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conversation starterI’m just returning from another funeral convention and I would like to provide “color” on my observations.  I had conversations and meetings with many people from practically every facet of the funeral industry, however I am certain those conversations would not get published in any industry magazines…somewhat lends back to “The Truth” series I recently posted.

From vendors, the majority complained of a lack of attendance from buyers and decision makers. On opening day of the exhibit hall, a cannon could have been fired down most isles and not hit nary a funeral service provider.  Something new and never done before was the presence of a suicide prevention booth; however it was hard to get in as it was jam packed with new vendors/first timers seeking counseling trying to figure out why their booth is not full of buyers (I guess they failed to read and take my advice on being an entrepreneur in the funeral industry).  The non-conventional conversation among this particular crowd (vendors) was that “second tier” organizations should consider events with exhibits such as these perhaps every other year.  The cost to attend, lack of ROI, and dwindling attendance is going to force some tough decisions in the future from a vendor participation perspective.  Suggestions of one big annual funeral expo that covers funeral directors, cremationists and cemeterians would suffice with perhaps individual breakout sessions if needed for organizations.  The individual organization fiefdom is a drain on vendors, members and participants.  Every state has its own annual organizational gathering repeating the same madness but on a smaller scale.  The smart states have completely eliminated exhibits.  So my vote (and I’m sure lots of others if they had one) is to let’s quit doing the same thing the wrong way over and over again…what’s that called?

The speakers and breakout sessions had excellent content with relevant information.  Again on the notion of “one big funeral gathering” with many speakers and subjects would stop the redundant messaging under different flags…so maybe the presentations given at the “one big funeral gathering” could be recorded then retrieved in an archived library for those not attending.  That sounds like a smart revenue generation model with mass appeal, but what do I know?

Speaking of tough decisions, the funeral service providers I had the privilege of chatting with provided me with realistic reports of their experiences at providing services/products to the ever changing consumer.  Outside of the emerging Social Media, technology and of course DNA collection (yes, that’s a shameless but true plug) they saw nothing really addressed how to provide better service to the consumers they serve.  Think about that for a moment.  Basically, if the company/vendor is not providing or improving upon a technology based solutions (sales, service, arrangements, B2C marketing, operations, or product) then the relevancy to a funeral service provider is benign.

An interesting and emerging segment that was present in technology seems to be a platform for consumers to memorialize themselves using an online portal to capture their life stories, videos, etc. (I guess Facebook/online obits is just not getting the job done).  The fallacy for most is the choice some really odd names which I personally wonder how consumers find them in the first place.  One of those odd named providers makes claim that their product/service helps with the “family experience” but when I drilled down a bit I got the old “we’re still working on that” position.  Basically, capturing a life well lived is a great notion, in fact some of these cats have somehow found people (companies) to invest in this idea without a strong revenue generation model (you know, pay back investors’ money).  Aurora’s value added Be Remembered has all of the components for such a platform (at no cost to the consumer or funeral home) which leads me to believe that others fail to do any relevant market research before launch.

The best non-conventional conversations took place off the floor with a drink in one hand and a cigar in the other (yes, that’s my favorite environment for great conversations). I think that all would agree such funeral gatherings provide a platform for those in attendance to have all important face to face interactions.  During these important extemporaneous sessions,  I actually was made privy to a new product that I think is brilliant; cremated remains, the life story, storage and columbarium all in one…technology, sleek design and a solution.  Another was about a new brand of funeral service to consumers; a collaborative effort for a brand that will capture and address the majority market in America…the 75% that make less than $50,000.  Those folks die too, but we don’t talk about them much.  Finally, this is a big world but getting smaller.  The alliances of companies collaborating on a global scale are becoming more commonplace.  I personally had conversations with people from Canada, Australia, Spain, Italy, China, Ireland and even New Jersey.

In a nutshell, if it’s not a technology driven product at the exhibitions and expos that assists funeral directors to provide enhanced service to their consumers, the interest level is dwindling.  There is always some that will pine for the days of yore, but those days are going away with facsimile machines.  The from my vantage point, defined success for the future in the funeral industry is messaging, technology and collaboration.  That’s the view from the field and The Funeral Commander.  Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

think

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

Resource How do funeral professionals approach senior care and hospice  professionals in their  respective communities to become a resource?  Not a solicitation to care for their deceased clients, but a resource  providing professional training, information and assistance.  A  funeral  director is an educated, licensed professional that can become a  tremendous asset with the local clergy, health, legal, senior care, and  hospice professions.

When developing a marketing and operations platform for our new funeral home, I met with and listened to several hospice and senior care professionals.  I asked them to share what they do for their clients, how their clients qualify for their respective services, what are the different positions within their organization and so on.  These professionals were excited to share their work and passion with me.  After learning about their operations, I then asked “what don’t you like about the funeral homes that you deal with regularly”? That’s when I received an earful.

“When we call during odd hours, it seems to take forever for the funeral home to respond, much less show up…the guys making the removal are very impersonal,”  and so on.  I asked if their organizations had a working relationship with the local funeral homes, and most indicated they did not.  If anything, funeral homes would donate for their fund raisers or drop off pens and such.  From this line of questioning, I then solicited from those I met with “if you owned a funeral home and you wanted to work with a local organization like yours, what would you do?”  There were many suggestions, but what struck me as resoundingly important was the funeral home should be providing training and become a resource.  The reluctance from those that I met with was that in the past they invited funeral homes to develop a relationship by presenting to their staff or participating in some sort of event, the hospice got the feeling that the firms just wanted to sell pre-need or some type of product.

After learning about senior care and hospice organizations, their work, their passion to make a client and their family’s transition to death comfortable, I thought through how a funeral home could be of service to their staff.  Training, Education, Resource.  Why not provide the staff with information about what happens after their clients die…what does the family have to deal with…how can a family prepare for death…what can families expect after the death occurs…basically once the transition work until death is complete, share how does a funeral professional carry forward the hard work started by senior care and hospice.

Upon completion of the research, I developed a training platform for staff and volunteers that have direct contact with those that are dying along with their families.  Within the platform, there is no solicitation of the funeral home or its services, but information and training of what a family will need to know prior to death occurring and how to prepare.  Details on subjects such as Social Security benefits, end of life legal preparedness, Veteran’s benefits, important documents such as life insurance, how a funeral home expects to be paid, what is a GPL, DNA issues, and so on.  In addition, I created a website and accompanying materials as tools for those receiving the training as well as a resource for families that have a loved one facing death.

Upon presenting this training, I was overwhelmed at the reception and participation among those in attendance.  Many did not know how soon after death a physician must sign a death certificate, their state’s regulations pertaining to embalming and or refrigeration, etc.  Subjects and regulations that funeral professionals regularly must follow so that those in attendance may assist by providing families information prior to death; to make the transition to death easier.  During the training multitudes of stories were shared by the participants from their own loved one’s death and those that they had cared for.  The training provided was valuable both professionally and personally.

At the conclusion of the training, the hospice and senior care professionals now had tools and information to deliver to a family without feeling uncomfortable about the topic of impending death.  Additionally, because of the training we developed a relationship…we became a resource.  There was no fear that if these professionals called for any funeral service information or questions our firm would not respond with starting up the removal vehicle or requesting a meeting with a pre-need counselor.

 

mixture of ingredients Gallup recently released the “Mood of the Nation” annual poll that  revealed 42% of Americans are financially in worse shape now than  this time last year.  Approximately 30% say they are better off.  Most are  optimistic that their status will improve in the future, but that is generally  the case…hope.  How does the financial status of our fellow American consumers correlate to funeral homes?

In the last few years I have been watching consumer financial postures, and consistently the news is not positive.  CNN Money reported last summer that 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck meaning they have less than 6 months of savings to replace their incomes if job loss occurs.

These people and their relatives are dying.  Our funeral homes are serving financially struggling families.  Bridging the gap between funeral home revenue recovery, cash flow and providing families with goods and services they can afford is becoming more of an issue than even a few years ago.  What is your funeral home doing to grow and maintain revenue with the average Americans that are forced to make funeral decisions with their wallet, not their heart.?

There are solutions to improve cash flow and eliminate accounts receivable.  As a funeral home owner/partner, not only do I understand the issues, I live them.  With $0 accounts receivable and payment secure before the funeral contract is signed, we know the “secret sauce.”  I’d like to share it with you, drop me a call at 540–589-7821 and lets set up a time to chat.

funeral paymentDaily, families are making choices how to honor their deceased loved one’s life.  In an already emotionally difficult circumstance, making funeral decisions when finances are an issue only exacerbates the already strenuous situation.  With no pre-need, little to no life insurance, limited credit card balances or cash increase the families’ anxiety.

What options are provided by your funeral home to balance the family’s financial situation and your revenue requirements? Take a look at Funeral Pay Plan options for funeral payment plans. After all, we make payments on practically every major purchase in our lives…why not offer families the ability to make payments for a death?

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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