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I believe that every family should be provided information in order make an educated funeral decision.  There was a time when collective thoughts were the earth was the center of the universe…until Copernicus proved different.  Combined with Kepler’s theory of the earth rotating around the sun, significant changes of beliefs and even the foundation of our modern day calendar was created.

OK, to be clear, I’m certainly not claiming to be Copernicus or Kepler, but there are many in our industry that believe the funeral home is the center of the funeral universe, and everything else revolves around it.  Yet in actuality, the funeral consumer is the center of the funeral universe, and it is our obligation to revolve around them.

The funeral consumer is consistently evolving. Think not?  A short 25 years ago cremation was barely a conversation and the average casket purchased was a stainless steel…and today?  Where did consumers get their information 25 years ago about funerals?  From the funeral director during arrangements…and where do they get their funeral information today?  Primarily from the internet prior to making arrangements.  Information on the internet varies dependent on the Google search by the researching family member.  They could read anything from the Money Magazine articles about the high cost of funerals to online cremation companies that boast $795 cremation prior to landing on a local funeral home website.

My point is that not long ago the funeral home was the center of the universe and the primary source of information to consumers about our industry.  Whatever was presented to families, like the value of service, types of caskets displayed in a showroom or whatever the funeral director said, was pretty much the only information the family had to make their decision.  How about today?  Families are educating themselves, forming opinions and often making decisions prior to walking through the funeral home door.

What is your funeral home doing to revolve around the ever changing funeral consumer? Are you leading the conversation in your community about the funeral industry?  What information is provided on your website?  What training is being conducted at your firm to provide families information in order to make educated funeral decisions? Does your firm offer the latest <fill in the blank> services and products that families are seeking?  Or, do you actually still believe that the funeral home is the center of the funeral universe?

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The signs of Christmas are everywhere from the decorations of our city streets, the neighborhood Griswold family house lit up with lights, displays in stores, shows on television, advertisements, and even wreaths affixed to the front grill on cars.  So, it must be the Holiday season.

I have seen and talked to some that their Holiday season begins this afternoon when their office closes until 2014…now that must be nice.  But for many of us, the door never closes.  Remember that there was no room in the inn for Joseph and Mary?  Hotels don’t close during the Holidays.  Hospitals, nursing homes, hospice facilities that care for the sick and elderly of our society, never close.  Police, Fire and EMT respond to our emergency needs…they never close.  Our Military personnel protecting us from our enemies never stop laying their lives on the line so that we can enjoy the Holidays…never close.

Death does not come at a convenient time, so there are funeral professionals that will serve families of a loved one died during the Holidays.  Many of our fellow funeral professionals will answer calls from families in the coming days that lost their loved one…some of those calls will be tragic and unexpected deaths.  But, no matter what’s going on in our personal lives, funeral professionals, like those others listed above are called to care…others depend on us.  Funeral homes never close.

So, to my fellow funeral professionals, thank you for caring during this Holiday season and being dependable to those that will require your services.  I ask that you recognize and offer your personal thanks to the other people just like us that are called to care in their own chosen professions.  Merry Christmas Y’all.

Merry Christmas

How many times have I heard “no, we don’t do/offer/provide that at our funeral home, our families wouldn’t like it.”  When I hear the statement, I usually follow with my standard “well, I can understand after all of the research and testing you have conducted, I probably wound not do/offer/provide it either.”  Of course knowing there is no shred of truth to my sarcastic remark.

Are personal biases, fear of something new, laziness, or stubbornness the reason that we in the funeral industry suppress change?  Are we preventing families from hearing about, understanding, being educated or provided the opportunity to choose based our own personal preconceived notions?  Now before everyone gets their feathers ruffled, I’m not picking up the first stone to throw, so we are all guilty.  Think not?  Which casket, vault, urn, fluid, fleet, stationery, brand does your firm use and why?  Even more serious, which is your favorite football team or brand of shoes?

What propels a funeral home owner, manager and director to finally try something different?  What is the impetus to make the change?  Is there any research methodology to find the best presentation, positioning, price, service, packages, and family response to formulate a fair assessment?

I am going to solicit my fellow funeral professionals to comment share and experiences of “our families wouldn’t.”  Even more interesting, share if and when the skeptics changed their mind  and proclaimed “I can’t believe it, but our families do like…”

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Effort only fully releases its reward after a person refuses to quit.~Napoleon Hill

I am blessed to be associated and working with very bright, energetic people.  By innovating, developing and now testing their products and services, these funeral industry entrepreneurs exemplify the quote from Mr. Hill.  January 1, 2014 will be the launch date and announcement of a new service that will make a positive difference in both the lives of the families we are serving and the funeral homes we dedicate so much of ourselves.

So for a question as you start your day, what are you and your team working on and refuse to quit that will make a difference in the funeral industry?

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If you have been anywhere near a news source, you are aware of the dilemmas government leaders are facing explaining the Affordable Care Act roll out, website, what the Act does and does not do.  Let me be clear, I am not writing this blog to respond in any way to this particular issue.

However, I thought about the oversight of those in charge/responsible of the development process and roll out.  The highly publicized scrutiny by both elected public officials and the media has had a huge impact on consumer opinion.  So, to correlate such issues to the funeral industry; what are you doing at your firm to “dot your i’s and cross your t’s?”  From my experience, most funeral homes have a “policy and procedure” manual, but it’s something that an employee signs after they get the job…basically a perfunctory action.  I personally know of firms that have no such documents or process.

To manage crisis, we must work to prevent crisis.  Simply putting in place guidelines, procedures and policies are not the answer.  Training, review, and consistent leadership focus sets the tone for employees to understand their operating parameters, and if outside those guidelines, stop and ask up the chain of command for direction.

As I meet with funeral homes across the country conducting arranger training, I am continually confounded by the inconsistent performance by funeral directors of some of the basic tenants of our industry.  I am shocked that many funeral directors do not understand their own GPL prices and information listed.  Just recently in a group training session, a funeral director shared not ever providing families a GPL…she just explains the prices charged from of the goods and services statement at the conclusion of the arrangement to the family.  The funeral home owner almost passed out!  That’s only a $10,000 fine from the FTC.  But why should the owner be surprised?  What are the arrangement procedures, is it a written policy of the firm to provide a GPL, how many times has the funeral director been trained and observed during arrangements?

So if you are a funeral home owner or manager and a crisis occurs, how are you going to respond to not only the governing authorities (State Board, FTC, OSHA, etc.) but plaintiff (not if you are sued, you will be) attorneys, and the press about the mishap?  Will you have the guidelines and training in place to show that this was a “rouge event/employee?”  Or will you just explain how you are running a business that not only performs procedures on dead bodies, but you get paid substantial sums of money from consumers for your goods and services with no credible policies, procedures, training and supervision of your staff?

Based on what I’m personally witnessing with the current Affordable Care Act scrutiny in the news, I would urge that if you own or manage a funeral home, get out in front of problems or issues and take charge.  Or, just continue to do nothing.  If one day you are “under the microscope” explaining your position, you’ll wish you that you were proactive, not reactive.

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Recently, I was part of a marketing project by conducting a secret shopper program in three distinct markets.  The results were not really surprising, but certainly worth sharing with my fellow funeral professionals.  A “family member” visited in person or called funeral homes seeking information for their relative and death was imminent.  The scenarios were not random, but carefully scripted not to create any assumptions by those being solicited.

The best description of what took place would be “race to the bottom”.  In every situation (there were over 10 locations contacted in each market), the funeral director directed the “family member” to the least of services without provocation.  Now, before reading this and getting “all high and mighty” thinking that this would never occur at your funeral home, think again.  We talked to owners and employees alike.

What struck me most was when it was revealed that we were simply gathering information and comparing firms, not mentioning costs, we were provided with the lowest of prices for both burials and cremations.  Not one time were we provided any attributes of the vast array of services, ideas for memorialization, comparison of burial to cremation; just simply either discounted packages or a direct cremation quote.  The most discouraging was that there was virtually no engagement with the “the consumer” about their dying loved one, just “are you looking at burial or cremation”…and perfunctory questions.

I personally conducted a phone call inquiry for a funeral home owner to competitors as well as two of his own locations asking for the same information while on speakerphone with the owner present.  The owners’ assumption of what competitors did or did not do was of great concern.  The competitor quoted verbatim the same direct cremation components as this owner, and compared the owner’s price with theirs while saying to me “why would you pay more for the same service?”  But, the response from his own funeral directors was, as he put it “disheartening”.  The owner actually said “based on what I just heard, I would choose the competitor over my own firm.”

If you are an owner that reviews your P&L statement monthly, you may be wondering how you are maintaining your call level, but not keeping pace with the net profit per call in comparison to prior month or year.  If this scenario is exasperated with loss of market share; you’re going to be in a race to the bottom.  I continually prod and bring to light the necessity of training at funeral homes, but find a consistent training program rare.

Our industry has a tremendous amount of chatter about “meaning of ceremony, creating experience, and value of a funeral”.  But in practicality, when a family walks through the door or calls on the phone (at least in the project mentioned above), it’s a race to the bottom.  Training staff on the message you desire to be conveyed and their listening skills should produce positive results…if not, just keep underestimating the savvy consumer and overestimating your staff.  The race to the bottom is quick and a difficult trend to reverse.

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I am continuing a blog I wrote earlier this week on the subject matter of stepping out from a comfort zone and into a space where innovation is created.  The intent of the written thoughts are to generate discussion about others that have “stepped out” in the funeral industry to innovate, and explore the results of their efforts.  There has been good feedback about this topic and I solicit your thoughts.

Refreshing the point, I am blessed to travel extensively and meet many funeral industry professionals, both licensed and not.  A definition of innovate is “improve something with a new idea or procedure, or produce a product using a new or better way.”  This actually defines G2 Funeral Group www.g2funeralgroup.com and their truly innovative brand of funeral service utilizing a proprietary operating platform.

G2 Funeral Group developed, owns and manages the Family Choice Funerals & Cremations brand of funeral homes www.familychoicefunerals.com . What’s unique about Family Choice is the brand was created from scratch utilizing Lean/Six Sigma principles for every aspect of its operations, named TouchPoints.  Family Choice opened its first location January 2010 in Roanoke Virginia and it’s second in Virginia Beach May of 2010.  The distance between the two locations is 4 hours…purposely to prove the TouchPoints operating platform. Serving over 280 families a year, the brand has gained consumer acceptance, recognition and loyalty in a very short time period.

Unequivocally, one of the best franchises in the United States is Chic-Fil-A.  Their operating platform, training and culture, the service and product is the same from each location…always ending with “my pleasure.”  So why do funeral homes with multiple locations under the same name/brand have such operational differences from each location?  If a large firm has multiple funeral directors, why is there such a disparity of outcome in arrangements?

G2 has perfected the process with TouchPoints by each location functioning operationally the same making management simpler, training as a daily part of the culture, the proprietary arrangements provide that every family receives the same information, and that the entire process can be duplicated…anywhere.  The Family Choice brand is now working with funeral homes that want to expand in their own or other markets in a quasi “franchise” type operational agreement, with the first new location opening in early 2014.

 

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