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David kicked Goliaths ass.  Interestingly, David’s fellow warriors remained on the sidelines, huddled like a covey of quail, and just waited to see David get beat down by the giant.  But David was not only brave, he was an innovator.  He knew there was a simple solution to attack to win, versus the conventional “we’ve always done this way (and getting our ass kicked too)” crowd.

Guess what, fellow family-owned, small suppliers, and free thinkers of the funeral business:  “Goliaths” don’t innovate.  They dictate! 

Think about it.  What new innovation has made serious impact on the way we serve families or make our job better in the last 10 years?

Recently I was having a conversation with a funeral home owner client and he was lamenting how the funeral industry seems to be completely driven by “the big boys.”  And by “big boys,” he meant publicly-traded funeral homes and casket companies, membership organizations and other funeral industry providers who seem to determine our direction.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to address different categories of funeral industry Goliaths and highlight the emerging Davids.  I have a sling in one hand and rocks in another.  Yeah, this is going to be fun!  From the Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

silly

The funeral profession has some really quirky regulations and irregular standards that cause undue scrutiny every time one of our illustrious colleagues performs a stupid stunt. We have states that require a dual license (embalmer and director), we have a state that requires no license (Colorado). We have states where a funeral home must have at least 6 caskets in the building.  Another prohibits casket sales other than from a funeral home. And even a state that requires a hearse be parked on the premises. Most fascinating is that regulations are “interpreted” just like some interpret the Bible-whatever suits personal position. The Funeral Rule is one of the clearest cut and simplest regulatory set of rules I have ever seen.  Yet, nearly 30% of funeral homes inspected annually are in violation.

Who makes all these silly regulations? Funeral directors. Consider dual licensure.  Does anyone think some personalities and talents are more suited for arrangements versus embalming?  Bringing Igor out of the dungeon expecting a Billy Graham arrangement session is ludicrous.  Why not 3 caskets in the building, or maybe an even dozen?  What’s the legal definition of a hearse? Could it be a van with the respectful “landau” strip of metal on the side?

We are our own worst enemy creating barriers for success because we attempt a façade of some messed up nobility which supersedes common sense. One thing I really like about the “new generation” of funeral directors that are entering the marketplace. They don’t take your word for it, they Google and fact check.  You know, actually find the regulations on their smart devices and challenging the absurd when Foghorn Leghorn starts crowing.

We are entering a new era in the funeral business where the light is being shined on the darkness simply because of information.  And when you have information, you become educated.  When you get educated, you have a platform to effect change.  Rather than embrace “what is,” run the risk of failing scrutiny because you’ve processed regulations in a self serving way, let’s get educated and busy. Perhaps the time has come to clean up this ridiculous mess.

From the sunny Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

The King and I II

May 2nd began new era for me; I am now the Director of Marketing for The Foresight Companies. Over the last 2 months, Dan Isard and I have conducted in-depth due diligence, meetings, sharing of philosophies concluding that this opportunity is right for both of us.  Learning from Dan as an understudy and gleaning from his vast 30 years of funeral consulting expertise is indeed a fantastic opportunity.

Fortunately, I am not only  going to get a PhD in funeral consulting, I also broaden the platform of reach through The Funeral Commander blog  as well as the Funeral Nation TV with my co-host and social media expert Ryan Thogmartin continuing to “raise the flag” for our industry.  Additionally, the At Need Credit company fits nicely into The Foresight Companies wheel house especially with our Simple Funeral Payment Plan software platform to clean up accounts receivable for funeral homes.

Yes, this a significant change and commitment for both of us.  Dan shaped up his intention for my future in an early email to me: “It was a story told that the young Egyptian kings would eat the eyes of the former king so that the young king would have seen all that their predecessor did.  I am better today at what I do based on what I have seen for 30 plus years.  I have to try to pass that on to my protegé as quickly as possible.”

So there you have it. I’m in the process of fantastic professional growth and educational experience.  If you know both Dan and I , you will also know that our wit and humor are aligned (see Funeral Nation TV Episode #30 to get a flavor of how we are working together. So when you see Dan at future conferences and conventions, take a few moments to ask him what type of service dog he is training with. As for me I’m studying exactly which rum pairs well with eye balls.

From the new Command Post (west) and in dire need to find a cigar lounge that I can work from, 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

 

 

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

 

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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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

 

 

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