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Funeral Director Training

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The answer, “We’ve always done it that way.”  The question, “What do funeral home owners say when their market share is declining, profits are dwindling, and business in a downward spiral?”  Really?!  Can’t we agree that, by definition, this is insanity – doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results?  Wake The Funeral up!

I am continuously astounded when I talk with funeral home owners and listen to their reluctance to address the real problems they are facing in their businesses.  “I just don’t think I can get our directors to do that” and “It’s never worked in the past” are common laments.  Both statements indicate that the Inmates are running your asylum.  You may be in worse shape than you think!

At some point you are going to want to sell or transfer your business and the value is going to be less than you expect.  Lackadaisical leadership (aka poor business management) is the root cause of funeral home financial failure.  Even more interesting is that owners know they have problems but fail to hire professionals to resolve issues.  If you are a funeral home owner and your profit margin is less than 8%, you have no Human Resources manual or consistent training for your staff, and you have any accounts receivable over 60 days: I AM TALKING TO YOU!

I find it amusing that you, funeral home owners, consistently opine, “People now-a-days just don’t plan and find themselves in a mess scrambling to pay when death occurs.” Funny thing, Mr./Ms. Funeral Home Owner, you are just as bad.  Take a look at your profit margin, accounts receivable, cremation vs. burial revenues, and market share.  Are you planning for what’s ahead or just doing the same thing you have always done?

Snap out of it!  The first step in getting well is to acknowledge something is wrong. Congratulations if you’ve done so – you’re half way there.  Now, get well!  Raise your hand and ask for help. From the Command Post (West) in the cigar bunker, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

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I recently had the opportunity to attend a professional baseball game in Phoenix.  Besides sitting in great seats in an air conditioned stadium (the only problem was the lack of a cigar bar), I enjoyed watching the preparation of the players prior to the first pitch.  Guess what?  Highly paid professional baseball players were taking batting practice, fielding balls and throwing to warm up.  If pro baseball players practice, why don’t professional funeral directors?

I’m not talking about CEU’s where you doodle on the handout and spend most of the session on your smartphone chatting about how bored you are. I’m talking about training.  The funeral industry has falsely manifested the notion that CEU’s are training.  They are not. They are education.   Consider the difference in reading about how to throw a strike from 60 feet versus getting on the mound and actually doing it.  Do you think that you may have to spend time honing your craft?   Unfortunately, I see and know of many instances where funeral directors are throwing lots of balls nowhere near the plate.  Behavior modification is achieved through practice and consistent work on perfecting any particular segment of our business.

I am certain that the “you don’t know what you’re talking about” crowd is reading this with a mindset that redundancy in performance negates the need for training or practice.  What if you are doing it wrong in the first place?  How many of you offer the GPL at the proper time and in the prescribed fashion required by the FTC?   The fact that the FTC reports annually that about 25% of all funeral homes are in some violation regarding the GPL presentation is damning proof.  “We’ve always done it that way” does not reduce the fine levied on you by the Government.

We all know that when a funeral director goes into the arrangement room and closes the door, they have their own way of doing things, right or wrong.  How many owners/managers take the time to sit in on arrangements to measure performance of things like presentation of the GPL, the discussion of the payment policy, explanation of products, and services?  Does your firm even have a standard for the arrangement process that a funeral director should follow?  I’m not suggesting “gotcha” stuff; I am asking how do you know WTF (What the Funeral) is going on in there if you don’t take the time to observe?  There is a saying “expect what you inspect.”  Of course, if you have no roadmap or process for the director to follow, then Mr. /Ms. funeral home owner/manager…that’s on you.

Here’s a challenge:  Tell me what problem in leading a funeral home could not be solved with training and practice?  Throwing even the most seasoned funeral director on the mound to pitch a perfect game is not providing the leadership necessary to have consistent success.  If you own/manage a funeral home, it’s your responsibility to create a continuous improvement culture.  If you are a funeral director and you don’t have any leadership in your firm, ask and take the lead.  Taking 15-20 minutes once or twice a week is absolutely possible but only if leadership exists.

Our funeral directors train at least twice per week on a myriad of different subjects for the short time period I described.  From the Command Post (West) through the fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

 

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I have trained thousands of funeral directors in my tenure and hearing I don’t like to talk about money from some always gets a reply from me: “Well, then your funeral home owner shouldn’t deposit your salary into your bank account since money is so distasteful to you.”  Now hear this! It’s your job to talk about the money! The FTC provides you with a document that actually has numbers on it; it’s called a General Price List.  The GPL is not a general services list or a memoir of the history of your funeral home.  It’s about the MONEY!

Why don’t funeral directors like to talk about the money?  A few excuses come to mind. The first, “I just do this as a ministry.”  No problem, I’ll donate your earnings to the charity of your choice.  Another, “I don’t want to upset the family when they are experiencing such a difficult time.” It’s your job, Skippy. Do you think that families show up thinking the funeral is gratis? (That’s free for y’all in West Virginia.) Still yet, “I’m here to serve and the money will take care of itself.”  Yes, you are here to serve.  However, it’s your responsibility to make sure the family knows the costs of their chosen goods and services as well as what options are available for payment…otherwise, are you going to make them guess?

The FTC makes it easy for funeral directors because it mandates (not asks, not suggests) that the General Price List be presented to a family prior to engaging in the selection of services and products.  Do me a favor; open up a GPL (you know, the leather bound, embossed folder with old English lettering and the dove on the front cover).  Take a look at the descriptions of services and then note the $ symbol with numbers next to it.  That set of symbols and numbers notates the prices; you know…how much your firm charges people for services or products.

It’s worth repeating. The FTC mandates that you share this document, the General Price List, with each and every family you serve.  What makes you think that you shouldn’t talk about THE PRICES?  Are you ashamed of what your firm charges?  Are you scared to actually do your job?  Do you think you’re doing the family a favor by keeping them in the dark?  Are you making a choice to be out of compliance with the FTC?  What is your reluctance?  Please, help me understand!

By the way, I have the “secret sauce” of how to talk about the money with families.  And guess what? Everyone pays and we have $0.00 accounts receivable.  From the Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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With cash flow solutions being my primary emphasis in my consulting business for at need services, I am continually confounded when I learn that a funeral home does not utilize an insurance factoring company.  As many know, I pretty much believe in the “I’m not going to tell you to go to hell.  I’m going to tell you the truth and it feels like hell.”  The truth: Wasting in-house resources (time, personnel, effort, and overhead) to collect insurance is ridiculous. Now, you may not feel like hell, but you may feel unenlightened and marginally distraught.

If you don’t know how this works, please allow me to enlighten you, and in the process, offer your the families you serve, you, peace and payment!  When a family presents you a life insurance policy for the deceased, you may tell the family member that you will accept the policy to pay for their loved one’s funeral expenses.  However, the policy must be valid, non-contestable and the beneficiaries must assign the funds necessary to pay for the expenses to the funeral home. Tracking so far?

At this point, you also inform the family that your firm has engaged a company that will confirm the viability of the policy, accept assignment, and pay your funeral home the proceeds directly.  If the policy has more funds than what is needed for funeral expenses, the company will send funds to the family in about 4-6 weeks. The fee for this transaction is .0x% and that fee will be taken from the life insurance proceeds.  So, by using this process, your loved one has provided you a gift of life insurance to pay for their funeral expenses and it is a cashless event…no money out of pocket.Peace.Payment.

I can hear the rumbling and grumbling from the unenlightened.  “I don’t want to charge a family a fee.”  Let me ask this question, Skippy: “Why not?”  At best, Miss Edna is going to make several phone calls to insurance companies trying to track down your money…yes, it’s your money.  Why are you going to wait the customary 3-4 weeks for your money?  The family will pay for the convenience and relief of a “cashless event.” Oh, another question, Skippy:“Have you ever conducted the service, buried the casket or cremated the body prior to learning that the policy is not viable?” Brilliant. Now Miss Edna is on the phone trying to get the firm paid and guess what the family will tell you: “We don’t have that kind of money.” Miss Edna just has to become a collection agent because you refuse to use common sense and sound business practices.

Peace and payment for both you and the family. The family will pay the fee, certain they wont have unexpected bill later; you will get paid with surety and faster.  If the policy is declined, you know immediately and deal with it before the service. Read what I rant and write, DO NOT SIGN A FUNERAL CONTACT UNTIL PAYMENT IS SECURED!

This is one of many steps in the business of doing business that will keep your firm in a $0.00 accounts receivable status.  Yep, I’m smoking a 6×6 Maduro blowing a thick cloud of smoke on the observation platform of the Command Post (West).  Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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US funeral homes are owed over $300 million for services and products already provided. Let that sink in. Just this past week I was made privy to a firm that has over $500,000 of accounts receivable. If you are a funeral director that proclaims “I’m here to serve families and I don’t talk about money,” then you have an owner in dire need of a spine implant or major cajones attachment surgery.

The ridiculous notion of allowing such behavior is squarely the fault of funeral home ownership and management.  Why is there over $300 million owed to funeral homes? Because funeral home owners and managers allow the inmates to run the asylum by not training, monitoring, measuring, and continuously improving their staff. Apparently the pain of not getting paid for services rendered isn’t near the pain of leadership by training and holding funeral directors accountable for their actions.

If you are a funeral director reading this and your firm has accounts receivable, then you are the problem  (make sure your owner doesn’t see this post).  If you are a funeral home owner/manager and your firm has accounts receivable and you are reading this, I give you two options:

  1. Take charge and lead your funeral directors with training to resolve your AR problems.
  2. Do nothing and allow your funeral directors to run your business out of business.

If number one above looks palatable and you don’t have the ability or the capacity to effect this change, then email me jeff@atneedcredit.com. If you think number two is your best option, then I have a question for you: How do you stand up without a spine?

Yep, I’m clearly on the battlefield today and loving the smoke of combat. Remember, I’m not going to tell you to go to hell, I am however, going to tell you the truth and it feels like hell. For those of you that feel like hell, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

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Quick question:  How much do you currently have in your firm’s Accounts Receivable?  What could you buy right now for your business if that money was in your bank account?  New computers?  A new hearse?  A total remodel?   A new location?  If your funeral home has accounts receivable, your payment policy (immune system) is broken and your firm is suffering from a serious disease.  What I find astounding is that some funeral homes don’t know they are sick.  People die every day because they failed to get regular check-ups and pay attention to their health.  When the news strikes and depending on the stage of the disease, it is sometimes too late for any treatments or even surgery.

Funeral home owners are no different. Ignoring the very information in front of their face; accounts receivables.  I talked to an owner recently with over $300,000 owed for services and products already provided!  The average funeral home has $17,000 in AR’s…folks that over $300,000,000 (three hundred million for those of you that “don’t do numbers, we just serve”) that is due for hard work.

Get a financial check-up.  If you have any money due over 30 days, you’re sick.  It may be a cold (a small amount) or full blown stage 4 cancer.  At Need Credit has the cure, you just have to take your medicine.  Simple Funeral Payment Plan is easy and the technology is far better that poor Mrs. Edna sending out those letters from the book of promises every month, but few checks coming in return.  It’s just that simple, why won’t you do something to make it better?

From out west in Sunny Scottsdale (yes, I’m in training), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

Today, we’d like to a moment and share a recent interview with AtNeedCredit.com managing partner, Jeff Harbeson.

Jeff has been in the funeral industry for many years, has founded or co-founded numerous funeral-related businesses and websites and shares valuable insights from his experience.

He regularly contributes his expertise to publications, both offline and online, is co-host of Funeral Nation TV (an online show for the funeral industry) and writes regularly on his blog, The Funeral Commander. We welcome Jeff Harbeson to the CareCap blog.


 

Ed:  Thanks for joining us today, Jeff, on the CareCap blog.  So, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background? What’s your story?

Pull-Quote-Jeff-Harbeson-01-768x768Jeff:  My story has many chapters and the story is ongoing.  The most important chapters are my marriage to my wife Jacque for 32 years.  Bless her heart, she deserves a special place in heaven!  We have two fantastic sons Hunter (off my payroll) and Jackson (finishing high school). 

Often folks ask what I do, and my response is: 

“I am raising my daughter-in-law’s husband and my grandchildren’s father.  My work is merely a support for their well-being and my habits (cigars, rum, golf and travel).” 

Ed:  (LOL) Well, that’s a pretty great answer, I can tell you have a healthy sense of humor. similar to my father- he served in the Navy for 20+ years, but I know you were an Army man, so I’m sure you’d still all get along! How long were you in service to your country?

Jeff:  I was honored to serve our country for 20 years in the Army including deployment to the Middle East for service in Operation Desert Storm.  I was trained to be a leader and had the opportunity to be a TAC Officer (drill instructor) at Officers Candidate School where I trained over 400 enlisted and non-commissioned officers to become combat leaders, some still serving today.

My official retirement papers came September 11, 2001 and I retired as a Captain.  I have a personal mantra of “A vision is only a dream without execution” and a gift of working alongside some very smart people.

Oh yeah, I also don’t want to leave out that I’m not going to tell you to go to hell, but I’ll tell you the truth, which may feel like hell! J And I expect the same from those around me that I place my trust and emotional equity.

Pull-Quote-Jeff-Harbeson-02-768x768Ed:  Well, that’s a no-nonsense approach to life and in doing business, one that I can appreciate. So, after your time serving in the military, how did you get started in the funeral industry and what drew you to it?

Jeff:  My original start in the funeral industry was as a manufacturer providing custom made cremation cabinets in Ireland.  I learned quite a bit about the landscape and was later recruited by Batesville Casket Company in sales.

As I worked with funeral home owners, I was astounded at the lack of business acumen and leadership that was pervasive in the industry. 

Many times I was told by funeral home owners and directors alike “we have always done in this way” and “you can’t change that.”

So after dealing with those challenges in the funeral industry, I decided that I would create an entirely different funeral home operating platform using six-sigma methodology which is today trademarked as TouchPoints.

Later on, some partners and I started our own funeral service provider brand in Virginia from the ground up, Family Choice Funerals & Cremations.

As a partner/owner I was provided a fantastic education and training of how to develop a successful business.  The funeral home operation also provided me a platform for trying new theories of service, marketing, technology and management.

I have a penchant to provide information so that families can make an educated funeral decision and our team is dedicated to continuous improvement.

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Ed:  After recognizing these challenges in the funeral industry and what you’re seeing on the market today, what are some of the top things funeral homes are seeing as advancements or trends?

Certainly, technology and communication has changed the funeral home operating landscape and the expectations of the funeral consumer.  As a whole, funeral homes are reluctant and slow to embrace anything new.  To their detriment, this legacy characteristic offers entrepreneurs like me to take competitive advantage.

Our funeral homes use computers and tablets for all operations,which eliminates waste in human resources expense, such as administrative staff. Combining technology with social media is a tremendous advancement for our industry; however, the vast majority of funeral homes have not embraced the opportunities.

Another example of keeping up with consumer expectations is an online cremation service called Select Cremation that our team developed, which allows a funeral consumer to make complete arrangements for their loved one online and the cremated remains delivered to their house without ever leaving their comfortable surroundings.funeral-nation-tv_300x300

The way we communicate even within our industry is changing, for example I co-host an online show Funeral Nation TV which is viewed by over 20,000 people monthly in over 75 countries.  Frankly, it’s the best FN thing going in the industry 😃.

Ed:  It sounds like you’ve got a great handle in developing a strong online presence and embracing technology to share your challenges, success stories, etc. within your industry, great work!

With so many changes in technology and communication coming at us so fast in the business world, what would you say is the #1 business challenge funeral directors are facing today?

Jeff:  The lack of leadership of doing “the business of the business.”

Funeral professionals are compassionate caregivers providing a necessary service at what is considered one of the most difficult events in life; the loss of a loved one.

However, the typical funeral home is poorly managed from the business and financial standpoint.  Failure of owners to take accountability and leadership of their business places many firms in shaky financial postures.

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Ed:  I’m sure, as you say, funeral directors face many obstacles to running a funeral business as best as they can, while remaining compassionate to people dealing with a difficult time in their lives.  Speaking of finances, when dealing with consumers and their challenges at covering funeral expenses, how can funeral homes help?

Jeff:  When a deceased person does not have a funded pre-need trust/insurance or little to no life insurance, survivors are placed in a difficult spot.  Many families have limited credit card balances and little to no savings set aside to pay for unexpected funeral expenses.

Most people do not realize that funeral homes as well as cemeteries require full payment prior to services rendered.

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At Need Credit offers Funeral Directors two payment options for consumers, for funeral homes to recover their costs for goods and services.

FuneralPayPlan (info available at AtNeedCredit.com) is an online loan company providing funeral consumers loans for funeral expenses.  Simple Funeral Payment Plan, powered by CareCaps (also found at AtNeedCredit.com) is a versatile payment plan for funeral directors to bill payments over time as well as recover accounts receivable due.

Of course, funeral home owners must be proactive in training their funeral directors on how to assist families that have financial challenges.

At Need Credit offers such training that eliminates discounting and extraneous accounts receivable work.  Yet again, it takes leadership to make changes.

Ed:  Do you see any drawbacks to any of the payment options currently available to the funeral industry, such as At Need Credit?

Jeff:  There is no downside to funeral homes offering payment plans through a program such as At Need Credit.

However, if funeral homes offer credit or payment plans that charges interest, they are most likely out of federal lending compliance.  When a loan is offered (payment plan, credit or accounts receivable recovery) consumers must be provided with a Truth-In-Lending Act statement as well as calculated Annual Percentage Rates, at the time of application.

I have yet to see a funeral home in compliance of these regulations, thus a third party company like At Need Credit is their best option.

Ed:  It’s clear that every business, including the funeral industry, needs to be compliant when offering financing and that by contracting with a third party to handle payment options, they can avoid the finance compliance issues.  In terms of searching for a third party funeral financing or payment plan solution, what type of advice would you offer to a Funeral Director when he/she is evaluating a payment solution for their business?

Funeral directors should research what others are saying about the payment platform, the tool should offer the ability to create and modify customized payment plans, ensure that deposits can be paid out quickly and that they doesn’t aren’t charged unusually high or unnecessary start up fees.

I’d recommend they also go through a full demo of the payment system, to test out the system before implementing in the funeral home business.

Lastly, select a company that has established and updated training for funeral directors, in order to understand how to offer payment plan options during the funeral arrangement session.

Ed:  You’ve owned, operated and managed many funeral industry-related businesses. What advice would you recommend for a family planning a funeral in today’s environment?

I would recommend to everyone they discuss their own end-of-life wishes with family members.  Although this may sound odd, it can be enlightening and provide impetus to collect necessary documents (life insurance policies, wills, advance medical directives, DD-214, etc.) and at least know the location of these important documents, in case of an unexpected death. 

Humor makes the conversation so much easier.  Discussing outfits, after parties and other events often leads to more important matters. 

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I have personally planned my event in Aruba at the Bugaloe Beach Bar headed by my Italian Catholic, Southern Baptist and Jewish funeral director friends leading the bereaved with cigars and lots of rum.  Sounds like a hell of a sendoff, huh? 

Unfortunately, we cannot predict death, especially when we lose those that are younger than us.  Just recently I had such an experience and shared the story on my blog: https://thefuneralcommander.com/2015/11/24/its-personal-grief-grace-gratitude/.

Ed:  Your event you have planned in Aruba, definitely sounds like a hell of a way to celebrate your life!

And I definitely agree with what you recommend, that people take the time to discuss and notate what their end of life wishes should be.  Too many times, friends or family members pass away and we as the survivors, face challenges and awkward moments planning and carrying out what we think are the best wishes on their behalf.  Your advice of taking care of creating and managing the necessary documents is something that might be a challenge at first, but important to do so for the sake of our loved ones.

Thanks so much for your time and sharing your story and advice from your years in the funeral business and serving our country in the military; do you have any last words you’d like to share with our readers as we sign off?

I would encourage everyone to take each day as a gift and love deeply those closest because tomorrow may not come.  Plan, talk, laugh and love.

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Ed Bisquera

Digital Marketing Consultant at Bisquera Digital
Ed is a guest author on the CareCap blog, providing articles and tips to businesses on using digital marketing tactics to gain more customers. You can reach him on Twitter or LinkedIn or post in the comments section below. Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official corporate policy or position of CareCap.
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