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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

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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.  Funeral Pay Plan has the cure, you just have to take your medicine and it’s easy with 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

 

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

 

 

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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

 

What are the top three obstacles funeral homes are facing that challenge their success? The seriousness of this question muddled with chatter about all sorts of unimportant blither; car model/style, which embalming fluids are best, pants, skirts or white shirts, discounters, direct disposers, the funeral consumers alliance, showing/not showing prices on websites, have a talk, talk about someone else, casket color, urn type, which organization to join, corporates, family owned, and so on. It’s time to address important matters, initiate solutions and take action.

Declining revenue and profit is placing severe pressure on the overall funeral home market. To make course corrections a funeral home has three options:

  1. Raise prices.
  2. Increase market share (conduct more calls).
  3. Cut costs.

Perhaps a combination of all three are necessary, however firms require a complete professional analysis of overheads, pricing and operations.  Identify gaps, create new processes, train staff to follow the specific processes, and measure results. Measurement and training are ongoing, not an annual event. This is quite a simple solution; however the majority of funeral home owners lack the will and ability to make this type of commitment to hold everyone employed in the business accountable including themselves.

Embedded in the solution of re-calibrating financial stability is training. Let me be clear, there is a difference in education and training.  The funeral industry plays patty-cake with training funeral directors post school and license testing. There are no ongoing or relevant pass/fail requirements once a director finishes school and national/state testing.  For the most part the CEU’s offered and presented are a serious waste of time. We all know the truth: sit through the class, sign an affirmation of attendance for credit, and return to the funeral home doing the same old thing the same old way.  There is not one problem in the funeral industry that could not be corrected by training.  Training is behavior modification.  Don’t think so? A young 18 year old man fresh out of high school is trained in the military and in a short few years work on gazillion dollar equipment leading two or three more under his supervision.  In five years the same young man is leading five to ten people with multiples for the future.  Training change everything, however it’s non-existent in regular funeral home operations or priorities.

Management abounds and leadership is rare.  Many owners rather be liked than respected simply refusing to demand behavior modifications of the very people that receive checks from their own funeral home payroll. Most owners do not possess the ability or wherewithal to “take the bull by the horns” of their own business.  They are too cheap, prideful or embarrassed to raise their hand asking for help from professionals that have the acumen to provide analysis, solutions, training (behavior modification), measurement and accountability.

A funeral home can overcome barriers by analysis, implementation, training, measurement and leadership. The seriousness of the problems above are evident in P&L statements, national statistics (consumer trends) and the continued decline or funeral revenues. I solicit comments, opinions and of course refute of the content of this post.  From the smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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 540-589-7821 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

 

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

 

 

I swear

Below is the oath by those that serve (or have served us, Commissioned Officer slightly different) in the US Military:

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

These collection of words have been affirmed by so many that provide us the freedoms we enjoy today as Americans.  To support and defend.  True faith and allegiance.  Obey orders.  Follow the regulations.  All with the help of God.  This oath is a commitment to serve something bigger than ourselves; our God, our fellow citizens and those that make this choice alongside us.  A cause to die for.

Veterans Day 2015 means that we continue to live in a free country.  This past year many Veterans from earlier generations have died and we currently have citizens are serving us now in harms way. Veterans Day is to honor all that took the oath of office to serve us in our Armed Forces. Veterans Day is for the men and women that offered to give their life for us whether they served in combat on foreign soil, stateside, active duty or reserve. Let me be clear; it’s not first responders day.  My salute to Veterans that served before, alongside and after me.  Thank you for your service and sacrifices to our Nation.

2Lt. Jeff Harbeson, 1984

     2LT Jeff Harbeson, 1984 

Thank a Veteran, they are willing to die for you.  May God continue to Bless America. From the Command Post and the fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

change positions

Funeral directors meet with families during a time which most agree is very difficult.  Arranging the funeral of a loved one is stressful and often the necessary decisions made are clouded by varying emotions as well as grief.  Part of the regular funeral director training provided at our funeral homes for arrangements include role play; our funeral directors plan the funeral of their closest loved one in detail.

The role a funeral director performs is to provide information so the family can make educated decisions.  Without ever “wearing the shoes of the next of kin” the anguish is only observed and not experienced.  I have personally been part of this training and I can attest how emotional the process may be, even in a training environment.

I have conducted funeral home training on this subject and the results were enlightening.  One of the interesting scenarios created was that the deceased loved one had not pre-planned with a trust, had no life insurance and the expenses must be paid out of the role playing funeral directors personal resources.  As you read this, put yourself in that position; it’s up to you to pay for everything you select for services and products right now out of pocket.  Ask yourself; what would that do to my current personal financial status?  Having this thought in mind, would you buy the best of everything?  What would your choices be if you we financially responsible for the goods and services selected today?

When meeting with families, it’s natural to wonder why sometimes the decisions made seem to be other than what is customary or expected.  On top of financial stress, family dynamics enter the picture sometimes.  Just like many of you, I have personally witnessed strained funeral arrangements with a bad cocktail of financial woes and family discourse.

Finally, I know many funeral industry professionals that experienced unexpected loss of their spouse, child and parent.  After talking with some, their perspective of wearing the shoes of the people they normally serve changed.  If you are a funeral professional and lost a loved one, you know the angst.  Otherwise, think about conducting funeral director training for arrangers and changing shoes with those you normally guide; it may have lasting impact.

Funeral News! Ryan and I recorded our inaugural Funeral Nation TV web cast show that will be aired October 6th…I am certain you’ll enjoy the FN show! From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all.  #thefuneralcommander #funeralnationtv

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