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Monthly Archives: March 2016

AZ Post 2

What was once an easy function is now menacing.

Recently relatives visited us just to get together. Ordinarily such an event is simply part of what families do, but this visit was very different for me making yet another impression about how fragile life really is. Hosting the visiting family at our home, we took a ride around the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you have never visited this part of Virginia, the scenery is fantastic, so the day trip was enjoyable with warm springlike weather. Of course I can tell that I am getting older because I actually pay attention to all the landscape and mountains.

One of our relatives visiting has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease for a few years; however because of the distance of the miles between us, we have not spent time with him lately.  This man is a well-respected individual with a meager start, serving at the highest pinnacles of his profession, finally retiring a few years back.  I always admired his thirst for reading with a library of books spanning a wide variety of subjects. Like many of us, he lived his life working for the days that he could relax, travel and spend time on his terms rather than endure the hectic schedules in our busy work lives.

But along the way, the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s came, disrupting an otherwise fantastic life. The man that took both of my sons on trips, came to ball games, and cared for them as his own children now is in need of care himself. I was struck by his bewilderment at times, his silence during conversations and, moreover, by his private struggle of discomfort. Here, a man that at one time had tremendous responsibility over thousands is struggling with simple basics like whereabouts.

The moment that “took me under” was just prior to their departure. His wife brought me a bag of neck ties and she asked if I would tie them for her.  I gladly accepted because I actually enjoy this particular part of being a man and frankly, I do a pretty good job.  While looking in the mirror as I customarily do during the process, I became overwhelmed with emotion. This simple act that he performed for over 60 years of his life was now something menacing.  I stood there looking at myself with his tie wrapped around my neck thinking of all the wonderful times I had spent with him, a man that had done so much for others, including me, could not tie his own tie because of this retched disease.

Although we all pitched in to assist his wife over the weekend with simple movements from place to place, this moment really got to me.  I was honored to tie his ties, but also reminded that we only have today.  If we are healthy, we enjoy a carefree luxury that at some point in our lives may turn into a burden. Not just for ourselves, but for those that love and care for us. I have a renewed respect and empathy for those caring for others, it’s just plain exasperating and exhausting.  Literally everything that was once simple is now a challenge.

Upon completion of getting all the ties tied, I returned them to his wife.  As I handed them to her, I knew that another task was taken off her huge caretaker list. But doing this was more than a help for her, it was a lesson for me. Be grateful for today and those that love you. Have compassion for others that love someone else enough to dedicate their life to making life better for the person they love.  In the end, there is an end.  Enjoy what you have now, it doesn’t last forever.  From the Command Post, Cheers y’all.  #thefuneralcommander

 

Remedy 2

When funeral home owners and managers are challenged regarding their failed payment policy of collecting funds for their goods and services, finger-pointing begins.  Often I hear “Once that arrangement door closes, there is not much I can do” and “We have a payment policy, but funeral directors are just not following it” along with other nonsensical gibberish. When statements are made like this I think about the old saying “The inmates running the asylum.”

I had the opportunity to present a Continuing Education Unit over the weekend at Tidewater Community College on the subject “Cash Flow Solutions for At Need Services.” The attendees were very engaged and truly seeking solutions to create better financial postures and processes of recovering the hard-earned revenues of their respective funeral homes.  The problems can be solved with four steps.

Leadership: Step up and be the leader your funeral directors need and initiate solutions with immediate action.  Any non-action to address failure is failure.

Remedy

Training: Create a training program that is easily adapted, intentional and produces measurable results.  If your funeral home does not have organic competence or experience (most don’t) for training, hire a professional. Interesting in the funeral profession there is much howling of directors “hire professional funeral directors” to consumers rather than use online services, “disposers” or “discounters.” Yet when the same barking ilk are in need of assistance in an area that they possess no background or expertise, they seek remedy’s that rarely produce results by non professions. Some examples: Business Management, Financial Advisory/Oversight, Marketing and Social Media Management.

Remedy 3

Accountability: As a funeral home owner or manager, hold yourself accountable first. If you know there are problems (accounts receivable, discounts, life insurance recovery), then it’ your obligation to raise your hand and ask for help, not the funeral directors or employees.  Once you initiate training, then accountability on all levels may be assigned.

Remedy 4

Monitor/Measure/Improve: Training without monitoring the process, measuring results, and continuous refining is a futile exercise.  In fact, the funeral industry has created the notion that “education/CEU” is sufficient. If that’s the case, why do 30% of our colleagues get repeatedly fined by the FTC for simple GPL violations?

MMI

After reading this post look at your YTD (year to date, you know the start of 2016 to now) accounts receivable and discounts allowed. If you don’t know how to find this data, you are in huge trouble.  If this report reveals any AR balances or discounts given, you are in some trouble because your payment policy does not work. Multiply those numbers x 4 to see how bad your year is going to turn out. If you have $0.00 accounts receivable and have not offered any discounts, congrats as you are among a small few of your peers (or you don’t have a clue and in denial).  Get professional help now, remedies and resources are available but you have to raise your hand (and write a check). Want to know who and how? Contact me.

 It’s all about #FNchange, #FNhustle and #FNbrand people!

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

Preach It

Is the funeral industry trying to reflect or define funeral consumer demand and trends? I was provided inspiration for this post while watching a political show recently where the moderator was interviewing a Presidential candidate. The line of questioning was how certain “Washington outsider candidates” with a combined vote count (from both parties) are receiving such an overwhelming number of votes versus the “establishment” candidates. Further, the “establishment” leaders are bewildered because the will of the people is not aligned the establishment ideals. The interviewee’s answer: “The people are rejecting the notion of we’ve always done in this way with their vote.”

As a whole, the funeral industry is in the same mired quandary. The funeral “establishment” is in full attempt defining what consumers want rather than reflecting market demand. No? Last week I posted Use a Computer for Funeral Arrangements? That’s Unprofessional! causing quite a vigorous debate between funeral directors about writing or typing. Yesterday I visited a well-established funeral home in a small town and it is  the market leader (volume 250+ calls).  When I inquired to the owner about what changes he is witnessing he shared with me that in this traditional, high burial church attending town, cremations are on a significant rise (not a surprise).  However, he went on to say that visitations have sharply decreased stating: “I don’t know why I need all this room here, people are just not acting like they used to.” According to conventional wisdom, he should be charging more for visitations and showing more value (maybe free cookies) which would certainly turn the tide.

It’s not just funeral directors that are part of the “establishment” because vendors and manufacturers are of the guilty ilk as well.  Without a doubt, the upcoming ICCFA Annual Convention & Exposition in New Orleans will have the “newest and best” line of caskets that families will love turning in the showroom like crazy making a significant difference to the funeral home’s bottom line.  Yet, in 2016 cremation will eclipse burial as the consumers choice as final disposition.

Think about this: what exactly is the “establishment” vendors and manufacturers doing to address the real challenges that funeral providers face?  If you haven’t a clue what those challenges are, see Serious Funeral Home Barriers to Success for a start. Unfortunately with all the R&D funds (used to find someone else that has invented something new), it’s the same people selling the same stuff to the same flock of sheep. No answers; but one can hear whispers of The Orchestra is Lovely as the ship continues to sink.

However friends, there are sunshine rays peeking through murky clouds of the funeral industry future! I actually saw a very well established, multi-location, legacy generational, family owned funeral home create their own cremation internet business to consumers in their market!  I am also privy to several funeral home owners initiating deep dive diagnosis of their business for their future financial and operational health. We are witnessing some of the flock being healed from their accounts receivable and discount afflictions!  PRAISE THE LORD, there is hope!

Now the serious question needs to be asked, please close your eyes. Search deep into your heart and ask yourself “Am I really trying to adapt and provide what families I serve are asking for…or am I just repeating those painful actions of “We’ve always done it this way?” Friends, it’s never too late to see the light. I urge you, repent and change your ways! You can walk in the sunshine of the future and out of the darkness of the past. Amen.

From the pulpit with a cigar in hand and preaching to the congregation in the Command Chapel located on the Battlefield of Funeral Industry Innovation, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

Training funeral directors to proclaim “We are a funeral home, not a bank” is not the solution to get paid for goods and services.  Access to credit for an increasing number of consumers is becoming difficult and funeral homes are not equipped or offering funeral loans. Unfortunately, traditional lenders like banks are not offering funeral loans especially to those who are credit challenged.

The Washington Times reports that the majority, or 56 percent, of consumers have subprime credit scores (below 640), according to a report released (January 2016) by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a nonprofit that advocates for policy changes to help low- and moderate-income households. As a result, these consumers are often locked out of the lending markets. And if they are borrowing, chances are they’re missing out on the lowest rates being offered to consumers with stronger credit.  “Bad credit” doesn’t always mean that the consumer does not pay their debts. Credit is a touchy balancing act: a few missed or untimely payments (slow pay) combined with a high debt to low income ratio and the consumer will find themselves in a quick negative credit score spiral.

Yet, family members of the before-mentioned 56 percent are dying and seeking ways to pay for funeral expenses; they can pay, but not borrow money to pay. With a body in building, what do you do?  I have outlined steps previously in posts Funeral Director Training: Secure Payment Before Contract Signed. and Funeral Director Training: “We ain’t got much money.”  Training funeral directors in advance to understand the parameters of your firm’s policy and the tools/services available for them to create a sensible solution for payment is easily accomplished.

Denying the truth doesn’t change the facts. The truth is funeral home owners are not training staff to create solutions for consumers are struggling financially or providing the tools necessary. These facts manifest themselves with discounts of goods and services along with accounts receivable hampering the cash flow of the business. Solutions are available; take a step in the right direction by contacting me.  To initiate improvement of your financial strength and take charge.  Funeral Pay Plan is the only funeral industry company with funeral home leadership and the experience to change your facts. We have some big news on the horizon which will add to our strength as the at need solutions leaders for cash flow in the funeral industry, stay tuned!

From the Command Post, Cheer’s Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

Doc

I recently visited my cardiologist for my annual checkup (yes, to make sure I have a heart). The process at this practice starts with me on the scales (ugh) and then escorted into an examination room for nurses to take my blood pressure (120/82) and ask questions updating my health habits. When asked about smoking, of course I proudly shared my cigar affinity (’till death do us part) only to be met with scowling looks.

A trainee nurse was taking all the information and conducting the vital stuff with a seasoned nurse providing oversight.  The trainee used software while entering my information on a tablet device.  I didn’t think much of it until the cardiologist came into my little room (35 minutes later or course).

Upon entry we shook hands, chatted a bit and then he opened up his laptop (see photo above). Immediately I asked the physician permission to take a photo of him (not showing his face). I explained why, and he complied.  He also showed me the software he uses providing my entire medical history and information important to him on a dashboard.

Not long ago I was part of a lengthy discussion with funeral directors regarding their opinions using computers during funeral arrangements with families. Needless to say, there were quite a few emotional responses (imagine that with funeral directors). My favorite was “Using a computer with families is unprofessional” and “You have your head down typing and can’t look the family in the eyes while talking to them.”

Two problems:

  1. “Unprofessional” to use a computer in arrangements?  I suppose physicians, financial advisers, bankers, CPA’s and the “other professionals” have it wrong! Certainly the information they are entering is far less important than what funeral directors have to capture.  Only the “other professionals” make so many mistakes and spelling errors that they really need to use a computer when dealing with their patients or clients.  Without a doubt, the handwriting funeral directors “care more.”
  2. “Head down typing.” Really? If you learned how to type or truly could become advanced by sharing your laptop or tablet screen on a 60 inch TV, the family could watch as well as participate in the process!  By the way, who writes without looking down? I’d love to see how that turns out.

It’s time for our industry to align with other professions by investing and training funeral directors to become proficient at basic business skills. “I can’t type on a computer” or “I’m not comfortable using a computer.” is simply unacceptable.  Go to a community college, ask a 7 year old to teach you, get trained, and step up your game.  Funny how fear and reluctance of change actually inhibits professionalism and service; it’s the little things that count.  It’s time to #Fnchange by getting your #FNhustle on to build a better #FNbrand for yourself and your funeral home.

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

 

wagmm2

Depending on the zip code funeral directors serve, working with families who are financially struggling is moving from an occasional to a regular occurrence. How is your funeral home training funeral directors to successfully address “we ain’t got much money?” If your funeral home does not reside in such a zip code, then count your blessings. For everyone else, let’s examine how to address this very touchy part of funeral arrangements.

When a loved one dies, most families find themselves suffering anguish from their loss. For a growing segment of consumers, close behind the anguish of loss is the increased pressure of how they are going to pay for the funeral. Training staff for this difficult situation can be proved successful by communicating and creating a solutions .

To start, communication early in the arrangement session is key. The FTC provides us a fantastic tool to address what may be deemed “the elephant in the room.” No matter the preference of the funeral director (development of trust and assurance or collecting important information), prior to discussing services and prices we are mandated to provide the family with a GPL. In case you haven’t noticed, the GPL provides services, products, and are you ready for this; prices (you know, those numbers with a $ in front of them).

Frankly, not addressing this need early on with a family is poor service. Don’t think so?  How many times have you waited to talk about money after complete arrangements have been made by sliding the goods and services statement in front of the decisions makers only then reviewing the bill?  All of a sudden the entire entourage needs a cigarette and a bathroom break returning to tell you that they can’t afford what has been created. You embarrassed them and now you have to start all over again which is a loss of revenue for your time spent, just as a start. This is where everything unravels because many funeral directors will simply offer some kind of discount or claim “we’ll work something out.”  If you sign a contract without securing the payment (see Funeral Director Training: Secure Payment Before Contract Signed), you own this problem.

While proving information about the GPL, consider this language: “The GPL is  just like a menu at a restaurant, it has our services, products, and prices. We don’t charge any more than what’s listed nor do we charge any less. Before we move forward, do you have any questions or concerns regarding our services, products, or prices on our GPL?” From experience, the door has been opened and inevitably the statement “We ain’t got much money” or something similar is floated by the family members in the arrangement session. The response from the funeral director: “How much is not much money? What are your expectations for your loved ones funeral and your financial position to pay for those services?”

If a family states that they desire a “simple funeral” or a “basic cremation” the funeral director should know off the top of their head basic costs. For example: “Our simple funeral with our basic fees (includes staff), transfer from place of death to our care, embalming, casketing, dressing, visitation, interment, funeral vehicles, basic casket and outer burial container is $X,XXX. These costs do not include cemetery costs or cash advances like obituary charges, death certificates or flowers.”  If the family chooses basic cremation: “Our basic cremation includes our basic fees (includes staff), transfer from place of death to our care, embalming, dressing, visitation, a cremation casket, crematory fees and a typical urn is $X,XXX. These costs do not include cash advances such as obituary, flowers, ME fees, and death certificates.”

At this point if the family shares that they do not have enough funds for any of the above, the next logical question from the funeral director: “Share with me your budget and funds available so I may determine what we can provide for you. Please also keep in mind we require full payment prior to us entering an agreement.”  All the cards are on the table. Sometimes, there is not enough for the basics described above. When the family shares their financial position, the funeral director does their job; direct by creating services and products to suit the ability for the family to pay.

Undoubtedly, some readers now are thinking “what if they have no money?” I have been in this business for some time and experienced these very situations. In the six years of our funeral home operations, we have had one family that could not come up with more than $600. Do not compromise. If your funeral home has a “direct cremation” of let’s say $2,000, then that is the cost. In nearly every case, from out of the blue, the funds appear from several sources but mostly other family members. Just this past weekend, a family “had no money” however miraculously, the entire amount was made available prior to engaging in the funeral contract.

Solutions exist to “we ain’t got much money” situations.  However the vast majority of funeral homes fail to train their directors how to solve the problems faced with financially struggling families.  If you knew that you had the cure for cancer, would you tell anyone?  I have the cure for “we ain’t got much money.” You can get a start treatments at Funeral Pay Plan or just keep letting the cancer continue to eat at your business.

Yep, I’m having a great cigar in the Command Post and watching golf while I compose (go Bubba!). Cheers Y’all…#thefuneralcommander

 

Please read this heartfelt and emotional account of a funeral director’s heart. #thefuneralcommander

A Simple, Village Undertaker

Today was a tough day. I cried at work and it has been a while since that has happened. Not that crying is unusual at my workplace, it’s just that I’m usually not the one doing it.

Before I tell you about today, I need to provide a brief, back story:

This past December, we were called to handle the cremation for a man whose next of kin was his sister.  As we navigated through the process, I saw where she lived and mentioned that my family had once lived in an adjacent neighborhood.  As we continued to chat, we connected the dots  and soon came to realize that our families had been next door neighbors for a short time before we moved  from Columbia to Aiken and they moved to a new home.

Happier times, almost twenty years ago. Happier times, almost twenty years ago.

That period of time is a bit of a blurr…

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