm overseas, going to a foreign land for war.

When we receive the news that stuns and reality begins to set in, it is human nature to envision the worst of outcomes.   But I have learned by experiencing such events that the best immediate reaction is   “keep calm and pray.”  I personally believe that once we receive the news that stuns, the event has already taken place, we can’t change what happened.  But what we can do is reach beyond our own understanding and have faith…In God, in our family, in our friends and in those people such as doctors, our leaders and decision makers.

In many of the events when we receive the news that stuns us, we don’t always envision positive endings.  In the personal examples above, Annie had the cancerous tumor removed and is diagnosed now as cancer free.  My wife, Jacque survived the Melanoma surgery and is cancer free.  My oldest son is 22 and, 21 years later, I am a Veteran of Desert Shield/Storm and all of the soldiers that deployed with me came home alive after a successful mission.  Yet, this morning, we are headed to a hospital with a relative in serious distress…but I have faith.

So, I solicit your thoughts, experiences and outcomes when you received the news that stuns.  After all, it’s the season for sharing and giving.

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