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Monthly Archives: February 2015

TFC-Truth & HellI posted Can We Handle the Truth? a few weeks ago with tremendous feedback from many points of view.  Most  were in agreement with the notion that we in the funeral industry need to take a step back and reevaluate our businesses from many avenues of approach.  There were some that agreed with the post content, but doubted that such a collective discussion would ever take place, much less have impact.

I have traveled extensively the last few weeks attending a “meeting of funeral professionals” (I’ll leave out the name of this particular event to protect the innocent), meeting with several funeral home/large cremation providers and with a prominent/high volume funeral financial provider. At the funeral professionals meeting the format allowed for various speakers within our industry present a multitude of topics from how to manage change to the importance of social media (yawn…old news talking about it, implementation and execution are foreign strategy topics).  I listened intently to most of the speakers and one stood out as a practical real world, experienced voice.  In a nutshell this funeral provider actually understands consumer segmentation, invested, created, and implemented services/products to meet demand.  This man and his company created several different value propositions based on consumer needs/demands finding tremendous success; how refreshing.

In the very same week, an article was published by a well-respected industry leader regarding price competition.  The message had excellent points  such as projecting a clear message to consumers differentiating your brand versus competition along with providing value and customer service.  Let’s take a short look at how Walgreen’s does it:

What’s the message?  If one brand offers the exact same service for a better price (value) and can clearly communicate to consumers…what are the results?  Why didn’t the commercial show the pedicure for $30.00 ($10.00) more…would the lady react  the same? The truth is that a basic cremation is transfer of a body from place of death, the necessary paperwork, and the crematory fee. Most states require a minimum cremation container which adds to the cost.  How can a firm clearly articulate the difference to consumer on these basic charges in a value proposition?  Well, “we’ve been here forever, we care more, we have a bigger building, etc.” is not much of a definitive set of reasons to pay over $1000 more for exact services.  But here is the rub; the next piece of advice in the article is raise your prices.

A few thoughts about raise your prices. I get it, I really do.  If a business has expansive real estate and huge operating overhead costs, raising prices is just about all that can be accomplished. OR can change the model, cut fat out of operating costs by updating with technology and training personnel to perform better.  Perhaps earn new business by (fill in the blank) marketing?  Maybe even do as the speaker I referred to above, invest in developing different brands to meet consumer demands. Three elements of sustaining a business: 1. Do more business 2. Raise prices 3. Cut costs.  Does the current economy dictate that raising prices is the best answer right now?  Competition (like the Walgreen’s commercial) is savvy communicating their message to consumers.  Basically, they can do what you can do…for less and actually make profit.

There are many firms in the US that have created fantastic opportunities for celebrating life with upgraded facilities, offerings of services, technology, clear messaging and a true reflection of “you get what you pay for.”  The same firms invest and respond by creating value and realize that “one size does not fit all” by broadening their business (most cremation societies are owned by large funeral homes).

Just for fun, let’s look at Merriam-Webster’s definition: Valuethe amount of money that something is worth : the price or cost of something: something that can be bought for a low or fair price: usefulness or importance.  The funeral industry definition: Value: pay more for something that can be bought for a lower or fair price just because we say so.  The article is right on point; show value…

An analogy:  2015 Cadillac ATS vs. 2015 Toyota Corolla; ATS base $33,215-Corolla base $16,950.  Now the question is: for the majority of working Americans, which is the best value?  Both are transportation and designed to take you from one place to another.  Many would absolutely agree the ATS…however, if the consumer does not have the ability to buy the ATS, the value means nothing.  Are we trying to convince consumers that a Corolla should be priced the same as an ATS and has the same value?  Value is defined by the person making the purchase, not by the person selling…it’s hard to show the value of a Cadillac if you only have money for bus fare, “I Only Have Bus Fare But I Want to Buy a Cadillac”, sound familiar?

The truth is the consumer is dictating changes that some funeral providers are unable to meet because their operating model is outdated only allowing for “raise prices” and a willful refusal to make hard choices for change. The funeral consumer is finding information online (not necessarily from funeral home websites), shopping for “better deals,” seeking celebrants for direction, and choosing offers/products/services outside of traditional funeral channels.  The funeral consumer is choosing cremation over burial at a rapid rate which applies pressure to funeral homes and manufactures to find new revenue.

With all the meetings and discussions over the last few weeks, the recurring need for adaptation to accept consumer change is at the top of the list.  Yes, there are companies and funeral homes making significant strides in the right direction.  However, the truth is, the vast majority of funeral providers will continue the status quo…just like Radio Shack did.  From the desk of the Commander, Cheers Ya’ll! #thefuneralcommander

TFC-Truth & Hell

I was recently part of a funeral home strategy session that I was asked to make two presentations, one about my view of the funeral industry in 2015 (which prompted my post last week Definition: Family vs. Consumer) and the other leadership.  The post last week was about funeral professionals taking a step back, reviewing who we serve which may require us to take different views of ourselves.  As part of the leadership presentation, I discussed personal accountability; that when leading we must not only demand the truth from those that follow us, but accept the truth as well.

I started thinking; what if we actually spoke the truth about our business, the business of taking care of the dead?  Already at this point of the post I am certain that the Kiwi’s (see Are you a Kiwi or Eagle) have gone into full defensive posture thinking that I’m making accusations that funeral professionals are untruthful or unethical; not so.  But I do think we should start having critical discussions about ourselves.  So once again, I go to the dictionarytruth (noun); the true or actual state of a matter, conformity with fact or reality.

There are a myriad of reasons why as humans we don’t like the truth; the truth often exposes weakness, the truth forces us to confront reality, the truth may “offend,”  sometimes the truth has consequences, and ignoring the truth may be easier than making change for course corrections.  Without a doubt, one of the most famous scenes about exposing the truth comes from the movie A Few Good Men: 

Obviously, Colonel Jessup did not take kindly to being questioned about his position, honor, mission, duty or reputation.  However, when Lieutenant Kaffee presses for the truth, things get ugly.  The “truth” believed by Colonel Jessup is based on a misguided/twisted view of self- importance and perceived mission.   When his truth was fully exposed, it was wrong…dead wrong.  When watching this clip I could not help but also think: “How dare you question me? We have always done it this way.”

So back to the funeral industry.  Using the analogy from A Few Good Men, when we proclaim “you can’t handle the truth” is the reality that many in the funeral industry have a similar postured view akin to Colonel Jessup?  “How dare anyone question us?  After all, we get called out at all hours in any weather conditions, we embalm bodies, we cremate bodies, we console loved ones, we stand vigil at visitations, we must be licensed and take CEU’s, we sponsor community events, we pay for those church fans…you need us to answer that phone, you need us to wear our matching ties, we care for the dead.”

What if we took a step back and had truthful conversations about how we actually conduct our business, realistically view our customers, our educational requirements, our products, our services, our prices, our organizations and publications…could we handle the truth?  Could we have these conversations without pointing fingers making accusations about each other, having thin skin and getting “offended” rather actually take steps to collectively make our industry better?

I say we can and should.  In the spirit of betterment and truthful conversation about the funeral industry, I raise my hand to pledge to tell the truth. Here are some of my own truths and thoughts about such discussions:

  • I am certain of what I know, and more certain of what I don’t know…I seek council and advice from many different facets of our business.
  • I am not scared of challenge, so let’s debate…I respect people that are passionate about their thoughts/positions and have the ability to articulate in a challenging but not personally demeaning manner.
  • I’m not offended if you disagree with me; in fact I’m pretty hard to “offend” because the funeral industry does not define me.  I’m comfortable in my own skin; I know my failures and my successes.  So, if you are inclined to travel a path of “telling me what for” you are wasting your breath (or writing).  If you really have something say, give me a call and we’ll talk.  But if you decide to “go there” in a public way, be prepared for my public response.
  • I believe when we see something that does not make sense, it should be challenged; but when we do, lets offer solutions rather than just pointing fingers.
  • If you know something is wrong or doesn’t make sense, yet don’t say or do anything about it, don’t criticize those that have the intestinal fortitude to make a difference.

I am dedicating a series of posts on The Funeral Commander blog to “funeral industry truths”  and I solicit your ideas of subjects that should be addressed.  I’m attending yet another industry seminar/conference this week which I’m certain will provide all sorts of inspiration for discussion…I’ll report from the battlefield.  So from the desk in the Command Post and heavy fog of cigar smoke; Cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

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