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Secure Payment

The funeral isn’t over if the funeral home has not been paid in full for services rendered.  I recently read a statistic that the average funeral home has around $17,000 in accounts receivable or past due money owed for services that have already taken place. I have personal knowledge of firms owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why?

Funeral home ownership and management has failed. Frankly, simple solutions exist however it takes leadership to change behaviors in the arrangement session and accountability of funeral directors that sign funeral contracts. How? Let’s start with no funeral contract is signed until payment is secured. Payment secured, what does that mean?

  1. Valid pre-need trust with enough funds to pay for goods and services.
  2. Verifiable life insurance-assigned to funeral home by factoring company and fees paid by the family.
  3. Payment in full by cash, check, or credit card.
  4. If any payment above cannot be paid in full, at least 80% of funds must be paid with cash, check credit card or life insurance as a down payment with an approved payment policy in place. If a family cannot pay 80% up front, it’s the wrong service offered by the director.  Reduce services and products to match affordability of the family. If a family can’t pay the majority of the service, the firm will likely not collect the balance due.
  5. No discounts. If a family needs help, use #4.

Of course I know there are extenuating circumstances and funeral directors cry the proverbial “what if the family?”  What if the owner would do their job and train funeral directors process in arrangements to properly explain the payment policy of the funeral home (above 1-5)?  What if owners held funeral directors accountable to not sign a contract until payment is secured?  Here’s what if for you: “What if the funeral director signed a contract without securing payment and if the payment was not collected when due, the funeral director paid out of their salary?” Let that one sink in.

If you think this is all a made up scenario and impossible, then you are wrong. Our funeral homes and cremation company conducts almost 500 services a year; we have $0.00 owed to us.  Want to have the same for your firm?  Contact me jeff@atneedcredit.com and we’ll set up a time to further discuss how to lead your funeral home with training as well as director accountability.

Next week I’ll discuss steps how to recover from the failure of training and accountability of funeral directors which resulted in accounts receivable in the “book of promises.” From the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

How to Implement Change in the Funeral Home: An Interview with Jeff Harbeson, The Funeral Commander

Posted February 24, 2016

8 min read

We sat down with Jeff Harbeson, a retired military Captain and funeral home owner/partner, also known as The Funeral Commander, to get his insights on how funeral directors can follow best practices to implement change in their firm. Read on to also see what Harbeson recommends to funeral home leaders who are looking to help their staff better empathize to have greater perspective with grieving families.

Jeff Harbeson: I am a retired as Captain with 20 years of service, including deployment to Operation Desert Storm and a TAC Officer at Officers Candidate School where I taught over 400 non-commissioned and enlisted soldiers to become leaders. I began my funeral industry journey first as a casket sales rep taking me to today as a funeral industry leader operating multiple businesses within the industry.

Those businesses include two successful funeral homes, the TouchPoints Six Sigma funeral home operating platform, an online cremation service, an at-need payment company, a successful consulting company and co-host of the Funeral Nation show. I felt that The Funeral Commander would provide a perfect description of my military and funeral leadership experience.

Q: What is your advice for funeral directors who are looking to implement change? What can they do to support desired change in their firm?

Jeff Harbeson: Before implementation of any change, one has to acknowledge that a problem exists and understand where to initiate correcting the problem. When I first started this journey in the funeral industry, I wanted to learn everything I could about the processes, operations and costs of a funeral home. However, I could not find consistent or credible information simply because no real training existed to find the answers to my questions.

Before implementing any sort of change, my advice is to understand the process or problem and determine if change is necessary. The next logical step is seeking solutions to take corrective actions. Then rebuild the process, train and implement.

One factor to consider is identifying the audience that will be affected by the change. If it’s the funeral consumer, then you also must take into account that behavior modification (training of funeral directors) and monitoring of the process has to take place.

An analogy would be if you’re a baseball player and striking out frequently. You would have a coach analyze your swing so that he could teach you to take corrective measures. After modifications are made, then the hard work of practice and implementation takes place.

My team and I created a complete, alpha to omega six sigma based funeral home operating platform called TouchPoints. TouchPoints identifies every possible step that a funeral director and staff take, and we train multiple times per week to follow those processes. This system allows us to manage workflow and easily identify problems when they occur to take quick corrective measures. Again, back to the baseball analogy: there is a process in place for professionals to follow and they are in continuous improvement mode even practicing before a game.

Unfortunately, the funeral industry has hurt itself simply because once a funeral director gets out of school and gets hired to work, the general funeral home training program consists of: follow me and do what I do. The “trainer” may not have the best route to follow thus perpetuating the problem for the new director. Our system actually provides such great training that new hires, even if newly licensed, are making funeral arrangements on their own in a matter of weeks.

From a funeral industry training standpoint, we have CEU’s however in many cases are a colossal waste of time and resources. Many CEU’s have no intrinsic value to a funeral director and no “teeth.” Many times a funeral director is basically sitting in a session for an hour simply to sign off on a paper and get credit for attendance. No measurement of proficiency, just pay a fee and get credit. TouchPoints has a series of training programs so that our funeral professionals are performing to standards proficiently and are continuously sharpening their skills.

Returning to the question: you have to train to make change—just like professional baseball players take batting practice before a game. Making change takes intentional leadership effort and consistent relevant training for provide a solid foundation.

I can’t think of one issue or subject in the funeral industry that could not be corrected, addressed, or changed without training. From my point of view, training is behavior modification and it’s impossible to make corrective measures nothing is in place from the start. The majority of funeral homes have no training program or process in place to make changes.

Q: When looking at the entire experience a family has with a funeral home, it can be valuable for funeral home professionals to “see” that experience from the family’s perspective. How can we teach or train our staff to see this perspective?

Jeff Harbeson: Funeral directors meet with families during a time which most agree is very difficult. Part of our funeral director using TouchPoints for arrangements includes roll play. We actually get the funeral director to plan their own closest loved ones’ funeral. On top of that, we also have the role-playing director to make choices based on their own financial resources to pay out of pocket. It’s a valuable training session and enlightening for those that are fortunate enough receive. Without ever “wearing the shoes of the next of kin,” the anguish is only observed and not experienced.

Jeff Harbeson: Funeral home operations, in general, have not changed at all and many funeral homes are still serving the consumer the way they did 50 years ago.

However, the consumer has made a tremendous shift in several different directions. For example, consumers know more about our business simply because it’s readily available on the Internet. Twenty-five years ago, consumers had to actually visit a funeral home if they wanted information. Also, the way we communicate has completely changed. Therefore, the consumer is researching and making decisions however many providers have not adapted to using technology to reach the “undecided” consumer with relevant messaging.

In the past, a funeral home was in a community and if someone died or needed to make inquiry, they would physically visit the funeral home to get information from a funeral director. Today a consumer sits in front of a computer and conducts their own research without leaving the comfort of their surroundings. If a funeral home website or social media provides the information sought after, the consumer may then inquire. However, if the website is too “funeral-esque” (like playing piano music when you land, or funeral-wordy), the consumer moves on to other sources.

The trend of people separating from organized religion is a factor that requires attention. If a family is not affiliated to a particular faith and does not think that ceremony is necessary, that’s a problem for many funeral homes with significant investments in real estate as well as recovering revenue from funeral services, visitations, and wakes.

Another significant yet not widely addressed trend is how we are serving financially struggling families. The typical American worker earns less than $50,000 per year. Forbes recently posted a story about how 63 percent of our consumers don’t have$500 cash to pay for an emergency. As a general rule, funeral homes provide no training to their directors how to address the needs of financially struggling families.

Everything comes back to training: how do we address or how do we adapt to emerging trends? We need to know what we offer meets the demands of consumers. Identify those gaps, create a solution, train, monitor and refine.

About Jeff Harbeson, The Funeral Commander

Jeff Harbeson is Founder & CEO of The Harbeson Group which provides leadership on the battlefield of funeral industry innovation. By developing strategic alliances and relationships with other influencers to execute his visions, several successful companies were launched. Jeff is one of the Founders of Family Choice Funerals & Cremations™ as well as the Select Cremation™ brand of funeral service providers. Additionally, Harbeson and team developed a proprietary Six Sigma based funeral home operating platform, TouchPoints™. Also creating At Need Credit™, the company became the funeral industry leader providing loans and payment plans for consumers to pay funeral expenses. As a funeral industry entrepreneur, Harbeson pens the well-known blog, The Funeral Commander and he is also co-host of theFuneral Nation TV web show with social media expert Ryan Thogmartin.

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blog post SC

What does the recent primary in South Carolina tell us about the funeral industry? Let me start this post with a disclaimer: I’m simply providing observations and I am not endorsing or promoting any candidate who is running for the office of President of the United States. Additionally, I will note that my family (both my mother and father) come from the Palmetto State. We have deep roots since the very beginning of this nation, so I know what I’m talking about when proclaiming: South Carolina is considered the bastion of conservatism in America with a history of “sticking to their guns” with whatever they believe. It’s a state that is certainly considered “the buckle of the Bible Belt.”

My takeaway of the primary results last Saturday has relevance to the funeral industry. The winner did what most would consider blasphemous and everything that should have led to defeat.  For example: calling out a much loved and revered former President (especially in SC) regarding the 9-11 attack; calling competitors liars and saying that a controversial women’s medical provider actually does have some good points. All this and more coming from a Yankee spending far less than his competitors  while also using social media to resonate his message: “No more PC gibberish; let’s just call it like it is and make America great again.”

The competitors had the endorsements from the State party establishment elected officials, endorsements from the mainline religious groups, spent millions on trying to convince voters to follow the past “establishment direction,” and even made sure everyone knew the front runner was divorced but was now married to a “foreigner.” The competitors also had infrastructures developed with volunteers knocking on doors and making phone calls.  In the State where a particular religious group reigns, against conventional thought the tactics failed and the stale messages did not stem the rising tide of change.

What are some of the similarities of the campaign in SC with the funeral industry?  A few observations:  the funeral establishment has long coined rivals (new business models) as discounters and direct disposers which basically means nothing to the consumer. Interestingly, some have their own little discounters and direct disposal businesses but don’t share much about them in public or funeral meetings (sort of like not claiming “that side of the family”).  The rhetoric “you get what you pay for” is a back firing message because consumers are questioning the cost and see no value in what they are paying for with the traditionalists.  Millions of dollars are spent on advertising in an attempt to convince consumers to hold on to tradition rather than invest in creating and seeking solutions to meet consumer demand.  Pundits preach (see a blog post by funeral home owner Dale Clock The New Normal) at conventions and meetings to charge more and show more value but never address the real issues like how to serve the financially-struggling family (who are flocking to discounters and direct disposers).  Value now is the ability to pay in full.

The results from the South Carolina primary offer a glimpse into the future of the funeral industry. Consumers are demanding change, rejecting the established past. They are educating themselves online and taking action on the information provided without visiting nary a funeral home. Consumers couldn’t care less about internal industry bickering and name calling; they are leaving tradition behind. The establishment’s message is fragmented and falling flat for a number of reasons including its methods of delivery (very few funeral organizations use social media or offer consumer-friendly websites). I don’t think nor do I advocate that the traditional funeral home is going away or  it is irrelevant.  However, the recent report, SCI saw fewer funerals, declining revenue in 2015, is news to which every funeral provider should pay attention.

The voters (funeral consumers) are speaking loudly and clearly asking for new models of service and a change in how we go about offering our services. We have an abundance of smart, talented, experienced, willing funeral industry professionals and organizations ready to work together for the betterment of our collective future. The platforms for communicating and working together are right at our fingertips. I raise my hand and volunteer, what about you?

From the smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all.  #thefuneralcommander

 

 

ANC 1

Situation: Your loved one just died unexpectedly with no pre-need trust or life insurance available to pay for the funeral expenses. You can’t use the funeral home where you work and you receive no professional courtesy discounts anywhere else. You must pay full price for services rendered, casket, vault, and all the cash advance items including the cemetery space,  opening and closing fees.  How would this event effect your personal financial situation if you had to pay?

My team at The Harbeson Group and I have conducted hundreds of training sessions for funeral directors over the years on subjects like FTC Funeral Rule knowledge, taking shopper calls, removal/transfer procedures and so on. A few months back, I wrote a post Wear Other Shoes about training funeral directors to role play by planning a funeral for their closest loved one who unexpectedly died.  This training provides insight to the emotions people feel when arranging a funeral for someone they love and increases empathy for others in this situation.  But there is another facet to the training; what if you had to pay for the funeral expenses from your current and personal financial resources?

I provide funeral director training on the topic of cash flow solutions for at-need services. Prior to starting the training, I inform the group that I have permission from the funeral home ownership (or organization leadership) to charge everyone for the training they are about to receive.  The cost for the training is equivalent to the price for full burial at the funeral home including casket and vault (let’s use $8,400 for the purposes of this post).  I then tell the group the full amount is due to me at the completion of the training and that I accept cash, checks and all major credit cards…and I pause to let that sink in.

I love seeing some of the reactions on the faces of attendees and to feel the uncomfortable shift in the room. I then say “If there are no questions, we shall move forward with the training.”  Inevitably a hand will fly up with it’s owner asking “Are you serious?”  My answer: “What’s the big deal?”  “You ask the same thing of every family who makes arrangements with you, in fact for about the same amount.”  Silence follows as more air is sucked out of the room.

So I return to my original question: What if you had to pay today from your own financial resources?  Certainly there are those reading this who could write a check or have the credit card balance to pay, and then there are the rest of you. The majority of Americans (and let’s say a few funeral directors) don’t have the financial resources to pay for costly unexpected events in full, they need a payment plan. Sadly, just in the past few days, I read the obituary for a deceased funeral director asking for funds to be paid to help with funeral expenses. Just food for thought, if you had to pay today, would you need the services provided by At Need Credit?  Take a look and decide for yourself.

From the Command Post (no cigar for now). Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

 

 

TOTT

In the investment world there is a saying “Trees don’t grow to the sky.” The meaning is a warning that stock prices for a given company will not increase forever, they top out. When I thought about writing this post a few analogies came to mind relative to the funeral industry whether you are a funeral home operator or product/service provider.

First, take a look at the tree in the image above. I know there are exceptions (as I am not a tree expert), but trees tend to narrow at the top when they stop growing. If your funeral home has stopped growing more than likely it’s pretty narrow at the top with only a few branches “near the sun” failing to notice the root system beginning to weaken. The same holds true for funeral industry product/service vendors (look what’s happening in the cornfield).

We all know that trees have roots and can live for hundreds of years but the fact is trees reach a peak of vertical growth.  If your funeral home has deep and a strong root system, yet peaked vertical (market) growth, what do you do?  Perhaps just stand tall, firmly rooted and simply continue to serve in your sphere of ground.  It’s not a bad thing at all.  But your funeral home has stopped growing and perhaps vulnerable to planting/maturing of competitive funeral homes in your market.  From a vendor perspective, new technology is being created in some cases before products even hit the market.  Remember all the video folks?  “New and improved” simply by a color or interior cloth change is basically putting lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.

Perhaps the notion of planting more trees (seedlings) from the tall and healthy (but ceased growing) tree is an option. Many funeral homes, successful, longstanding and deep rooted have planted seedlings that are maturing. New locations to serve different market areas and new models to serve different consumer segments are signs of recognition the original tree has ceased growing, but recognize the need to have a stronger presence of the brand. There few products and services in the funeral industry that are linear as well as strong enough to survive on their own. Yes, there was a time when funeral home website development, custom casket panels, “personalization” and such were revolutionary. But today many products/services are ordinary and being produced everywhere for significantly less than originally introduced into the market.  Unfortunately, most new products and services are not developed from within or from the traditional industry providers, thus the analogy of the tree.

The point of this post is that trees truly don’t grow to the sky and there is a limit to growth. However, recognition by analysis of costs, market-share, real estate, market (consumer) shifts (demands), competitive landscape and growth potential should be a focal point of funeral home leadership.  Unfortunately, many  funeral home leaders are not equipped, possess the tools, or recognize the importance of such assessments. Conversely many product/service providers have armies of mutants in their basements providing such data, but often try to maneuver/manipulate the market rather than supply the demand. Why? Because their “tree has stopped growing” and still functioning on outdated models not understanding (or blatantly ignoring) the real needs of funeral home operators success.

As a funeral home owner or industry vendor, don’t become too busy at the top taking in the sun and assuming anything. Want to know more?  Let’s connect to assess how to expand your brand for growth in your own forest at jeff@theharbesongroup.com. From the haze of cigar smoke in the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

TFC2

I have conversations daily with funeral directors nationally about funeral payment plans and collecting full GPL prices prior to engaging in a funeral contract.  More often than not I get questions from funeral directors: “What if the family?” I’m going to address some of those questions I get from the field.

What if the family does not have any money?  My immediate response (and yes we have trained our staff and we actually give the same response when asked in an arrangement session): How much is no money?  Not anecdotal, but I literally witnessed this same question posed to a funeral director and the family ultimately paid over $15,000 in cash for a complete funeral!  Does your funeral home train how to provide a response?  When a family says “they have no money” what exactly does that mean?  Most funeral directors dive straight to the bottom without engaging further to better understand the financial posture of the people they “are directing.”  The appropriate response is: “How much is no money?”  Then, close your mouth, listen, when appropriate inquire more, and then create a solution that suits their budget.  I know you’re sitting there saying “what if they have NO money?” Back at your here, what do you do?

“What if the family does not qualify for a loan at FuneralPayPlan.com?”  You go back to the drawing board.  The next step is to let the family know that you will accept a minimum of X% (our firm requires 80%) up front in cash, credit card or life insurance assignment.  The family is required to sign up to pay the balance on Simple Funeral Payment Plan which requires them to allow withdrawal from their bank account, not just get billed and send in a check to your funeral home.  By the way, if you are billing a family and charging interest (1-whatever %) and you did not provided a TILA (federal Truth In Lending Act statement) and/or their calculated APR, your firm is most likely out of federal lending regulatory compliance.  No funeral contract is signed by the funeral director until the payment is secured.

“What if the family can’t come up with the X% up front?”  You are offering them the wrong service and products; they simply can’t afford the current services or product selections!  I wrote about this a while ago “I Only Have Bus Fare But I Want a Cadillac” and basically once you know that a family can’t afford what you are offering, then you must change their options.  If not, you are part of the problem.

“What if the family gets money from FuneralPayPlan.com deposited in their account but they use it to buy something else?”  Well, I guess I can only answer this one: “here’s your sign”

TFC1

I have much more to say from experience and training firms to cash flow better for at need services, so this subject will continue in other posts. This post will generate enough fodder for those that #FNhustle and want to make #FNchange; so feel free to contact me to initiate training to make positive steps to build your #FNbrand. Of course, the others will simply smirk and continue upon their path of “often wrong but never in doubt.”

From the smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

FD Training Mistakes

I am the first to admit that I don’t make an A on every test.  In fact, I often struggle with taking and passing tests much less reach a level of consistent perfection.  Just this week I made a very visible mistake by posting the wrong word in the title because my lack of focus and self-editing.  It did not take long for the “edit police” to quickly point out my error, so I corrected the mistake and then made fun of myself along with thanking the “good eye” folks.

I always find that acknowledging mistakes with an apology and humor tends to work, at least for non-life threatening stuff like spelling errors.  Other more egregious mistakes (or any made as a husband or father) take an elevated/expedited response of contrite begging for forgiveness followed by some sort of restaurant visit. One recent very public mistake was made by Steve Harvey when he announced the wrong winner of Miss Universe. Steve quickly corrected the mistake and took responsibility.  At Christmas, he even made fun of himself in a tweet:

mistake

During a recent funeral home training session we actually addressed the subject of correcting mistakes.  Why would correcting mistakes be a training issue?  How we correct the mistake is highly important simply because when errors happen in the funeral home, the reaction as well as the corrective measures make a difference.  So, when correcting a mistake:

  1. Be accountable and acknowledge your mistake.  Don’t pass blame on to anyone or on any circumstance.  You did it, own it.
  2. Be humble and contrite in being accountable for making the mistake.  Most of us are far more willing to forgive if the person asking has accepted responsibility and sincerely asked for forgiveness.
  3. Correct the mistake immediately.  If the mistake is really bad, you may have to not only correct the mistake but also compensate for any resulting harm.  Always do so, but within reason.
  4. Once you have completed 1-3, then train on or document how to avoid repeating the mistake.

Does your funeral home have a training program to provide guidance and a “road map” of processes to follow?  Training for funeral directors and staff is essential to continuous improvement for funeral homes.  When a new funeral director arrives to work (seasoned or newly licensed), what training is provided that will keep consistent performance and behaviors aligned with the company culture?  Most funeral homes have the “follow me around and do what I do” training program which provides vulnerability to mistakes, some that may ultimately prove costly.  For example; why are funeral homes all over the country being consistently fined by the FTC for GPL violations?  Yep, we have training specific to the GPL based on the FTC Funeral Rule and I dare say that our funeral homes will never fail that particular test.

Funeral director training is not difficult or greatly time consuming but must be intentional with relevant content.  If you want to know more about how to implement training in your funeral home contact the folks at G2 Funeral Group.  Until next time, try to keep the mistakes to a minimum and I’ll get someone to proofread this before publishing.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

 

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