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I am creating a presentation after being asked to speak on the the topic “The State of The U.S. Funeral Industry in 2015” for an organization.  In a post earlier, Adapt and Overcome; Time for Bold Leadership, I made reference to outside influences challenging the funeral industry such as economics, shifting consumer views, and technology.  While furthering my research regarding consumers, I had a discussion recently that makes me ponder a contributing factor to our challenges; our own “internal language.”

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting with the Life Celebration, Inc. team at its headquarters not far from Philadelphia.  If you have not had the occasion to do so, it’s quite impressive what this organization has created to assist funeral directors training and creating meaningful funerals. During the meetings, I had opportunity to have an in-depth discussion with Jim Cummings, Chief Experience Officer, regarding the Life Celebration, Inc. philosophy, training and offerings.  Jim made a statement that really resonated with me; “we have to change how, as funeral professionals, we view ourselves and the people we are serving.  They are not our families they are consumers, there is a difference.”

Jim has a very interesting point.  So, as part of my work for the before mentioned presentation, I looked up the definitions on dictionary.com:

family (noun; plural; families) a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children,considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.  

consumer (noun) a person or thing that consumes & a person or organization that uses a commodity or service.

I have heard over the years and still today funeral directors refer to their customers as “my family.”   If someone didn’t know better, they would think funeral directors were actually burying or cremating a person from their own family unit (as defined and generally recognized by most of the population above).  If “my family” was accurate, a funeral director would not have to get all of the information for the death certificate nor waste copious amounts of time on the obituary.  He or she should know all this stuff about his or her “family” and funeral directors would be picking up the bill, or at least not profiting (we would never profit off of our own family…right?).  Where did this notion “my family” referring to consumers we serve come from?    Is there another profession that mirrors this philosophy; physician/patients, hotelier/guest, attorney/client, church/congregation, hospice/patient?  These other professions have compassion and love for those they serve, but don’t use the moniker, “my family.”

I believe this sort of “make believe posturing” in the funeral industry is one of the many contributing internal challenges we’ve created. Perhaps by viewing customers as what they are, consumers, we would not be failing to adapt to their needs.  If we can change the way we visualize ourselves, we will better understand those that we serve.  We would study their product/price points (not just sell whatever the vendors produce), their preferences for experience (rather than make them accept only what we have been used to offering), we would conduct services at different venues (not just our chapel or a local church) and we would communicate with them in the ways they communicate (social media, not the yellow pages) actually having something to say that is relevant to their needs.

If they are “your family,” why are they forsaking their loyalty to your firm and flocking to other funeral service providers like cremation societies, online providers, and so on?  Think about it; if they were your family, wouldn’t these consumers you are serving pretty much reflect your own family’s cultural, religious and historical funeral preferences?  Yet, we are bewildered why they won’t and don’t do what we want them to…like “our family” would.  The assumption that interjecting into a group of strangers or previously served consumer group’s life for 72 hours or so and assuming genetic ancestral linkage is just plain off base.

As usual and customary, I’ll get some push back from the Kiwi’s among us which, from my point of view, bolsters the Southern saying “a bit dog always yelps.”  My intent for this post and the presentation I am creating is to challenge conventional thinking and solicit other viewpoints to find solutions.  So, what do you think…are you yelping or helping?  From the Command Post through the fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

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