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get it doneFuneral director training…how many funeral homes have a consistent training regimen for their funeral directors?  I was part of a meeting that we were challenged to list the top 10 issues/problems that are challenging funeral home owners. There was quite a range from marketing to gain new business to financial sustainability.  Most interesting to me, nearly all of the subjects could be resolved or at least part of the problem resolved with funeral director training.  Funeral director training must be mandated and supported by leadership. Meaningful and relevant funeral director training creates a culture of learning along with collective solicitation of better ideas.  Funeral director and apprentice development is enhanced by assigning topics training of their own peers.  Deliberate time for training is possible, even in the busiest of firms.

Three mornings a week for 15 minutes could make a difference in performance, morale, family satisfaction and even financial stability (how about training sessions of accounts receivable and collection of payments prior to signing a contract)?  Make the sessions fun…bring in some goodies to eat…how about a prize for the best training of the week (a lunch gift certificate).  It’s not difficult to offer funeral director training, it’s a matter of priority.

Funeral home owners; want to solve some of your problems?  Train your funeral directors and staff.  CEU’s are not sufficient or many times relevant to your funeral home needs.  Everyone can be trained and everyone needs to have training…even professional baseball players have batting coaches and take batting practice before their games.  How are you preparing your funeral directors and staff for the game?  Cheers Y’all.

questionFuneral pricing is an interesting topic.  Last week I posted about Cheap Cremation which provided excellent response from both consumers and funeral directors.  A notable post along the same line was from Kim Stacey The Price? Good Question on Connecting Directors which she discussed posting funeral pricing on a funeral home website and pricing transparency.  Additionally, I was part of a Face Book thread last week originally posted by Mike Strickland of Family Choice Funerals & Cremations in Virginia Beach, VA where Mike posted a GPL funeral price comparison of his and local funeral homes.

The Face Book thread was interesting because there were responses by funeral directors and consumers.  A particular local funeral director was incensed that Mike had the unmitigated gall to post GPL funeral price comparisons and her (the other funeral director) position was that a consumer must come to the funeral home to become educated about their funeral home selections.  I took a look at her funeral home website and a consumer could find out everything there is to know about funerals on that site but, what a surprise…funeral pricing for the firm was not posted.   Unfortunately, part of her defense of not showing funeral pricing on her firm’s website “because a family needs to see things like how nice the parking lot is.”  As we say here in the South “bless her heart.”

As a subject, funeral pricing is not going away.  Yes, I know someone will inevitably respond “but we have to make a profit just like hospitals and hotels, etc.”  I get that and that is not the point here.  The point here is there is usually a direct correlation between a funeral home’s overhead costs to the price that is charged to consumers.  Simple as that.  If a firm has a large expanse of real estate, fleets of cars, a large staff…well they obviously have to charge more. There are additional costs if a firm is publicly traded such as corporate governance and investors seeking returns. Smaller firms, smaller staff and less overheads usually means less cost to the consumer.

It’s the cost of doing business like any other industry…however, does Ruth’s Chris gave a rat’s fanny what Chick-fil-A charges?  No.  Why?  Because they serve two different markets with completely different choices.  The difference is that in the funeral industry, we all pretty much serve the same menu; caskets, urns, embalming and cremation.  That’s where the “casserole hits the fan”  because more expensive firms have difficulty explaining variances in prices such as “direct cremation” (removal, services of a funeral director, alternative container, and crematory fees).  Same exact services (not like Ruth’s Chris steak vs. a Chic-fil-A chicken sandwich) but sometimes thousands of dollars in difference.

Funeral pricing varies simply because it costs some firms more to operate.  I have also outlined the responses to “well, we give better service and you get what you pay for” post for later this week for those that love to sling that “casserole.”   Funeral pricing…what say you? Cheers Y’all.

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“Business is not doing deals; business is having great products, doing great engineering, and providing tremendous service to customers.  Finally, business is a cobweb of human relationships.” Ross Perot perfectly describes the funeral industry; its really not about doing “deals.”  Our product is providing families the opportunity to honor the life of their deceased loved one. Supporting the business are countless companies such a casket, vault, fluid, insurance, cemetery, flower, technology, vehicle and multitudes of others that produce goods/services making the funeral industry work.

The great engineering is meeting the needs of the ever changing funeral consumer.  The funeral industry offers a broad spectrum of service providers with varying degrees and levels of offerings.  We have firms that date back 200 years in funeral service history and others that are providing from a new source, the internet.  Whatever the business model, we all seek the same result; providing the family with the service they are seeking.

But as Ross said, we are a cobweb of human relationships.  In the funeral industry, think of all the relationships we have between funeral home owners/directors, vendors, the families we serve, the communities we live, etc.  At some point in all of our lives, we end up in a funeral home. We are an industry that has intertwined relationships for ultimately one purpose, providing families the opportunity to honor the life of their deceased loved one.

I am grateful to be part of such a noble group and enjoy the relationships brought about by serving others.  Happy New Year to my fellow funeral industry professionals and I pray for a prosperous 2014 for you, your family and your staff.

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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“Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone”~Neale Donald Walsch.  This quote recently caused me to ponder where exactly my professional comfort zone boundaries are, and what would happen if I ventured out beyond those limits.  More importantly, if I’m outside my “space of comfort”, what could I accomplish versus staying inside the “safe zone.”  Is outside the comfort zone the place where creativity, ideas and true innovation are born?

We don’t have to look far to find a long list of success stories and examples of people who ventured out of perceived comfort zones; Richard Branson, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Christopher Columbus, The Wright Brothers, etc.  These people and countless others didn’t jump off the deep end, take blind risks or ridiculous gambles just for the sake of being different.  They made calculated decisions knowing that failure, ridicule and continuous adjustments were part of the process to create their vision.  But the common thread among successful entrepreneurs is their passionate belief of possible, when others just see impossible.

In the funeral industry, moving beyond the predictable routines that we are accustomed is not exactly commonplace…basically we are generally slow to change, much less accept and adopt something new.  I saw a definition of innovate;improve something with a new idea or procedure; or produce a product using a new and better way.”  So, with this definition in mind, what is innovative in our industry?  I am blessed to be in position to travel, meet and be exposed to some really interesting funeral professionals.  Some are licensed funeral directors and some are not, but the commonality is they all have a vision of making our industry better.

So in the next few weeks through this blog I would like to share some of the people, products and ideas that I think are fantastic.  Most interestingly, none were showcased or even had a booth at the recent NFDA Convention in Austin.  However in my opinion, we’ll be seeing more of them in the near future…these are people with passion who stepped out of their comfort zone to innovate (see the definition above) in the funeral industry.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with Mike Squires, CFSP, Funeral Director and Editor of Southern Calls (www.southerncalls.com), a new funeral industry magazine.  The editorial content of Southern Calls embraces the rich heritage of funeral service in the South featuring compelling stories and striking pictorial content of the region’s People, Places and Passions. What makes Southern Calls more unique beyond the beautiful photos, well written stories, and the obvious well-developed publication, is passion. Mike’s passion for our profession bleeds through each page and in colorful display for the world to see.  Southern Calls is innovative, a Garden & Gun for the funeral industry…visit their website, take a look, and get a copy.  You’ll be glad you did.

Southern Calls

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