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change positions

Funeral directors meet with families during a time which most agree is very difficult.  Arranging the funeral of a loved one is stressful and often the necessary decisions made are clouded by varying emotions as well as grief.  Part of the regular funeral director training provided at our funeral homes for arrangements include role play; our funeral directors plan the funeral of their closest loved one in detail.

The role a funeral director performs is to provide information so the family can make educated decisions.  Without ever “wearing the shoes of the next of kin” the anguish is only observed and not experienced.  I have personally been part of this training and I can attest how emotional the process may be, even in a training environment.

I have conducted funeral home training on this subject and the results were enlightening.  One of the interesting scenarios created was that the deceased loved one had not pre-planned with a trust, had no life insurance and the expenses must be paid out of the role playing funeral directors personal resources.  As you read this, put yourself in that position; it’s up to you to pay for everything you select for services and products right now out of pocket.  Ask yourself; what would that do to my current personal financial status?  Having this thought in mind, would you buy the best of everything?  What would your choices be if you we financially responsible for the goods and services selected today?

When meeting with families, it’s natural to wonder why sometimes the decisions made seem to be other than what is customary or expected.  On top of financial stress, family dynamics enter the picture sometimes.  Just like many of you, I have personally witnessed strained funeral arrangements with a bad cocktail of financial woes and family discourse.

Finally, I know many funeral industry professionals that experienced unexpected loss of their spouse, child and parent.  After talking with some, their perspective of wearing the shoes of the people they normally serve changed.  If you are a funeral professional and lost a loved one, you know the angst.  Otherwise, think about conducting funeral director training for arrangers and changing shoes with those you normally guide; it may have lasting impact.

Funeral News! Ryan and I recorded our inaugural Funeral Nation TV web cast show that will be aired October 6th…I am certain you’ll enjoy the FN show! From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all.  #thefuneralcommander #funeralnationtv

block and tackle

Basic Blocking & Tackling Practice

I have once again survived the drought that begins at the end of the Super Bowl and finally starts sprinkling this time of year…ITS FOOTBALL SEASON!  From little boys to professionals, pre-season practices and scrimmages are abundant preparing for official kick off.  Whether a 6 year on the field for the first time to the seasoned pro veteran, everyone works on the basics of blocking and tackling.  So why don’t funeral directors have regular “practice” on the basics?

Just recently, I was part of a training exercise at a large volume funeral home.  The training focus was for phone discussions with consumers whether they were a shopper, pre-planning or at-need inquiry.  This part of a funeral director’s job is rarely practiced, monitored much less honed.  The engagement with callers is critical to the success of funeral homes as the conversation between the funeral director and inquirer can determine if the firm is selected for services.

Fortunately for this particular funeral home, their leadership understands and provides directors regular relevant training for various aspects of a funeral directors job.   However, with certainty I know that training is the exception rather than the rule for a vast majority of funeral homes.  As an owner or director, have you ever wondered why business is slow, your firm is losing market share to others or the revenue per call is in a downward spiral?  A coach on the sidelines sees when his offense consistently jumps off-sides, missed tackles, fumbles, interceptions and so on.  What is the difference in the approach to the problems?  Training, practice and coaching.

Funeral homes have sidelined their “players” by not offering regularly scheduled meaningful training.  Unfortunately the industry has created a mess for funeral directors educationally.  Once graduated from Mortuary School, the only “training” that is offered for funeral directors come from CEU’s or seminars.  CEU’s are mandated, however often provide no practicum (with the exception of regulatory classes) and none have a pass/fail requirement.  Basically, just attending is the standard.  As for seminars, the majority of directors are not privy to such because the firm leadership/owners usually attend.  Thus, “the field” is full of players with no practice for a game plan with potential for devastating losses.

Solutions?  First, funeral home leadership must recognize that training/practice is a solution to literally every challenge.  Second, find an experienced/credible coach and program for training.  There are “consultants” that make a lot of money prolonging the problems by not producing measurable results…many that never even “played the game” and don’t own a team.  A casket rep training YOU on how to handle phone calls…pathetic!  Finally, be determined.  Successful teams build programs with consistency; not fancy plays, a star player or gimmicks.

TIME OUT!  I’m working with an experienced team of funeral professional training “coaches” and I we would like to have conversation with you about your thoughts/ideas for training at your funeral home.  Visit G2 Funeral Group http://www.g2funeralgroup.com, email stevez@g2funeralgroup.com or contact me.  Don’t forget to like my Facebook Page http://www.facebook/thefuneralcommander and follow me on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/thefuneralcmdr From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

Tough Discussion

Association Discussion; Opening A Can of Worms

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak and present a CEU session to a group of funeral professionals of a state funeral organization at their annual convention. The audience was great with excellent discussions and engagement.  What I found perplexing was there was another funeral organization, from the same state, meeting at the same time a few blocks away.  I’m going to address what appears to be obvious and initiate a conversation that may “open a can of worms.”

Why is there two organizations with common issues and needs meeting at the same time, in the same city, but separately? For that matter, why are there so many organizations that are so similar yet choose to segregate themselves?  In Virginia alone, there are 3 state funeral director organizations that all are autonomous with their own conventions/meetings, staff, memberships and money spent. With all the scrutiny that we face by the news media, consumers, governmental and regulatory agencies; is all the segregation really the best portrait of funeral directing?

It’s 2015 and on the surface, one would think, gasp…that some of the organizations are divided by race.  Okay I said it…so, now refute it.  I am also aware of local “funeral director organizations” that are actually part of state associations that will not allow certain competitive funeral homes to join. Yes, licensed funeral homes are not allowed to participate.  I personally have knowledge of firms that are refused membership. What’s your take?

Not long ago I was a vendor and working the convention schedule in a few different states.  In some cases, the dates overlapped but in all cases the money spent to register, display, stay, eat and entertain was pretty much equal.  The company I worked for began scaling back budgets for state conventions because of escalating costs, lack of ROI and dwindling need to physically display because of new technology for messaging of products or services.  But at each convention, pretty much the same vendors and programs were provided.  The differentiation was the staff running the convention, location, people in attendance and non-essential time activities.  Make sense to you?

As for national organizations, one does not have to conduct in-depth research to surmise that the secondary tier organizations are struggling. It’s all about resources and value to the membership.  If a “one stop shop” organization offers CEU’s (education/training), legislative representation (advocacy), cremation resources (education/training) and a well presented annual convention which has a tremendous expo/trade show, why do the other “second tier” organizations even exist? What’s your take?

Just a few days ago, one second tier organization touted “breaking attendance records” at their recent annual gathering.  A breakdown of the “participants” shows that less than 1/3 are actual funeral directors and the rest of the attendees are comprised of vendors, spouses or kids.  Great spin, but the reality is that this type of “national organization” is drawing less than some state conventions.

What are your thoughts about all the different organizations that for the most part have a common purpose of representing the funeral profession? There are organizations that have excellent positive impact for education and influence, and others that seem to be more fraternity in nature. For sake of discussion, what are your thoughts of how we as an industry best should be represented…collectively with a strong and cohesive voice or segmented?

Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just stating the obvious (as usual) and addressing what seems to be a colossal waste of resources. Cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

stuck

I was recently at a funeral home strategy/training meeting and the Broken Escalator video above was presented as a primer for discussion.  This is a fantastic and thought provoking example for us in the funeral industry.  The NFDA just posted estimations that cremation will eclipse burial this year (see: Rates of Cremation and Burial) and consumers are as scattered in their views about death/disposition as cremated remains in a hurricane.

Yet, the majority of funeral service providers are “stuck on the escalator.”  Here are some examples:

  • “It’s not a problem in our community.”
  • “My families don’t/won’t blah, blah, blah.”
  • “We have been through this before.”
  • “We’ve always done it this way.”
  • “Training?”

The “stuck on the elevator” syndrome is also an epidemic in the funeral supplier world:

  • Repackage the same offerings.
  • Same casket, different color.
  • Discount and rebate games.
  • “Our research shows.”

Jessica A. Smith recently published a great post  I Want A Direct Cremation, Please on the OGR blog offering common sense approaches to assist consumers with cremation choices.   The pundits and talking heads (see Talking Heads; What We Allow Will Continue) continue to lead the blind sheep over the cliff with their “charge more and show more value.”  I guess my question is; why are there so many funeral providers stuck on the escalator?  Thoughts and comments?  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

DNA post

Nearly every day there are news feeds that address the topic of DNA.  Just yesterday, Legacy.com  posted an interesting article, What Can DNA Tell You About How You’ll Die?”  From science and medicine to solving crimes, consumers are becoming more familiar with the power of genetic developments and with DNA in particular.  For funeral directors, DNA and genetic advancements provide a new topic that adds to their professional knowledge and an informal obligation to provide some genetic information to the families they serve.

Information that is important to funeral consumers:

  • The cremation process is an irreversible process.
  • All DNA is lost (destroyed) during the cremation process.
  • Disinterment is costly; emotionally and financially (in some cases/areas may require legal action).

These three elements are factual and have relevance…but why?  Think about it, whether your funeral home provides a family cremation or burial for their deceased loved one, once your services are provided, their loved one’s genetic record is either destroyed or inaccessible.

As a funeral director, sharing such information with the families you serve imparts additional professional relevance for their decision making.  It’s our obligation to provide information so that families can make educated funeral choices.  Sharing that you offer one last chance to preserve their deceased loved one’s genetic record could have generational implications.  Most of all, you are offering information they might not otherwise have known; isn’t that what professionals do for their customers?

A couple of points to consider:

  • Funeral Professionals are making it known that familial DNA has accumulating medical and genealogical value and there is a straightforward, economical and private way to preserve it.
  • Genetic developments are supplementing the knowledge already imparted by Funeral Professionals.  Families benefit by receiving the latest in genetic medical and genealogical applications, as well as physical DNA preservation.  This is now becoming an important option in Funeral Service.

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

P&C

We are entering a fresh season of baseball; from Little League fields to professional stadiums baseball players are honing their skills to play their part in the games on the schedule.  On a daily basis, our military trains to prepare for the moments of battle that will require their skills to be put to task.  Whether turning a double play, laying down a bunt, knowing fields of fire or following a battle plan, practice and training are essential to win a game or in the most dire of situations, stay alive.

When it comes to practice and training on a regular basis in the funeral business, regular meaningful practice and training is a rarity. Yes, I do understand that funeral homes are busy and we never know when the next phone calls can mean days and hours of focusing on one of the most important event of a person’s life; a funeral for their loved one. I also understand and know that there are times where there is not such activities being conducted where we could hone our skills.

From my experience, some of the best ideas are the result of practice and training sessions when those involved have engaged not because of mandate, rather the innate opportunity to carry out “the play” or “scenario”  and revealing gaps otherwise not recognized.  At our funeral home brands, practice and training for the many tasks required of this profession have created a culture of continuous improvement.  What are the results?

Elimination of mistakes by following process.  Mistakes are made by everyone; however training eliminates repetitive errors.  If you think about it, errors may be simple or drastic, some may be costly.  For instance, how many times in transition from the funeral home to a place of service has items been left behind?  It costs money and consternation to return to the funeral home to retrieve forgotten items (CD.’s, Reserved Markers, etc.). How about receiving a body at the funeral home?  Identification measures and process is a training opportunity; we have recently read news stories of the wrong body being cremated, do you think that  mistake is going to be costly?

From my assessment,  for every mistake or mishap in a funeral home, training would have been a preventative measure.  Think about it, what problem in our daily funeral home activities cannot be corrected with practice or training ?  Funeral home leaders must be intentional and make the time for practice and training; the results are worth the effort.  Literally taking 15 minutes a few days a week can create a culture of continuous improvement and better morale…after all, who does not like to win?

Well as you know if there is a gap, I’m paying attention. Don’t let your untrained heart be troubled, help is on the way!  Stay tuned.  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

Innovation word cloud glowing

Why are new ideas so difficult to introduce in the funeral industry?  The historic level of success for introduction, adoption and broad acceptance is low, at best.  I’ve been around this market now for several years and have witnessed products, services and vendors come and go.  At nearly every convention and expo, bright eyed newcomers rent booth space for display just knowing they will capture the hearts and minds of those that will share their ideas with the families they serve.  The truth is, most fail.

One factor for low success is that most of the “new idea” people are from outside the industry.  Consumer research may indicate opportunity will abound for success; however the stark reality becomes evident once launched.  Standing in the booth hoping funeral directors and perspective buyers will show interest by taking time for the new exhibitor to share their ideas becomes a lonely and expensive lesson.  Often if a cool and free giveaway is available, traffic will be akin to Halloween with open bags to take the trinket, but no real interest otherwise.  A fishbowl full of business cards may provide a glimmer of follow up hope with the vendor measuring success by all the “contacts” made, but the reality is few will ever respond. Speaking of business cards, it’s hilarious to me how may attendees “forget” their cards and if one is in their possession, how many have no email address.  I would venture to guess if these same folks were at a local church picnic, bake sale, pig picking, Friday night out at the diner or other “major marketing” event they would be handing out cards like methadone at a drug clinic.

Most of the naysayers including those that fill their goodie bags with “free stuff” along with the non-card carrying bunch have never created anything in their life other than a checking account for their check to be deposited.  Thus not having any idea or appreciation for the difficulty bringing a product/service/idea to market.  These same smug and often borderline rude people are the barrier between funeral consumers and innovation in the industry, however their stranglehold is weakening.  I recently saw a great commercial from Go Daddy (which I use) that reminds me of this crowd…named the Doubters:

Unfortunately the “new idea” people are often ill prepared to launch for several reasons.  The product/service has not been proven or beta tested in actual arrangement sessions.  This is an important factor because without data and feedback from the presenter (funeral director) to the consumers they are meeting, it’s impossible to gauge consumer acceptance.  Many new vendors haven’t a clue the intricate nuances that take place during an at-need arrangement session, nor are most directors willing to introduce something new outside their normal routine. Therefore, price points, presentation materials and the sales process are not vetted which is an uphill climb to any market penetration.  I wrote a post Funeral Industry Entrepreneur? relative to starting something new in the funeral industry; it’ not for the faint at heart.

Another factor is need…what does the funeral industry really need? Frankly there is over capacity of urns, caskets, vaults, fluids, funeral coaches, paper goods, pre-need offerings, life insurance factoring, and such.  Generally the same vendors are offering “new and improved” of the same stuff year after year.  The relationships developed between suppliers and customers usually remain firmly entrenched.  For funeral homes to make a change from one supplier to another usually takes place primarily because of finances; don’t kid yourself, it’s all about the money. The well funded deep pocketed suppliers will go to great financial lengths to retain or attract new business from a limited field of buyers which often squeezes out the “newbies” and smaller competitors (yep, I have seen HUGE discounts and rebates climbing over 40%).  Many of the “big boys” are rearranging the chairs on their own Titanic due to the shifting consumer, increase of cremation, decrease of burials and their own lack of innovation.  However, changing suppliers or adding new products/services also takes effort on the buyer side which deters many due to the sheer upheaval and operations of the “we have always done it that way” crowd.  Even if “new or different” costs less, easier to use, provides better service, or fills a needed gap, the resistance to change generally rules.

What if the approach to launching new funeral related products and services changed?  I think (I haven’t conducted much research on this) there are more living people at this very moment than those that are arriving at funeral homes.  Huh?  What if vendors/suppliers reach consumers prior to arriving at the funeral home creating demand for their particular product/service?  Basically consumers walking into funeral homes asking for the product/service by name…would this conduct change the market?  Of course, I can almost hear (even with some great Spotify tunes blaring on my speakers) “well, I don’t carry or do that, so you will have to choose from what I have to offer” from the before-mentioned “we’ve always done it this way” crowd.

The advent of Social Media has created a tremendous path to reaching and educating consumers about new services or products.  FTC Funeral Rule actually stands in the consumers’ corner regarding their choices.  Now this could create quite a quandary let alone great headlines for marketing of such products or services.  So, you don’t think this is possible?  Take some time to read about Invisalign and their launch into the dental market.  Early adopters enjoyed success and competitive advantage for their new service/product innovation. The push-pull strategy has not been attempted in the funeral service industry…

But don’t fret!  The Funeral Commander is developing a 5 Paragraph Operations Order that will have many scratching their heads and others proclaiming “well, I’ll be damned.”  The truth is, there are other avenues of approach to effect change.  For the early adopters, forward thinkers and those with the capacity to adapt for change, we have quite a great ride ahead.  For the others, please don’t change, really we need you! From the thick smoke of a great cigar at The Funeral Commanders desk, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander #dnamemorial

TFC-Truth & Hell

I was recently part of a funeral home strategy session that I was asked to make two presentations, one about my view of the funeral industry in 2015 (which prompted my post last week Definition: Family vs. Consumer) and the other leadership.  The post last week was about funeral professionals taking a step back, reviewing who we serve which may require us to take different views of ourselves.  As part of the leadership presentation, I discussed personal accountability; that when leading we must not only demand the truth from those that follow us, but accept the truth as well.

I started thinking; what if we actually spoke the truth about our business, the business of taking care of the dead?  Already at this point of the post I am certain that the Kiwi’s (see Are you a Kiwi or Eagle) have gone into full defensive posture thinking that I’m making accusations that funeral professionals are untruthful or unethical; not so.  But I do think we should start having critical discussions about ourselves.  So once again, I go to the dictionarytruth (noun); the true or actual state of a matter, conformity with fact or reality.

There are a myriad of reasons why as humans we don’t like the truth; the truth often exposes weakness, the truth forces us to confront reality, the truth may “offend,”  sometimes the truth has consequences, and ignoring the truth may be easier than making change for course corrections.  Without a doubt, one of the most famous scenes about exposing the truth comes from the movie A Few Good Men: 

Obviously, Colonel Jessup did not take kindly to being questioned about his position, honor, mission, duty or reputation.  However, when Lieutenant Kaffee presses for the truth, things get ugly.  The “truth” believed by Colonel Jessup is based on a misguided/twisted view of self- importance and perceived mission.   When his truth was fully exposed, it was wrong…dead wrong.  When watching this clip I could not help but also think: “How dare you question me? We have always done it this way.”

So back to the funeral industry.  Using the analogy from A Few Good Men, when we proclaim “you can’t handle the truth” is the reality that many in the funeral industry have a similar postured view akin to Colonel Jessup?  “How dare anyone question us?  After all, we get called out at all hours in any weather conditions, we embalm bodies, we cremate bodies, we console loved ones, we stand vigil at visitations, we must be licensed and take CEU’s, we sponsor community events, we pay for those church fans…you need us to answer that phone, you need us to wear our matching ties, we care for the dead.”

What if we took a step back and had truthful conversations about how we actually conduct our business, realistically view our customers, our educational requirements, our products, our services, our prices, our organizations and publications…could we handle the truth?  Could we have these conversations without pointing fingers making accusations about each other, having thin skin and getting “offended” rather actually take steps to collectively make our industry better?

I say we can and should.  In the spirit of betterment and truthful conversation about the funeral industry, I raise my hand to pledge to tell the truth. Here are some of my own truths and thoughts about such discussions:

  • I am certain of what I know, and more certain of what I don’t know…I seek council and advice from many different facets of our business.
  • I am not scared of challenge, so let’s debate…I respect people that are passionate about their thoughts/positions and have the ability to articulate in a challenging but not personally demeaning manner.
  • I’m not offended if you disagree with me; in fact I’m pretty hard to “offend” because the funeral industry does not define me.  I’m comfortable in my own skin; I know my failures and my successes.  So, if you are inclined to travel a path of “telling me what for” you are wasting your breath (or writing).  If you really have something say, give me a call and we’ll talk.  But if you decide to “go there” in a public way, be prepared for my public response.
  • I believe when we see something that does not make sense, it should be challenged; but when we do, lets offer solutions rather than just pointing fingers.
  • If you know something is wrong or doesn’t make sense, yet don’t say or do anything about it, don’t criticize those that have the intestinal fortitude to make a difference.

I am dedicating a series of posts on The Funeral Commander blog to “funeral industry truths”  and I solicit your ideas of subjects that should be addressed.  I’m attending yet another industry seminar/conference this week which I’m certain will provide all sorts of inspiration for discussion…I’ll report from the battlefield.  So from the desk in the Command Post and heavy fog of cigar smoke; Cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

innovationThis past week famed musician Bono of U2 announced that their new album “Songs of Innocence” would be released free to anyone with iTunes (Bono Explains U2’s Deal).  The idea of reaching new customers with their brand/style of music is a brilliant marketing campaign on many levels.  Of course, Apple is participating and launching products of their own simultaneously which creates buzz for all involved.

Let’s see; reaching a new audience of listeners (not even the same genre’s), collaborating with another company to deliver the message, and a fresh approach to consumers.  Any lessons/ideas here for us in the funeral industry?  I have a few ideas, but I’d love to hear from from you.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

10489664_10204233373373040_6140789426579688307_n (3)Living in the entrepreneur world is quite an experience. Thinking of an idea/process/product, development and working through to completion which is basically market acceptance and penetration, is a great reward of satisfaction that drives our motivation.

The hard part of being an entrepreneur is not all the creative, coordination, structure development, testing and so on.  That part of our “existence” is why we engage in our endeavors.  One of the most difficult facets of entrepreneurialism is the struggle with people that have either no understanding or will to learn about our creative initiatives.  Interestingly, even after vetting products/services in “beta” situations (at need arrangements) with real funeral directors with real funeral consumers, posting positive revenue numbers and elimination of “glitches,” skepticism abounds.  So why is the phenomenon of knee jerk “well, that won’t work” so pervasive?

I believe and understand that we all have natural skepticism about anything new.  Having stated this, I also believe that many people don’t possess natural intellectual curiosity to research for themselves prior to providing their opinion.  Thus, the term “knee jerk” is appropriate; just what comes off the top of mind with no real foundation or reasoning to support a given position.  Is this because the “opinionated” has never invented or created anything in their life and merely shows up everyday to perform repeated tasks for their livelihood, thus hating change?  Or is the “opinionated” always positioning or believing themselves as the smartest person in the room, resentful of not being the one that created the enterprise?  We see this type of reaction is pervasive in our society today on social media (mindless reactions) and even in our Nation’s leadership;  “JV team” comment sound familiar?

In particular, the funeral industry is quite adept in providing “often wrong but never in doubt” opinions on a wide variety of subjects.  However much like the reference to the Middle East scourge, the issues we face are real and not going away.  In fact, the problem is getting worse and there is no plan of how to address the escalating and dangerous situation we are finding ourselves.  For example, in many cases our approach to cremation, use of technology, regulations, competition, price transparency, the economic environment we are operating and shifting consumer views of funeral service have not been a track record of stellar business practices.

Ten years ago, we were so surprised when consumers actually choose a custom cap panel, or shopped prices, purchased a non-gasketed casket, or asked for a “direct cremation.”  Today these examples are common and closer the norm.  So when the subjects of technology to serve families (bricks and mortar not necessary for services provided), use of celebrants, declining revenues from financially challenged consumers, DNA in the funeral industry, sending cremated remains into space, alkaline hydrolysis and such…are they so far fetched?  However, remember your first Thumbie sale? I suppose the proprietors and change leaders of our industry that now enjoy the fruits of their effort are humming the Toby Keith song “How Do You Like Me Now?”

Fortunately the funeral industry has forward thinking and operating professionals that actually provide leadership by having the intestinal fortitude and broad view to pave the way for those that don’t.  Actually, I addressed these leaders in a post Kiwi or Eagle earlier this year.  So from my view as a funeral home owner/partner and funeral service/product business owner/entrepreneur, there is a bright future for the funeral industry Eagles!  As for the Kiwi’s, well as we say in the South, “Bless your heart,” your beak is getting warmer as we speak.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

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