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posersThis week I have read outstanding articles from both Alan Creedy (http://connectingdirectors.com/articles/43708-pennsylvania-deprives-consumers-of-21st-century-services) and Ryan Thogmartin (http://connectingdirectors.com/articles/43685-10-reasons-not-to-hire) regarding the funeral industry and continuing myopic practices.  What fascinates me the most is that due to the medium of internet and social media, the exposure of “posers” and as Alan eloquently pointed out “guilds” continue.

Posers (a person who poses, especially a person who is trendy or fashionable in a superficial way) and guilds (a medieval association of craftsmen or merchants, often having considerable power) are beginning to scurry for cover like roaches when a light turns on in a dark room.  The funeral industry is wrought with “experts” providing advice with little to no experienced platform to stand and being propped up by those that are fiercely resisting change.  If this sounds familiar, take a look at our government in Washington and lobbyists for a similar analogy.

Social media and the internet are allowing for voices to be heard that were not provided a platform by the “ruling entities” of the funeral profession.  A grand example is Alan and Ryan’s articles…I suspect neither will be published in most funeral association magazines.  As the consumers we serve continue to educate themselves about the funeral industry, pricing, services and the like, they ultimately will force the necessary changes of endless outdated practices.  Much like in the early 90’s, consumers and the internet totally changed the travel agency industry.

So for those in our industry that continue to refuse engage, enlighten and provide positive changes, as the old saying goes “the chickens are coming home to roost.” Cheers y’all.

out of orderI was working a funeral service this past Saturday and experienced strange occurrences that I frankly don’t care to ever live through again. During the services, a young lady came to me to say that one of the restrooms had an “issue.”  Apparently, a roll or so of toilet paper just barely got the job done.  I proceeded to do my best plumbing expertise of using a plunger to fix the problem.  Well, it didn’t even come close…as I was sloshing away, the door opened with a man telling me that the other restroom has “an issue.”  Great…so I stopped plunging and opened the door of the other restroom and observed the same problem.

After exhausting all my best efforts to clear the hatch, I let my fellow participant in hell know we were in dire need of a plumber…on Saturday, in the middle of a funeral service.  My partner let me know that the family requested more memorial folders and the printer for some reason had decided that it also was overwhelmed for the day refusing to submit and he was up to his elbows in ink.  As the service let out, my job was to let folks know the bathrooms were unavailable due to an emergency…imagine the look of horror on some ladies faces upon hearing the news.

To add to the fun, a family of 11 walks into the funeral home to make arrangements for their mother that literally just died 45 minutes ago at the local hospital…and they really want to “get this part over with so that they can party.”  As we cleared the building of the service and initiated the arrangement session with the party family, the plumber arrived. I showed the plumber and his team the problem areas and they started to work, which included turning off the water causing all kind of alarms to start going off. On cue, the party family thought that was a sign that maybe they should take another of their six smoke breaks of the arrangement session.

My hat is off to those that serve the public in so many capacities, and especially those in the funeral service field.  We don’t just stop; we make adjustments, and carry on.  Saturday could aptly be described as a “crappy day”…but the sun came up on Sunday.  Please share some of your “one of those days” with us…Cheers y’all.

 

goodbyeI have seen it in the eyes of family upon my arrival for the removal/transfer of their deceased loved one.  Exhaustion, sadness, disbelief that death has arrived for the person they cared for and loved.  Many of us in the funeral profession have made home removals to see the look and feel the tone of those that have given so much of their lives over the recent past.  For the next 48 to 72 hours, these saints must muster even more energy for the funeral activities that will take place.

I have been part of and talked with many that shared their experiences with the exhaustive “death watch” which may last months.  In their wonderful mission of making the transition from life to death as comforting as possible, I also know that hospice and senior care workers now must move to their next assignment, exhausted as well.

Similar to bringing a newborn home, caring for a dying loved one uproots routines.  Sleep, work, personal time, meals, care visits, laundry, etc. all change.  In most cases, babies at some point get settled and find a routine similar to our own, but the transition to death has no routine.

An example and the inspiration of this post is one of our associates lost his father just last night.  Several weeks ago we were made aware that hospice care determined that the death of his father was imminent, which meant that as his funeral home family we are on standby to assist and serve.  The agonizing weeks, days and hours that followed took an emotional toll on their family.  It’s interesting that at our funeral home we have been notified by family that life sustaining procedures have been stopped on their loved one, and death may occur at any time.  I have personal knowledge of people surviving without life support and living for over a month…incredible testimony to our human design.

For some, plans for the funeral have been made for their deceased loved one. The details of contacting others, dates, times and locations are pretty much all that has not been secured.  For others, even more exhaustive days are ahead.  Funeral decisions made under the cloud of grief coupled with exhaustion only exasperate what is considered one of life’s most stressful events, the funeral of a loved one.  On top of this, finances, frayed emotions and unresolved family issues are not unusual during funeral events.

Death is often exhausting…for those that are dying, for family that is tending and caring for the dying, for those that make the transition more comfortable from life to death, and for those that serve the families in their darkest of days.  I have witnessed, deal with and ultimately know that I too will personally experience exhausting death of a loved one.  My words are from my heart to encourage all of us to continue to have empathy, provide comfort and serve those that are experiencing exhaustive death.  At some point, we’ll want to be served as we serve.  Cheers y’all.

paying for the funeralThe subject matter of finances continues as I converse with funeral directors across the country.  As most have shared with me,  pre-need sales are stagnant or “not what they used to be.” With the shaky economy and consumers paying close attention to expendable dollars in their household budget, this should not be a big surprise.

Additionally, consumers arriving at funeral homes with life insurance are decreasing as well.  As reported by the Life Insurance Marketing Research Association; “the proportion of U.S. adults with life insurance protection has declined to an all-time low with 41% (95 million) of all adults have no life insurance at all.”

So if a consumer did not pre-pay/plan their funeral goods and services with a contract, the surviving family members that remain behind are making decisions for funeral goods and services with lingering thoughts:

  • If the deceased had valid life insurance, is the amount enough to pay for the goods and services that we desire?
  • If the insurance is not enough, should we pay the balance out-of-pocket or just spend only the amount of the policy?
  • If the deceased had valid life insurance, how much should we spend on funeral goods and services?
  • If the deceased had valid life insurance, should we use some of that money for other bills (medical, survivor needs, etc.)?

Of course, the above questions arise only in the cases that life insurance exists.  So with no pre-paid contract and no life insurance, what thoughts exist?

  • How much are the funeral goods and services going to cost?
  • We have savings, but should we dip into those funds?
  • Do we have enough credit card balance to charge the funeral goods and services?
  • What can we get for the amount we have…or willing to spend?

A funeral director must tailor the funeral goods and services to the budget that a family desires to spend.  And this is where the quandary begins with two sometimes opposing forces at work:

  • Satisfying the family’s desires for honoring their loved one within their budget.
  • Collecting funds for goods and services rendered that provide profitability for the funeral home.

Just like any other business, funeral home owners are being forced closely scrutinize their operating expenses and make decisions for financial sustainability.  A thorough evaluation of fixed costs, personnel management and cost of goods should be conducted.  Upon gaining a firm grasp of expenses, projections of revenue is essential.  As with most firms, the revenue projection process is like nailing Jell-O to the wall.

What is abundantly clear to most funeral home owners is that many consumers are making significant changes how they choose to provide final rites for their deceased loved ones.  “Traditional” burial is decreasing and cremation is increasing…no surprise there.  However; competition of getting the attention of consumers for how they can better budget their “funeral dollars” is rampant…within our industry along with outside of the funeral industry influences.

What does a firm offer for the growing demographic of funeral consumer that has little to no life insurance or limited funds for goods and services?  What strategies and training are in place to increase revenue along with cash flow from these consumers that meet the financial needs of the funeral home?  What are the messages and how are they sent to attract this growing market segment?  Are these conversations even taking place…or is the firm ignoring what the marketplace is telling them?  Times and consumers are changing.  The good old days are long past the funeral industry.

ShhhThe funeral industry is slow to make changes in its operations and customs.  Consumer’s views about death and funerals are challenging funeral directors to make adjustments to their demands.  It’s rare now not to find a funeral home without a website; something considered “out of the box” 15 years ago.  With the popularity of cremation, many funeral homes have been forced to change their offerings to funeral consumers.  Some cremation funeral services are indistinguishable from burial funeral services; with the body present complete with all of the other traditions such as a wake, visitation, services, use of hearse, etc.

However, there is one underlying and very important fact that has not been regularly disclosed to funeral consumers by funeral providers; the cremation process obliterates all medical and genetic DNA, and the process is irreversible. That’s right.  Once a body is cremated, there is no traceable medical or genetic DNA that can be harvested from cremated remains.

Why would someone want their deceased loved ones DNA? If you are not aware, Angelina Jolie recently had a double mastectomy because she found through DNA testing that she possessed a mutation in her BRCA1 gene.  This discovery indicated that she had a 87% chance of developing breast cancer. Angelina found the DNA testing to be important to her health and future.

I also have a personal reason for the collection of DNA. My wife’s father and Jim “Catfish” Hunter are brothers.  If you don’t know the name “Catfish Hunter,” he was a Hall of Fame Baseball Player, Cy Young award winner pitching a perfect game as well as a pitcher for both the Oakland A’s and New York Yankees during some of their World Series wins.  “Jimmy” died of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” in September of 1999.  Unfortunately, my wife’s first cousin and Jimmy’s nephew, Gary Hunter died in April 2006 of ALS as well.  I have two sons Hunter, 22 and Jackson, 15…DNA of our deceased relatives Jimmy and Gary Hunter would be important for my son’s future.

For some people genealogy is important and becoming more popular for search of family history.  So the collection of DNA of a deceased family member has several practical applications that surviving family members may want to consider.

Wikipedia explains “DNA Genetic testing, also known as DNA testing, allows the genetic diagnosis of vulnerabilities to inherited diseases, and can also be used to determine a child’s parentage (genetic mother and father) or in general a person’s ancestry. In addition to studying chromosomes to the level of individual genes, genetic testing in a broader sense includes biochemical tests for the possible presence of genetic diseases, or mutant forms of genes associated with increased risk of developing genetic disorders. Genetic testing identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins.  Most of the time, testing is used to find changes that are associated with inherited disorders. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine a person’s chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder. Several hundred genetic tests are currently in use, and more are being developed.”

As science continues to progress our eyes are continually opened through information.  In the funeral industry, we know the fact that upon conclusion of the cremation of a person, all physical genetic and medical DNA are obliterated.  Funeral service professionals have an obligation to provide this information to a family so that they may make educated funeral decisions.

Funeral consumers should conduct research prior to making funeral arrangements and ask their funeral director what happens to their loved one’s DNA after cremation.  The cremation process is irreversible and so is the decision not to collect the DNA of their loved one.

THG LogoThe Harbeson Group http://www.theharbesongroup.com provides the innovate development of partnerships, products and services in the funeral industry. As part of our strategic development, we are now seeking independent funeral industry sales professionals to offer unique solutions to funeral home owners.

If you have established relationships in the field providing services to a current funeral home customer account base, have an interest in adding relevant services and products to your firms; please send your resume with a cover letter to jeff@theharbesongroup.com

freezing I sit here in my warm office this evening thinking of just how frigid the air  is outside.  We were not the recipients of much snow in our geography,  but the cold is biting.  The news today was all about gridlock and peril in  parts of our country that are not used to the cold or copious amounts of  snow and ice.  “Parking lots” on highways and car wrecks by the droves.

But the underlying story I did not hear from the media was two groups of people.  First, those that are forced to live and endure the outdoors in this type of weather because of misfortune.  I served dinner last Sunday night at our local homeless shelter and my mind is on the faces…children, women and men alike suffering.  Secondly, those that serve; police, fire, EMT, military, power company personnel, medical, hospice, and yes, when people die, funeral directors.  None of these people take the night off because of the cold.

We are a nation that cares and will answer the call of duty when needed.  I pray for those that are cold and find themselves where they never imagined.  I pray for those that are serving at this very moment in conditions that are nearly unbearable.  I give thanks to God that I am here, blessed and humbled.

There but for the grace of God, go I. This means I too, like someone that suffered misfortune, might have suffered a similar fate, but for God’s mercy.

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.

 

AdviceI really enjoy reading posts, blogs and comments that circulate throughout the funeral, grief, hospice and senior care industries.  Many offer excellent insights from combined experience and education, providing helpful relevance which assists all of us that serve.  Actually looking a dying person in the eyes while providing comfort, or working with a family stressed and emotionally drained from providing day-to-day care is much different from reading about it.  Additionally, being in a funeral arrangement session with families whose members are in the same state, imminent/post death actually observing their decision-making under the cloud of anguish and grief is equally not the same as speculating about what actually takes place in such events. 

So my post today is first to thank those of you in the before-mentioned positions and professions for sharing your experiences to assist others to serve better.  But “the heart of the matter” is to address all those that are surrounding and “supporting” our respective industries.  We get inundated by “try this, do that and we’re sure this will work” by those that have never changed a bed pan, consulted a family about the impending death of their loved one, provided comfort transition from life to death, created a funeral home budget/P&L, assisted a family making funeral arrangements, watched a family kiss their loved one for the last time, or actually provided comfort to a grieving person over their loss.

I’m a firm believer in education about any specific profession, but I also believe that “hands on experience,” training and practice are the best teachers.  It’s like reading books about combat and thinking you are prepared for battle.  One must have actual experience for true appreciation of the work involved; along with the “authority” to offer insight or opinions with credibility.

Finally, I want to encourage those that do contribute from authority and experience to continue providing meaningful and original content.  For all the others, give us break.  We can read Forbes, or Entrepreneur finding such generalized content ourselves…quit posting stuff for the sake of posting.  I have been in a combat zone and a target of real world attacks; so for the respective industry carp that will “yelp like a bit dog” and get their underwear in a wad; go ahead take offense and get over yourself.  For everyone else please continue the great work.  Cheers y’all!

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.

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