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Situation: Your loved one just died unexpectedly with no pre-need trust or life insurance available to pay for the funeral expenses. You can’t use the funeral home where you work and you receive no professional courtesy discounts anywhere else. You must pay full price for services rendered, casket, vault, and all the cash advance items including the cemetery space,  opening and closing fees.  How would this event effect your personal financial situation if you had to pay?

My team at The Harbeson Group and I have conducted hundreds of training sessions for funeral directors over the years on subjects like FTC Funeral Rule knowledge, taking shopper calls, removal/transfer procedures and so on. A few months back, I wrote a post Wear Other Shoes about training funeral directors to role play by planning a funeral for their closest loved one who unexpectedly died.  This training provides insight to the emotions people feel when arranging a funeral for someone they love and increases empathy for others in this situation.  But there is another facet to the training; what if you had to pay for the funeral expenses from your current and personal financial resources?

I provide funeral director training on the topic of cash flow solutions for at-need services. Prior to starting the training, I inform the group that I have permission from the funeral home ownership (or organization leadership) to charge everyone for the training they are about to receive.  The cost for the training is equivalent to the price for full burial at the funeral home including casket and vault (let’s use $8,400 for the purposes of this post).  I then tell the group the full amount is due to me at the completion of the training and that I accept cash, checks and all major credit cards…and I pause to let that sink in.

I love seeing some of the reactions on the faces of attendees and to feel the uncomfortable shift in the room. I then say “If there are no questions, we shall move forward with the training.”  Inevitably a hand will fly up with it’s owner asking “Are you serious?”  My answer: “What’s the big deal?”  “You ask the same thing of every family who makes arrangements with you, in fact for about the same amount.”  Silence follows as more air is sucked out of the room.

So I return to my original question: What if you had to pay today from your own financial resources?  Certainly there are those reading this who could write a check or have the credit card balance to pay, and then there are the rest of you. The majority of Americans (and let’s say a few funeral directors) don’t have the financial resources to pay for costly unexpected events in full, they need a payment plan. Sadly, just in the past few days, I read the obituary for a deceased funeral director asking for funds to be paid to help with funeral expenses. Just food for thought, if you had to pay today, would you need the services provided by Funeral Pay Plan?  Take a look and decide for yourself.

From the Command Post (no cigar for now). Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

 

 

TFC2

I have conversations daily with funeral directors nationally about funeral payment plans and collecting full GPL prices prior to engaging in a funeral contract.  More often than not I get questions from funeral directors: “What if the family?” I’m going to address some of those questions I get from the field.

What if the family does not have any money?  My immediate response (and yes we have trained our staff and we actually give the same response when asked in an arrangement session): How much is no money?  Not anecdotal, but I literally witnessed this same question posed to a funeral director and the family ultimately paid over $15,000 in cash for a complete funeral!  Does your funeral home train how to provide a response?  When a family says “they have no money” what exactly does that mean?  Most funeral directors dive straight to the bottom without engaging further to better understand the financial posture of the people they “are directing.”  The appropriate response is: “How much is no money?”  Then, close your mouth, listen, when appropriate inquire more, and then create a solution that suits their budget.  I know you’re sitting there saying “what if they have NO money?” Back at your here, what do you do?

“What if the family does not qualify for a loan at FuneralPayPlan.com?”  You go back to the drawing board.  The next step is to let the family know that you will accept a minimum  cash, credit card or life insurance assignment for full payment.  No funeral contract is signed by the funeral director until the payment is secured.

“What if the family can’t come up with the X% up front?”  You are offering them the wrong service and products; they simply can’t afford the current services or product selections!  I wrote about this a while ago “I Only Have Bus Fare But I Want a Cadillac” and basically once you know that a family can’t afford what you are offering, then you must change their options.  If not, you are part of the problem.

“What if the family gets money from FuneralPayPlan.com deposited in their account but they use it to buy something else?”  Well, I guess I can only answer this one: “here’s your sign”

TFC1

I have much more to say from experience and training firms to cash flow better for at need services, so this subject will continue in other posts. This post will generate enough fodder for those that #FNhustle and want to make #FNchange; so feel free to contact me to initiate training to make positive steps to build your #FNbrand. Of course, the others will simply smirk and continue upon their path of “often wrong but never in doubt.”

From the smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

FD Training Mistakes

I am the first to admit that I don’t make an A on every test.  In fact, I often struggle with taking and passing tests much less reach a level of consistent perfection.  Just this week I made a very visible mistake by posting the wrong word in the title because my lack of focus and self-editing.  It did not take long for the “edit police” to quickly point out my error, so I corrected the mistake and then made fun of myself along with thanking the “good eye” folks.

I always find that acknowledging mistakes with an apology and humor tends to work, at least for non-life threatening stuff like spelling errors.  Other more egregious mistakes (or any made as a husband or father) take an elevated/expedited response of contrite begging for forgiveness followed by some sort of restaurant visit. One recent very public mistake was made by Steve Harvey when he announced the wrong winner of Miss Universe. Steve quickly corrected the mistake and took responsibility.  At Christmas, he even made fun of himself in a tweet:

mistake

During a recent funeral home training session we actually addressed the subject of correcting mistakes.  Why would correcting mistakes be a training issue?  How we correct the mistake is highly important simply because when errors happen in the funeral home, the reaction as well as the corrective measures make a difference.  So, when correcting a mistake:

  1. Be accountable and acknowledge your mistake.  Don’t pass blame on to anyone or on any circumstance.  You did it, own it.
  2. Be humble and contrite in being accountable for making the mistake.  Most of us are far more willing to forgive if the person asking has accepted responsibility and sincerely asked for forgiveness.
  3. Correct the mistake immediately.  If the mistake is really bad, you may have to not only correct the mistake but also compensate for any resulting harm.  Always do so, but within reason.
  4. Once you have completed 1-3, then train on or document how to avoid repeating the mistake.

Does your funeral home have a training program to provide guidance and a “road map” of processes to follow?  Training for funeral directors and staff is essential to continuous improvement for funeral homes.  When a new funeral director arrives to work (seasoned or newly licensed), what training is provided that will keep consistent performance and behaviors aligned with the company culture?  Most funeral homes have the “follow me around and do what I do” training program which provides vulnerability to mistakes, some that may ultimately prove costly.  For example; why are funeral homes all over the country being consistently fined by the FTC for GPL violations?  Yep, we have training specific to the GPL based on the FTC Funeral Rule and I dare say that our funeral homes will never fail that particular test.

Funeral director training is not difficult or greatly time consuming but must be intentional with relevant content.  If you want to know more about how to implement training in your funeral home contact the me at 540-589-7821.  Until next time, try to keep the mistakes to a minimum and I’ll get someone to proofread this before publishing.  Cheers 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

 

FD training GP

Getting paid for services rendered and products sold should be as much of a priority as “a satisfied family” for funeral homes.   As a funeral home owner or someone managing the business, securing payment is one of the most important tenets of accountability, but rarely emphasized.  If you don’t think so take a gander of seminar presentation and CEU training provided at the majority of meetings or conventions.  Anyone training funeral directors to collect money due? No.  And most likely not at your funeral home either.

How can a funeral home get paid for every case, every time?  Training.  Why does a funeral home allow a contract to be signed without securing payment first?  Securing payment means a confirmation for pre-need payment, a life insurance policy is verified and assigned for payment, a check or credit card for full payment has transacted, or a payment plan has been agreed upon (signed) which includes a Truth In Lending statement along with full APR calculations of interest.  Otherwise, no contract signature from a funeral director should be made to engage for services.  It’s that simple.

If you are reading post and don’t think that your firm has an issue, I’ll give you a little process to follow:

  1. Look at every case from last month (January, 2016).
  2. Review each goods and services statement for signature of both funeral director and customer.
  3. Check total due amount.
  4. Check date funds received and amount paid.
  5. Is there any amount due today?
  6. If there is an outstanding amount due, why?
  7. If the case was not paid in full, what is the current status?

I offer training to provide funeral homes the path to secure payment prior to contract agreement.  Anything short of $0.00 accounts receivable at a funeral home is simply unacceptable and a direct reflection of poor management.  If you want to get paid, train your staff.

From the Command Post and all payments secured, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

Change Hustle

As a funeral industry entrepreneur I am blessed to be privy to many facets of this business.  Funeral homes, online cremation services, financing, media and other funeral service related products and services fall into my “wheelhouse” of operations.  I have written posts describing my perspectives and experience in this lofty adventure Funeral Industry Entrepreneur?Talking HeadsNon Conventional Conversations, and so on.  With all of this said, I write with confidence that I am unequivocally qualified to provide the following commentary.

The funeral industry (yes, it’s an industry because it generates $16 billion in annual revenue in the US alone) is experiencing one of the most dramatic shifts in our history. Everything from the economy, internet, and consumer demand dictates we are in an exciting period.  However, with this shift comes change and there will be collateral damage along the way.  Don’t think so?  Read this article from the Huffington Post  which points out that over 20,000 jobs have been lost and the revenues generated from our industry have declined.  Additionally, read the OGR’s Blog regarding trends that should be “wake up calls.”  I want to be clear that we have many funeral home owners, funeral directors, vendors and manufacturers that are making #FNchange and doing the #FNhustle, but for the rest of the herd…

I see hubris and arrogance at its extreme contributing to the fore-mentioned forecasts of despair.  In many respects, we are our own worst enemy because there are so many that are simply complacent.  An old saying “pigs get fatter and hogs get slaughtered” is also in play; basically there are those who have become wealthy (funeral homes and manufacturers alike) and are not investing in change (their people, products, services, real estate, or brands).  Basically putting lipstick on those pigs in a feeble attempt to dress it up, but it’s a still pig nonetheless.

Why is the majority resistant to change and growth?  Simply, it’s hard.  Money, time, learning, focus, training, and trust of others require a great deal of effort.  Reverberating in the halls of funeral homes are echoes of “it ain’t broke, why fix it?,” and “Our families won’t like that.” A few others include “We’ve always done it that way,” and “They will come to us because we have the best service.”  All of these statements are saying “We’re lazy as hell and we are not going to make any effort change.”

As part of my work, I spend an incredible amount of time and resources on funeral home websites.  I personally know of funeral homes with no website- looking at many others, they may be better off.  If I can tell how pitiful a funeral home is by their website, what does the consumer think?  If the website is this bad, how bad is the service and building? These types have bad websites or no “interweb” (yes, I’m being facetious) are telling the entire world just we are simply too cheap, lazy or ignorant to positively present ourselves as caretakers of the deceased.

There is much to say, but in an effort to be concise, I’ll post more on change in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, watch episode Episode #15 of Funeral Nation TV and our interview with Brad Rex, CEO & President of Foundation Partners Group to get a flavor of #FNchange as well as #FNhustle.

From a very thick fog from a sixty ring gauge Maduro cigar in the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

dec blog

What is your funeral home business culture?  To define business culture; a set of similar and collective values, beliefs as well as attitude.  The culture of a funeral home has significant impact on just about every facet of the operation.  Culture is also a trained attribute…does your funeral home provide training at all?

The culture of a company is undeniably noticeable in other industry’s like the Ritz Carlton and Chic-fil-A brands.  Ritz with impeccable high end service and Chic-fil-A with value/friendliness “my pleasure” service. Interestingly, these two company examples vary widely in their pricing and customer base yet both accomplish the same goal: a definitive culture and a significant effort to provide consistent training on the subject.

In my funeral career I have  met with owners, managers and staff of over 1,000 funeral homes that conduct as little as 25 to over 130,000 annual cases, both public and privately owned.  I have been privy to strategic planning and executive level discussions about the approach that many funeral homes take to their business.  Frankly, almost all commonly desire to serve the family of a deceased person with compassion, dignity and respect.  But the culture  of funeral homes widely vary to these core tenets of funeral service.

What is your funeral home culture?  Here are some that I have observed:

  1. Perfunctory: Just getting the job done without much fanfare or creativity.  Staff going through the motions not overly friendly nor curt, but primarily waiting for their day off and paycheck. Data collection on the deceased (always around a table or from behind a desk), choose a casket, choose a vault, choose a service, choose a date, choose a time, thank you for choosing us.  This culture is akin to a bank teller line; “thank you for your deposit, next please!”
  2. Excessive: Over the top and oozing of obvious false compassion.  “We are your new best friend and family” which makes many people uncomfortable and suspicious of the intentions.  Perhaps the best analogy would be an overzealous car salesman or clerk at a clothing store that refuses to let you just shop.  “My mother drove a car like that, I love those shoes, I had a cousin in the military (I wanted too but I have fat ankles/asthma which means I can’t run), I was in the scouts, you remind me of my own family,  I love dogs, I love cats, I have a hamster too, blah, blah.”
  3. Tense:  As if the boss is going to give a predetermined amount of lashings if a mistake is made or someone would dare think out of the box.  This culture is certainly the “we’ve always done it this way” crowd that requires women (if any work there) to wear below knee length skirts, pantyhose and non-heeled ugly shoes.  No, the owners are not sexist because they don’t allow male personnel to take off their jackets to show off their white shirts at anytime (especially when the temperatures are desert-like because that would be deemed unprofessional).  This crowd can be best described as a cross between an Amish formal dinner and an ancient Monastery…can you feel the love and joy?
  4.  Relaxed:  At ease; comfortable yet professional.  No hurry yet cognizant of time, respectful but not too chatty, everyone seems comfortable in their own skin.  I suppose that this culture can be most notably like being at a great restaurant.

Of course all that read this will vehemently know that they fall into #4 and their competitors are all #1-#3 and I understand there are other forms of culture existent in our chock full of nuts funeral homes.   How would you describe your funeral home culture?

It’s nearly Christmas and I’d like to wish everyone a joyous time with your family along with hoping for a little peace (and quite) for you at your funeral homes.  From the Command Post and fog of a 60 ring gauge cigar, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

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

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