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cremation tfc

As a funeral consultant, I interact with at least 25 funeral home owners on a typical week and through social media I’m in contact with hundreds of funeral directors.  When I ask, “What’s the biggest challenge you face in the funeral profession?” almost on key I hear, “cremation is killing us.”  Cremation is by no means the major challenge we are experiencing, it’s our failure of “doing the business of the business.”

Let me explain by asking questions.

  • Cremation is a disposition. As such, funeral directors have the same opportunity to embalm as burial. Why doesn’t that conversation take place during cremation arrangements?
  • Why do burial families pay full price for basic service fee and cremation families get a discount on the exact services performed?
  • Why doesn’t every family receive a complete presentation for disposition of cremated remains including interment, scatter, keep, urn, and jewelry options?
  • Why don’t funeral homes get paid in full or secure payment prior to signing a goods and services contract?
  • Why don’t funeral directors train on their profession (not CEU) weekly to improve their skills (like the four questions above)?
  • Why do funeral home owners pay accountants that give them a P&L statement and balance sheet but no advice on how to increase their profit?

Take a moment and answer these questions honestly.  It’s not cremation; put some mirrors up in the funeral home and you’ll see the problem.

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

economics post

The issue of families struggling to pay funeral expenses is ongoing and I believe poses an increasing threat to funeral home financial health.  Take a few moments and read an article posted in Forbes last month: 63% Of Americans Don’t Have Enough Savings To Cover A $500 Emergency.   Now let that sink in a bit…

Depending on the zip codes your funeral home serves, regularly working with families who struggle paying for your goods and services may not be an issue.  However, there is enough negative economic news to support my continued message that we as an industry need to start paying attention.  Take a look at the chart below (courtesy of the St. Louis Federal Reserve and found by my fellow funeral professional Raymond Aikens):

FED Economic Data

One of the solutions for dealing with this problem is to train funeral directors how to address families in an arrangement session regarding payment options.  Yes, I know that your firm accepts full payment before services rendered and you have a payment policy.  So why do you have accounts receivable? Because your funeral directors sign contracts prior to securing the funds to pay for services rendered, the family walks out the door, the service is over and you have an unpaid bill. It’s your fault, period.

I, The Funeral Commander offer training and solutions of how to secure payment before a funeral contract is signed and also programs that will put your funeral home in a $0.00 accounts receivable status.  If your firm has past due accounts, our Funeral Pay Plan provides a program to not only collect much needed funds, but also keep your firm in compliance with federal lending regulations.

This year I will be offering CEU’s at conventions and meetings to address cash flow for at need services. Contact me for further details and let’s do something about the ongoing problem with a solution, not just talk about it.  From the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander #FNhustle #FNchange

 

Payment Plan 2

This post is a continuation of the discussion I started in last week’s post Funeral Payment Plans for At Need regarding an epidemic of consumers that are struggling to pay for funeral expenses.  Determining if your firm needs a funeral payment plan to offer families you are serving requires a bit of research and math.  It’s a relatively simple exercise; however much like any program for improvement, the first step is to question if you have a problem.

Here is a quick way to determine if your firm should have a funeral payment plan:

  1. Look at the last 100 cases performed at your funeral home.
  2. On each goods and services statement, did you collect the exact amount for each item equal to the amount listed on your General Price List?
  3. No matter the reason is there a difference between collected/charged and listed price (was there a discount)?
  4. List the amount of difference per case and add the difference for all 100 cases.
  5. Do you have any accounts receivable (money owed from those services) over 30 days?
  6. Now add #4 and #5 together…what’s that number?

If there is any amount of money either discounted or owed to you, then you have a problem.  Your firm either gave something away (discounted) or you have not been paid for what your firm provided (goods & services receivables) which inhibits your cash flow (the lifeblood of a financially healthy funeral home).  I know that there are thousands of funeral directors out there that tout “we collect all our money up front before services rendered, period!”  Yeah, okay so why do you have accounts receivable and why did you discount from your GPL prices?

Now that you have determined and recognize that your firm has a problem, the second question is what are the steps/process for correction? This is a critical yet difficult part of the process; do you have the intestinal fortitude (noun: courage; resoluteness; endurance; guts) to make a change in your arrangement process and behavior?  Or in Funeral Commander terms can you grow a pair, take charge of your business and actually lead your people to the promise land of getting paid for the work you do?

The third question to ask yourself is how do I fix the problem?  Well, I have the answers with training and I’ll be rolling out a new suite of funeral payment plan solutions shortly with Funeral Pay Plan.

From the Command Post through a thick fog of smoke on the front lines in the war of funeral reality, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

at need payment

Funeral payment plans used to be an option for consumers pay funeral expenses that did not fund pre-need, had limited life insurance, cash or credit card balances.  The days of funeral homes offering in house payment plans have gone away with the sales of bronze and copper caskets.  Why?

Administering the process of billing, collecting and accounting is a colossal waste for the actual return of the revenue sought after.  Another reason is the age old “when the tears dry up so does the checkbook” theory of consumers failing to pay for funeral expenses over time.  Finally, the credit worthiness of consumers has dramatically shifted in a downward spiral due to continuing unemployment, falling home value and of course other negative economic pressures.

But these folks are dying too and funeral home owners are struggling to maintain a balance between offering services/products that family’s desire with getting paid for services rendered.  This dilemma is not new and I have written several posts At Need Payment PlansDon’t Ask the Kids to Pay, along with Is it About Honoring the Life or Paying the Bill?  This “underbelly issue” of the funeral home business is not being addressed and is one that will continue to grow as fast as the shift from burial to cremation.

Think I’m wrong about this?  Take a look at all of this years (2015) convention and meetings.  How many seminars were presented that shared how to deal with consumers that are financially struggling, how to bridge the gap between wants of families vs. revenue generation, or cash flow solutions for at need funerals?  Nope, we still are listening to the soothsayers and pundits blithering about “charge more/show more value,” “how to market your funeral home (with no measurable results),” along with other subjects that are basically repackaged from the last seminar offering nothing remotely important to serving the broke ass consumer (I threw that in just to see if anyone reads this far down and paying attention).

Over the coming weeks I’m going to further delve into this particular subject and offer solutions.  At this very time I am working with a team of lending experts and organizations to create new a suite of funeral payment plans that will be offered by Funeral Pay Plan with several choices of options that funeral directors may choose based on their particular needs.

The new roll-out will be in January and will include everything from offering payment plans to excellent credit consumers, poor credit rated consumers, billing opportunities to accounts receivable collection.  If you know me, it’s not just talking, it’s all about execution.  The Funeral Commander is “getting it done” for funeral payment plans. From the command post through the smoke of a fat maduro cigar, Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

fd tng 2

Funeral director training can eliminate the awkward and difficult position they are placed when a family is financially challenged to pay for funeral services/products provided.  Consumers continue to struggle in our economy as depicted in the chart below that was shown just this week on MSNBC that the average middle class income is around $53,000.  So if the middle class income is this low, how about the incomes in the below middle class segment?  That group of people die too and face even greater challenges…

consumer struggle

If your funeral home has not yet had to deal with such a situation, two things come to mind.  You are blessed to be in a zip code that is financially stable or it’s just a matter of time.  Training funeral directors at our funeral homes to address the lack of funds for payment of services rendered has virtually erased the issue.  If your funeral home has a payment policy yet has accounts receivable in the “book of promises,” then your payment policy is a failure and useless.  I have been in hundreds of funeral homes and I have seen “payment policies” in arrangement rooms in frames on the walls, in frames on tables and even on GPL’s with those firms having quite a bit of money owed to them.

Part of our consistent TouchPoints training provides our funeral directors with tools and scenarios to address money issues with families.  By doing so, funeral directors have the confidence and complete understanding of all the tools available to solve any financial situation.  For instance, when a family states “we don’t have much money,” the proper trained response is “how much is not much money?”  By engaging in this conversation, the funeral director has a dialogue with the family that bridges their particular financial situation with their expectations of services/products.  Once this conversation takes place, then the funeral director has the ability to match offerings with the family’s budget.  By not having such dialogue early in the arrangement session and training how to breach such a sensitive subject without making the family even worse about their situation, training is a must.

Just for a moment, think about this: When a family loses a loved one, at the top of their mind is their loss.  If the loss is coupled with financial issues regarding payment for services/products rendered, shouldn’t that burden be addressed pretty quickly?  How many times in your funeral director career have you made complete arrangements including services and product selections, maybe even contacted clergy before presenting the final goods/services statement?  When the family is provided and realizes the total amount due, all of a sudden it’s “cigarette and bathroom break time.” Upon their return from break, the financial issues are put on the table which may result in completely changing what has been already painstakingly planned. Basically, because financially issues were not addressed earlier, now the family and the funeral director have to hit the “re-do button” which in my not so humble opinion, is poor service.

Want to know more about providing meaningful and consistent training for funeral directors? Contact me! After all, as I have said many times: even professional baseball players take batting practice before every game, how is your funeral home training?  From the Command Post and a thick fog of cigar smoke, Cheers y’all.  See you in Indy for NFDA   #thefuneralcommander

doc n a box

Recently we’ve been made privy to reports from NFDA (2015 Member General Price List Survey) and CANA (Cremation Rate Doubles in 15 Years & Correlation Between Cremation/No Religious Affiliation.  These reports provide excellent data of where we came from, where we are now, and initiates further need to focus on where we are going to meet the demands of consumers in the future.  In fact, Ryan and I discussed these topics at the top of Episode #2 of Funeral Nation which will air Tuesday October 13th.

I have been a proponent of continuous improvement of our funeral service brands from training, technology, services/products provided to the physical environment of where we operate.  This focus in my not so humble opinion is how we will both survive and thrive in the years to come as funeral service providers.  As I was watching this morning’s news, a medical segment was profiling an online or “virtual doctor visit.”

The online consultation is provided by a licensed physician or nurse practitioner though a webcam for personalized treatment.  When necessary, the professionals can submit an e-perception for pick up at a local pharmacy.  Online consultation is for the convenience of the patient and according to this particular story; patients are moving this direction in droves.  Convenience? Eliminating the hassles of scheduling an appointment during “normal clinic hours,” long waits at the ER or urgent care,  and the costs associated with a doctor visit, etc.  This new service allows the patient to remain in their comfortable surroundings and receive consultation; any guesses of what’s in the next paragraph?

As I write at this very moment I can see “we’ve always done it that way” (aka WADITW) smirking and thinking “that’s terrible service and unprofessional.”  Is it?  Similar service is being provided now across the country by savvy funeral directors that are in the quest of continuous improvement.  Yep, total online offerings with the consumer never leaving their comfortable surroundings and the cremated remains delivered to their front door.  Ole WADITW is smirking once again thinking “well, they can’t get a burial done that way and my families would never go for this.”   Yeah, you’re right Sparky.  But make sure and read the before mentioned reports above and maybe conduct some consumer research.  Remember when we heard “nobody will use a dang card instead of writing a check and I need a travel agent?”  Cremation is rising like the Pillsbury Dough Boy’s brother in a 400 degree oven!

As usual, my mission is provide fodder for thought by funeral professionals to consider and discuss.  If you don’t like the message or challenge for continuous improvement, then how about this provocative question: matching suits and ties or not?  From the Command Post and a thick fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander #funeralnationtv

Nope

I don’t think there is a single funeral director, funeral home owner or cremation provider in the funeral industry that doesn’t know that the death rate in the foreseeable future is going to steadily increase due to the Baby Boomers moving on the the permanent Villages in the sky.  Funeral industry pundits, soothsayers and oracles are continually propagating the “Boomer Boom” which will place all on solid footing and growth.

Visions of funerals that “reflect the life lived” with cocktail parties, receptions, doves, fly bye’s, movies, and theaters full of mourners wondering how they can “one up” such send off when their time comes dance in the heads like kids on Christmas eve.  If I had sound to enter this written prose, this is where I would place the screech of nails on a chalk board (I bet some of you hear it and reacting as you read this) to get your attention.

The Baby Boom has potential for Bust for many funeral homes.  WHAT?  Captain, you are such an idiot because we are showing more value and charging more…how could we possibly go wrong?  Take a look at the article posted in My Budget 360 regarding the financial posture of the pending retirement of Boomers.  Couple this information with the financial heath of the Boomer’s Offspring and the visions before mentioned reflecting the life lived are for $695 cremation, a box of Bojangles chicken and a Dollar Tree balloon released “in honor of” because “that’s what they would have wanted” are more realistic.

We are entering the convention season which includes seminars and CEU credit classes.  Just for your own observation and edification, take a look at the fall sessions and see if you can find “Strategies to Serve Broke Baby Boomers and Their Families.”  The seminar would not as flashy, hopeful or sexy as the talk of a lifetime, but it’s worth discussing.  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

burning ad

Yes, “Cremation with integrity” depicting an urn showcasing a Nazi soldier is a real advertisement in the The Jefferson City News Tribune that was printed Sunday July 19th for the Millard Funeral Chapels and their Columbia MO – based crematory operated by Parker Funeral Service.  I can’t even make this up.

Let’s “unpack” this debacle for learning purposes because this exemplifies so many lessons and insights.

1.  Let us try to imagine the funeral home marketing “think tank” session: “We need to do something about our low cost cremation competitors and tell the community why they should use us.  Any ideas?”  <Hand raised from a staff member>: “we can’t match their prices, but we can tell the public that WE CREMATE WITH INTEGRITY!”  Brilliant!  <Person in charge of the think tank>: “let’s show our best-selling urn with a soldier, because the military depicts integrity and get the local paper to put the ad together and run it on a Sunday.  Good job team…this will help us bring back the business we are losing to the other guys.”

2.  The message itself minus the Nazi soldier image is hilarious on its own merit.  Cremation with integrity?  Help me understand…does this ad imply that competitors cremate without integrity?  I think that Missouri has regulations and certifications necessary to be a crematory operator performing cremations, so is there an inference of unscrupulous cremations going on in town by other cremation providers?  This is a blatant example of “we are better than them, we care more, we give better service,” blah blah blah of no of interest to the consumer, rather more of a 7th grade school yard spat.  Lesson:  words have meaning, think about the message you want to send.

3.  What is the correlation of the image of a soldier (albeit a bad one that was apparently selected by the local paper, not the funeral home) and “integrity of cremation?”  Why a soldier or any military personnel?  As a retired soldier and father of a soldier, my perspective is that this funeral home was trying to use an image that may exemplify integrity (as an image of a military person would).  But could they not muster much thought of an internal example of themselves?  Did the owners and funeral directors at this firm served our Country or just use images to boost their own self esteem for business?  Stolen valor comes to mind…  Frankly, I think Karma kicked their ass in this one with the depiction of a Nazi soldier…think about it.  Lesson: don’t try to be something you are not.

4.  Unfortunately, the person in charge of this project failed miserably as it’s obvious no editing or proofing was conducted with the “newspaper production department.”  A basic tenet of funeral director services, is to review and edit (sometimes even create) an obituary that also appears in local newspapers. Lesson: people do what you inspect; not what you expect.

5.  We consistently are striving to remind consumers that the services we provide are of value, have meaning, and therefore require the guidance of a licensed funeral professional.  There is an undercurrent from consumers and others that “do it yourself” or limited need for funeral directors is on the rise.  However, for some reason, many in funeral home management see no value in professional management from marketing/Social Media companies and attempt to “do it themselves.”  As the comedian Bill Engvall says: “here’s your sign.”   I can just imagine my friends at Disrupt Media (Ryan Thogmartin) and L.A.Ads (Rolf Gutknecht & Dan Katz) laughing hysterically at this entire scenario.  Lesson: hire a professional for marketing and advertisement.  

6.  Irony:  This advertisement was created for use in a local newspaper for local readership, however it turned into a Social Media nightmare being broadcast all over the world including the local television station, radio along with numerous funeral industry Facebook pages.  I guess the advertisement got quite a bang for its buck.  Lesson:  refer to #2, #3, #4, and #5 above.

We all make mistakes and this was a whopper; however as always there are lessons to be learned and teaching points to consider so that the mistakes are not repeated.  What are your thoughts and comments?  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

cremation blogCheap cremation.  While attending the ICCFA last month I did not see any of the vendors of urns, retorts, training or otherwise advertise cheap cremation.  However, when our team convened early this morning for our weekly after action report, the term “cheap cremation” came up twice from funeral directors.  Their use of the term “cheap cremation” was from consumers that were shopping for services over the weekend.  We further discussed the conversations and the results…meeting the two families this morning!  Training does pay off.

While pondering the term cheap cremation, I decided to do some homework.  What does this term mean? According to Merriam-Webster online: Cheapnot costing a lot of money; of low quality; not worth a lot of money; charging low prices.  Cremationto reduce (as a dead body) to ashes by burning. 

I decided to conduct my own research this morning and call three different funeral service providers that offer cremation; all three are in the same competitive market within about 4 miles of each other.  I asked the person answering the phone to give me a quote on cheap cremation.  Here are the results:

Location 1: (cremation provider advertised online with pricing on their website): “Our complete cremation which includes taking the body into our care, the necessary paperwork, an alternative cremation container is which is required, the crematory fee and a temporary urn is $895.”  The person asked me if they could email me more information or if I had any other questions.  I replied no, I’m just checking around, thanked them and competed the call.

Location 2: (family owned funeral home with no prices on their website): “Has a death occurred? What type of cremation do you want?” I told them no, I just want a quote on a cheap cremation. “Our cheapest cremation is $1,575.”  I asked what was included; “Picking up a body, the paperwork, an alternative container and crematory charge.” The person did not ask me anything else in sort of a strange silence, so I thanked them and ended the call.

Location 3: (publically owned, corporate funeral home no mention of price on their website): “Has a death occurred? Do you want services?” I said no, I just want a cheap cremation. “We charge $4,390 for a direct cremation.”  The person went on to explain “included in the $4,390 is taking your loved one into our care, all the funeral director services including documents, a cremation container which a body is placed into the crematory and crematory fees.”  I asked “I just called 2 other places near you and they charge $895 and $1,575 for the same thing, what do I get for my extra $3,000 that I would pay you?”  The person answered “well, we are a full service funeral home and we provide more than just the minimum.”  I replied “but I’m only asking for the minimum, why so much from your funeral home”…the person’s reply “because we do more than the other funeral homes and we have facilities, others can’t accommodate all your needs.”  I replied that I only need a cheap cremation; and thanked him for his time. He then said “We have an affiliate that only charges $1,395 for a direct cremation, can I give you their number?”  I then asked where the affiliate was located, “right here in <name of city>, but all they do is direct cremations.”  I took the number and again thanked him for his time…and ended the call.

Wonder why a consumer is confused about cremation?  A few personal observations.  Location 1 and 2 at least provided me information on their respective website, but were not much on conversation or concern on the phone.  Location 1 gave me information and did not care if a death occurred, but offered a follow up where location 2 did not.  The most engaging was location 3, which is expected for an additional $3,000; however their follow up was referring me to another place to call and not to be bothered with my situation at their particular location. The lack of engagement from all three was astounding...AND NOBODY ASKED MY NAME!

So for your Monday morning wakeup call funeral directors and funeral home owners; shoppers are looking for cheap cremation.  What is going to be your answer?  Are your prices on your website?  Do you randomly “secret shop” your funeral home and competitors? What training are you providing your staff about phone engagement? As a consumer, which one of the locations would you have chosen based on the information provided above?    Cheap cremation is not going away and neither is the consumer that is looking online and calling to engage your staff.  What’s your solution? Cheers y’all. #thefuneralcommander

who pays Who pays funeral costs? As part of an ongoing conversation on this funeral blog the debate continues regarding payments for  funeral and cremation services by consumers.  Traditionally, the burden of making sure that a deceased person’s funeral bill is  paid to appropriate entities such as the funeral home and cemetery are primarily upon the deceased’s survivors.  However, a  growing trend is shifting from family to governmental agency responsibility and expectation of services without securing  necessary payment.

Are choices of disposition based on the amount of funds available to be paid for services?  Rising costs of funeral goods and services are no different from any other; a hotel room or an oil change all cost more than even 5 years ago.  Payment for goods and services are secured promptly or you don’t get your room key or car keys returned. From these two analogies, are funeral professionals compelled to “give the room key” or “returning the car keys after the oil change” without payment?  In essence, if a consumer can’t pay for a particular hotel room or vehicle service, then they can’t get the same level of accommodations or the vehicle service desired. Why the expectation that funeral proprietors should provide desired level of services without equal payment for such services?

The subject and issue is not going away…the “I am struggling to pay” segment of consumer is growing faster than “can I write you a check, use my credit card or use the life insurance” consumer.  What is your experience?  Cheers y’all.

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