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Tag Archives: Death and Dying

helixDNA Collection is easier than ever. Although we have all seen the CSI and sleuth shows where just stand of hair produces enough evidence to convict the villain that committed the crime. On the past DNA collection required a blood sample to get a good test.

Today, DNA collection is as simple as brushing your teeth…basically a “q-tip” swab inside the jawline covering the cotton with saliva will provide all necessary to provide enough to produce a DNA sample. It’s easy now to provide your “genetic map” for your loved ones…a gift about you from you.

change postI am working on development of new initiatives with funeral professionals and others from various professions.  The intertwining of funeral regulations and required documents with technology along with business logic is really interesting.  On top of that, the planning sessions often create debates that seem like arguments (especially if I’m involved).  Many, many times I have challenged my team of funeral professionals with combined 75 years of expertise, with; why?

There are so many “nuances” of funeral service which turn into “ruts” of process, behaviors and perceptions. Regulations from both federal and state entities add to the dimension of complexity for funeral service providers.  During our process sessions we found ourselves actually researching and highlighting regulations by reading collectively word for word on a large screen monitor for clarity. Interestingly, some “funeral lore” was completely dispelled in the language written and guidance provided about the subjects in question.

From my perspective, when challenging the “why we do it this way” the best form of working through or around a funeral service related issue is to actually research word for word current FTC/State laws and regulations in place.  The FTC Funeral Rule is rather simplistic in it’s intent; always protect the consumer by being transparent with pricing, offerings and documentation; basically don’t cheat.

The State Funeral Service Laws and Regulations for the most part don’t significantly differ from the intent of the FTC Funeral Rule.  State regulations are more in-depth about licensing (which generates fees…what a surprise), educational requirements, necessary oversight on pre-need requirements, and so on.

Most interesting from our development sessions is the lack of language provided in any oversight authority regarding digital communication (email, websites, social media).  By overlaying the current regulatory requirements with so many choices of providing information to funeral consumers, huge opportunities exist.  Following the rules of consumer protection and transparency, funeral service providers are afforded the ability to highlight to anyone with internet connectivity their goods, services and value of a funeral respective to their patucular funeral home.

Responses to my funeral blog post last week The Hotel and Funeral industry…what can we learn? from several funeral professionals provided excellent thoughts and insights especially on the  Connecting Directors LinkedIn Discussion Thread.

As a continuation of much needed and appreciated discussion about the process of change in the funeral industry, what is the process of change at your funeral home or funeral related business?  Do you think of an idea, conduct regulatory oversight research, debate and create a workflow of process to initiate the change? Or…? I look forward to your continued sharing of ideas.  Cheers y’all.

poor Saturday night I received a call from a lady that in years past I coached  her son in football.  The reason for her reaching out to me that her  niece, only 24 years old had just died at home and she wanted our  funeral home to assist their family.  Unfortunately, the young woman that  died had a debilitating disease and was released to home hospice  from a major medical center only the night before.

I know this family personally and frankly, the word pitiful comes to mind.  You know the family in your communities, truly struggling through life never seeming to get a break.  After providing me with the contact information, I forwarded the data to our on call funeral director.  Within just a few minutes, I received another call from the brother of the deceased.  He told me that he was the only one in the family with a job, almost everyone was on disability, and that finances were going to be a serious issue.  After listening, I shared with him that I understood and that our firm would certainly accommodate them to the best of our ability.  Since finances were an issue, I inquired whether he and the family would consider cremation; he said that was not an option.  They had a family farm property in another county and it was his sister’s desire to be buried there, the least that they could do.  Since this was a home hospice call, our staff was on the way as we spoke and I assured him that we would do our best and our conversation ended.

The best of our ability…this means that we (our funeral home) have to at least cover our costs; removal staff, casket and such.  Even with our offer to do this, what family wanted, they will still to struggle to cover the costs we must pay. When they came in to make arrangements, I was there simply so lend support and let them know that I truly cared for loss (I’m usually traveling all over the planet).  The funeral director conducted the arrangements as our standard; providing them information so that they could make educated decisions.

Anguishing from the experience losing their 24 year old loved one was now coupled with the living struggle of eking their way through life in financial stress…all the time.  I observed as the funeral director repeated what they were requesting from our firm, and then provided them with the cost for doing so.  We had agreed to provide what they wanted and reasonably could afford at our cost.  This family shared with the funeral director what funds they had available, and then we were able to provide them with a payment plan for the balance…still, just covering costs.

I felt compelled to share this real life event for a few reasons.  First, just plain human empathy for this family and so many others finding themselves in this very position.  Living day to day, struggling to make ends meet.  When death or another catastrophic event occurs, all of life’s regular problems are magnified for these folks.  Second, the families like this are one of the fastest growing groups in our country economically.  As a business person, whether a grocery store, shoe store, gas station, clothing store or pick a business; we have overhead costs just to keep the doors open and pay the people to provide service.  In the funeral home business, we are no different.

The difference in the funeral home business is that we are called provide service for those that have lost a loved one, regardless of their financial status.  Some states and municipalities offer indigent funds in the event of indigent death.  I have read that those offerings are “drying up” and non-existent in most areas such as our area of operations.  Many outside the funeral home business have no idea that we are not reimbursed by a government entity like Medicare of Social Security if a family has no life insurance and limited financial resources.  When a funeral home takes possession of a body, by most state statutes and regulations, we must either embalm or refrigerate within a certain time frame.  This regulation does not preclude getting paid from the family.

My heart really does go out to families that are financially suffering, God bless them.  I also understand and have concern for the gut wrenching job a funeral director does to meet their needs, both financially and their requests.  From one owner/partner of a funeral home to the others that read this, my true reason for writing this post is for more people to understand the business we run is more than just nice suits, shiny cars and transactions.  We make decisions that have profound effects on families, our employees and our business…it just isn’t what it seems.  Cheers y’all!

kiwi I want to share a few news stories profiled about the funeral industry  just last week; “FTC Undercover Inspections of Funeral Homes in Nine  States Test Compliance with Funeral Rule Disclosure Requirements,  Unlicensed Funeral Director Probed for Questionable Cremations,  Funeral Home Owner’s License Revoked After Settlement, and Family  Alleges Funeral Home Buried Wrong Baby During Service.” 

With those sorts of headlines, is it any wonder that consumers are skeptical when they walk into a funeral home?  We know that with any profession, there are bad apples and operators.  A quick internet search will reveal similar news about poor practices in financial, medical and other industries.  My point here is that the funeral industry is not leading the charge of positive news and demanding necessary change; rather we are allowing the negative news to dominate the headlines.

The FTC mandated General Price List disclosure is a fundamental regulatory tenet of our business.   Violations sit squarely in the lap of funeral home owners, period.  I have personally conducted “secret shopper” services for funeral home owners and to their dismay; some of their employees would have cost significant fines for lack of disclosure.  But why should there be surprise when funeral homes conduct no consistent training, monitoring or any regular oversight of their directors?  Our industry is predicated on people who when the proverbial “arrangement room door closes,” the funeral home owner and the family are subject to whatever information the individual funeral director provides…right or wrong.  What really fascinates me is the posture many in our industry maintain about training, “trying something new”, use of digital presentations, or changing their current operations.

There is a story I heard about the differences between a Kiwi bird and an Eagle. The Kiwi bird is short, has a long beak, and is flightless because of its lack of wing structure eating bugs, worms and such. The Eagle has large wingspans, a hard beak, with powerful talons and eats small game.  The Kiwi spends its day trying not to be eaten by predators and searching for food in fields with high grass, basically keeping their head down and only paying attention to just what they can see beyond their beak.  The Eagle takes to the sky searching for opportunity to gather its food.  So, if a field is on fire, the Kiwi keeps right on going about its business and doesn’t know the field is ablaze until its beak is on fire.  On the other hand, the Eagle circles above to prey on the food that will be running from the fire…

We have too many Kiwi’s in the funeral industry…myopic, resistant to change, apathetic and no idea that the “field is on fire.”  The FTC mandates, most States regulate, industry organizations (NFDA, ICCFA, NFDMA, etc.) offer best practices, yet the funeral industry Kiwi’s dominate the headlines.  So, how do we change this dilemma?

First, the Eagles have to clean up our own house.  The simple answer is training and behavior modification.  Create and conduct regular in-house training on relevant functions such as when to provide a family your GPL, proper body identification procedures with checks and balances, etc.  Sit in on arrangements and evaluate the information being provided to families. Of course many are afraid to do this…but who owns your business?  Even more important, who is accountable and must face public scrutiny along with paying fines for poor behavioral practices of your staff? Demand accountability, but clearly communicate through training, monitor and follow-up your concise expectations.  Training provides your team with the knowledge that as an Eagle, you set the operational tone of your firm.  Failure to do anything short, well, you’re a funeral Kiwi.

Once we have our own houses in order, let’s all engage in providing a cure for our symptoms.  How about we demand federal legislation that if a funeral home has a website, their GPL must be displayed?  By providing consumers information, they can make educated funeral decisions. The firms that fail to either have a website or comply, well too bad.  Let’s change the CEU system…attending boring classes about mundane subjects that have no teeth or relevant educational value is a waste of time and resources.  How about add exams for the CEU’s with a high proficiency rating for continued licensing?  Now, that sort of news would be much more encouraging to consumers if we are making serious efforts to “police our own.”

Okay, so there’s my two cents worth about the disturbing news last week and initiating conversation about solutions.  For what it’s worth, yes, our firm trains at least 3 times per week.  If you want to have conversation about how we accomplish this, please email me and we can chat.  As for the Kiwi’s, frankly I don’t think we’ll hear much from them…they are too busy looking for worms.  Let’s hear from you Eagles!  Cheers y’all!

entrepenuer I recently heard a definition of an entrepreneur as one that jumps off a cliff  and builds a plane on the way down…this has a ring of truth.  We often see  news about people that have been successful bringing their ideas not only  to fruition, but made gazillions of dollars like Zuckerberg and Jobs.  But as  for the people that toil, try, fail, and start all over again, they rarely get much  press.

I personally know some in the funeral industry that daily get up and “build the plane”  with internet companies, products, processes, training modules and yes, new funeral home operating models.  I am often fascinated with how these folks envisioned their respective ideas and their take on how to penetrate the huge market.  The idea is not the hard part, it’s in the development, implementation and penetration of the market.  What many of my entrepreneur friends don’t realize early on that their product or service generally must be presented/sold/offered by funeral directors.  This particular part of the equation is frankly the most difficult to overcome and develop into a large scale.

I have a personal saying “a vision is only a dream without execution” meaning it’s not enough to dream, it’s all about making it happen.  I was part of developing a new funeral home operating model based on Six Sigma and Lean practices that opened in 2010.  The utilization of digitized arrangements for consistent messages to consumers, training of processes like home removals, all being done from computers which eliminated the need for office staff.  The service focus is providing families with a positive funeral experience, not wasting their time or money with outdated funeral processes.  Of course, the industry and competitive neigh sayers wanted to pigeon hole us that we don’t provide service, can’t this, don’t that, blah, blah. Interestingly and over 800 death calls later, our executed vision is growing with a great start to our fourth year in 2014.

The lessons learned as a funeral entrepreneur at the funeral home development level prepared me for other services and products.  I found that it was most important to listen to the consumer, not to “industry norms” or funeral directors about “what our families don’t like or we’ve tried that before.”  Funny thing when the consumer is provided with information, they make good funeral decisions.  But left up to some in our industry, the consumer would never have known nor had opportunity for selections.  The funeral consumer market is continually shifting and demand changes over time.  For instance, the current economy is significantly different than just 10 years ago, but many firms are presenting the same services and products without refreshing to current conditions.

Armed with this experience, I am involved with bringing new products and services to the funeral market.  Prior to launching with the general funeral home populace, we BETA tested.  I spent most of the effort listening to consumers and their acceptance/demand.  Along with feedback of best practices from the funeral directors that actually presented these services and products, I am certain of the success.  I sat in on arrangements simply to observe and learn.  Unfortunately, our industry does not take this same approach to new services and products. Rather, an idea is born, the product/service developed, and then the developers spend every effort trying to convince funeral directors of their particular success…without truly vetting both those that present and the end users; at need funeral consumers.

Knowing that consumers want and need a product or service, yet operating in an industry reluctant to offer anything new, the avenues of approach are significantly different than other industries.  So, for my fellow funeral industry entrepreneurs, here is some advice:

  1. Meet face to face with funeral home owners and directors or present using digital technology.
  2. Don’t waste your time trying to convince the entire industry, just find a few that are progressive enough to understand and execute.
  3. Use social media to promote your brand, services and products.
  4. Spend time with a firm and staff training them to present your service/product.
  5. Do the math…use realistic numbers for their revenue projections from sales of your service/products.  Measure the results.
  6. When funeral homes begin offering your service or product, support their efforts.  Listen to their feedback of best practices and what their families have to say.  Ask to sit in on arrangements to find out for yourself if your products or services are being presented correctly…listen to families.
  7. Provide firms with tools to inform the public of the new service or products they are offering (press releases, articles , social media avenues, and marketing techniques/tools such as information seminars to hospice or other organizations)

There is plenty of opportunity in the funeral industry for entrepreneurs, but few that make the effort and even less that succeed.  Keep building the plane…Cheers Y’all.

1 Merriam Webster— per·son·al·i·za·tion; make personal or  individual; specifically:  to mark as the property of a  particular person <personalized stationery>.  Wikipedia-  Personalization involves using technology to accommodate the  differences between individuals. Personalization technology enables  the dynamic insertion, customization or suggestion of content in any  format that is relevant to the individual user, based on the user’s implicit behavior and preferences, and explicitly given details.  Google Image: The image shown is the first when the word search for “personalization” is entered.

I was pondering personalization and the funeral industry after recently observing yet another arrangement session with a family.  The definitions above are the results of a computer search of just the word and subsequently an image search on Google.  What I found most interesting is that nothing was mentioned about funerals.  Of course when I entered “personalization funeral”  there are some blogs, references to industry written articles, and some funeral home websites that have done a good job with SEO on the subject.  When the same caption is then moved to Google images, a barrage of photos including an embalmed guy on a motorcycle appears and throngs of products from a Budweiser casket to candles.

Why am I writing this?  Because I’m not certain the general funeral consumer population is aware of our industry view of the subject “personalization.”  I’m consistently amazed by the reactions during actual post death decision making about this and many other subjects.  The family that prompted this post wanted nothing to do with in their words “any frills” for their deceased loved one (interestingly, the deceased was a “Baby Boomer”).  The funeral director, in line with our proprietary presentation of our arrangements, provided the family with information so that they could make educated funeral choices.  On the same day, at our other location which is four hours away, the same arrangement presentation provided, and the family seemed to want everything that was available including memorial products.  Our firm has made a choice that every family receives tangible recognition of the family’s loss and acknowledgement of their grief (a Mourningcross Bereavement Pin).  Every family that chooses cremation and an urn gets a personalized name plate with date of birth/date of death (using Print-A-Plate).  It’s personal to us, so we believe we should show the way.

I’m not being critical or making judgment; I’m just sharing a few observations.  To share an outside view of personalization, take a look at vanity license plates.  You know the ones with some clever message (like mine, BURYEM).  Virginia has the largest percentage of vanity plates in the US, about 16% (according to a study by AAMVA published in 2007) of all registered license plates are personalized.  Certainly that percentage has grown since.  Another interesting but little known fact that is the amount of “personalized caskets” actually sold is also in the teen percentages (or at least it was just a few years ago).

So, what is the point here?  It’s our job to provide information so that a funeral consumer can make educated decisions, and the first gesture of personalization should come from us…Cheers Y’all.

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