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blog post SC

What does the recent primary in South Carolina tell us about the funeral industry? Let me start this post with a disclaimer: I’m simply providing observations and I am not endorsing or promoting any candidate who is running for the office of President of the United States. Additionally, I will note that my family (both my mother and father) come from the Palmetto State. We have deep roots since the very beginning of this nation, so I know what I’m talking about when proclaiming: South Carolina is considered the bastion of conservatism in America with a history of “sticking to their guns” with whatever they believe. It’s a state that is certainly considered “the buckle of the Bible Belt.”

My takeaway of the primary results last Saturday has relevance to the funeral industry. The winner did what most would consider blasphemous and everything that should have led to defeat.  For example: calling out a much loved and revered former President (especially in SC) regarding the 9-11 attack; calling competitors liars and saying that a controversial women’s medical provider actually does have some good points. All this and more coming from a Yankee spending far less than his competitors  while also using social media to resonate his message: “No more PC gibberish; let’s just call it like it is and make America great again.”

The competitors had the endorsements from the State party establishment elected officials, endorsements from the mainline religious groups, spent millions on trying to convince voters to follow the past “establishment direction,” and even made sure everyone knew the front runner was divorced but was now married to a “foreigner.” The competitors also had infrastructures developed with volunteers knocking on doors and making phone calls.  In the State where a particular religious group reigns, against conventional thought the tactics failed and the stale messages did not stem the rising tide of change.

What are some of the similarities of the campaign in SC with the funeral industry?  A few observations:  the funeral establishment has long coined rivals (new business models) as discounters and direct disposers which basically means nothing to the consumer. Interestingly, some have their own little discounters and direct disposal businesses but don’t share much about them in public or funeral meetings (sort of like not claiming “that side of the family”).  The rhetoric “you get what you pay for” is a back firing message because consumers are questioning the cost and see no value in what they are paying for with the traditionalists.  Millions of dollars are spent on advertising in an attempt to convince consumers to hold on to tradition rather than invest in creating and seeking solutions to meet consumer demand.  Pundits preach (see a blog post by funeral home owner Dale Clock The New Normal) at conventions and meetings to charge more and show more value but never address the real issues like how to serve the financially-struggling family (who are flocking to discounters and direct disposers).  Value now is the ability to pay in full.

The results from the South Carolina primary offer a glimpse into the future of the funeral industry. Consumers are demanding change, rejecting the established past. They are educating themselves online and taking action on the information provided without visiting nary a funeral home. Consumers couldn’t care less about internal industry bickering and name calling; they are leaving tradition behind. The establishment’s message is fragmented and falling flat for a number of reasons including its methods of delivery (very few funeral organizations use social media or offer consumer-friendly websites). I don’t think nor do I advocate that the traditional funeral home is going away or  it is irrelevant.  However, the recent report, SCI saw fewer funerals, declining revenue in 2015, is news to which every funeral provider should pay attention.

The voters (funeral consumers) are speaking loudly and clearly asking for new models of service and a change in how we go about offering our services. We have an abundance of smart, talented, experienced, willing funeral industry professionals and organizations ready to work together for the betterment of our collective future. The platforms for communicating and working together are right at our fingertips. I raise my hand and volunteer, what about you?

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

 

 

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

think

I am creating a presentation after being asked to speak on the the topic “The State of The U.S. Funeral Industry in 2015” for an organization.  In a post earlier, Adapt and Overcome; Time for Bold Leadership, I made reference to outside influences challenging the funeral industry such as economics, shifting consumer views, and technology.  While furthering my research regarding consumers, I had a discussion recently that makes me ponder a contributing factor to our challenges; our own “internal language.”

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting with the Life Celebration, Inc. team at its headquarters not far from Philadelphia.  If you have not had the occasion to do so, it’s quite impressive what this organization has created to assist funeral directors training and creating meaningful funerals. During the meetings, I had opportunity to have an in-depth discussion with Jim Cummings, Chief Experience Officer, regarding the Life Celebration, Inc. philosophy, training and offerings.  Jim made a statement that really resonated with me; “we have to change how, as funeral professionals, we view ourselves and the people we are serving.  They are not our families they are consumers, there is a difference.”

Jim has a very interesting point.  So, as part of my work for the before mentioned presentation, I looked up the definitions on dictionary.com:

family (noun; plural; families) a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children,considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.  

consumer (noun) a person or thing that consumes & a person or organization that uses a commodity or service.

I have heard over the years and still today funeral directors refer to their customers as “my family.”   If someone didn’t know better, they would think funeral directors were actually burying or cremating a person from their own family unit (as defined and generally recognized by most of the population above).  If “my family” was accurate, a funeral director would not have to get all of the information for the death certificate nor waste copious amounts of time on the obituary.  He or she should know all this stuff about his or her “family” and funeral directors would be picking up the bill, or at least not profiting (we would never profit off of our own family…right?).  Where did this notion “my family” referring to consumers we serve come from?    Is there another profession that mirrors this philosophy; physician/patients, hotelier/guest, attorney/client, church/congregation, hospice/patient?  These other professions have compassion and love for those they serve, but don’t use the moniker, “my family.”

I believe this sort of “make believe posturing” in the funeral industry is one of the many contributing internal challenges we’ve created. Perhaps by viewing customers as what they are, consumers, we would not be failing to adapt to their needs.  If we can change the way we visualize ourselves, we will better understand those that we serve.  We would study their product/price points (not just sell whatever the vendors produce), their preferences for experience (rather than make them accept only what we have been used to offering), we would conduct services at different venues (not just our chapel or a local church) and we would communicate with them in the ways they communicate (social media, not the yellow pages) actually having something to say that is relevant to their needs.

If they are “your family,” why are they forsaking their loyalty to your firm and flocking to other funeral service providers like cremation societies, online providers, and so on?  Think about it; if they were your family, wouldn’t these consumers you are serving pretty much reflect your own family’s cultural, religious and historical funeral preferences?  Yet, we are bewildered why they won’t and don’t do what we want them to…like “our family” would.  The assumption that interjecting into a group of strangers or previously served consumer group’s life for 72 hours or so and assuming genetic ancestral linkage is just plain off base.

As usual and customary, I’ll get some push back from the Kiwi’s among us which, from my point of view, bolsters the Southern saying “a bit dog always yelps.”  My intent for this post and the presentation I am creating is to challenge conventional thinking and solicit other viewpoints to find solutions.  So, what do you think…are you yelping or helping?  From the Command Post through the fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

Earlier this week, I contemplated expressing my thoughts about receiving news that stuns…words that come to us that we never forget.  Unexpected news that alters the path of life we were traveling, perhaps changing us forever.  My friend and Pastor, Quigg Lawrence recently received news that his oldest daughter Annie, a young woman in her early 20’s had a massive cancerous tumor.  Aside from the obvious, my thoughts were how such a man that is in continuous support mode of others, is now in need of the blessings he has brought to so many.

However, I was prompted to write this morning because last night, my wife received the news that her father, who lives several hours away, had a stroke.  As with other times in our lives when we have received such news, we are temporarily stunned.

Everyone at some point in their life will receive news that stuns.  What follows the stunning news is a myriad of emotions, and then reality starts to settle.  We never forget the words delivered, the location we were at the time, and often the look on the face of the person delivering the news.  Several years ago my wife received a phone call that she had Melanoma and was scheduled for immediate surgery.  I vividly remember her face delivering the news and in my mind searching for words to comfort her.  Even further back in time, during the Thanksgiving holiday, my wife and I delivered the happy news to our families that we were going to have our first child.  In a matter of a few minutes of delivering the happy news, I received a phone call:  Deployment for Desert Shield/Storm overseas, going to a foreign land for war.

When we receive the news that stuns and reality begins to set in, it is human nature to envision the worst of outcomes.   But I have learned by experiencing such events that the best immediate reaction is   “keep calm and pray.”  I personally believe that once we receive the news that stuns, the event has already taken place, we can’t change what happened.  But what we can do is reach beyond our own understanding and have faith…In God, in our family, in our friends and in those people such as doctors, our leaders and decision makers.

In many of the events when we receive the news that stuns us, we don’t always envision positive endings.  In the personal examples above, Annie had the cancerous tumor removed and is diagnosed now as cancer free.  My wife, Jacque survived the Melanoma surgery and is cancer free.  My oldest son is 22 and, 21 years later, I am a Veteran of Desert Shield/Storm and all of the soldiers that deployed with me came home alive after a successful mission.  Yet, this morning, we are headed to a hospital with a relative in serious distress…but I have faith.

So, I solicit your thoughts, experiences and outcomes when you received the news that stuns.  After all, it’s the season for sharing and giving.

the phonecalljpg

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