Posted By Jennifer Head, CANA Education Director,
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, May 22, 2018
A New Workforce
As of 2017, the Millennial generation filled the majority of positions in the US workforce (35%), more than both the Baby Boomer (25%) and Gen X-ers (33%). It is predicted that by 2030, Millennials will hold 75% of the roles in the death care industry, a very large increase in a very short period of time.
As baby boomers retire, they take decades of experience and honed knowledge, skills, and abilities with them. Young professionals, even with all their energy and excitement, cannot immediately replace the decades of experience of your senior staff. The upside is that these incoming employees won’t carry years of pre-conceptions and assumptions about their community, which will make their onboarding and training that much easier. The downside is that it takes time and well-thought out training programs to get new recruits up to speed.
A New Tradition
The US cremation rate passed 50% for the first time in 2016. We can officially say it – cremation is the new tradition. As consumer preferences have changed, the knowledge and skills required from funeral directors to work with consumers has changed as well. As an employer, it means you require specific sets of skills in your employees and expectations for their experience and training. It requires innovation.
Our hard-working schools provide the education, but they can’t make a professional – only experience and guidance can do that. This component is why so many states and provinces require apprenticeships before licensure as well as continued education to maintain licensure. A mid-career professional considering their advancement can’t return to school easily, so they must rely on CE providers to address the gaps. In a previous blog post we talked about how to assess the quality of a learning experience, but how do you assess the importance of the topic presented? In this cremation-focused world, how can you know you’re getting the latest in industry education to meet the current needs of your community?
Back to Basics
What makes someone successful at their job? How do we evaluate staff to assess their skills? How do you know you have a solid base of knowledge to build on as you move forward in your career? CANA is working to address the fundamentals of the profession as we know it today now that cremation is the new tradition.
Competencies are the foundation of every profession – these are sets of knowledge, abilities and skills that a person needs to be successful in their job. Competencies are used in many ways within each profession:
- Talent development programs should be heavily based on competencies and structured to teach foundational skills and knowledge first and build employees up to their highest level of performance to prepare them for advancement.
- Continuing education programs should always be tied to specific competencies, not developed by someone who teaches what THEY think needs to be taught. If a program isn’t teaching someone a knowledge, skill or ability needed for success then that program is a waste of time and money.
- Competencies are used for writing job descriptions to identify traits and experience that are important when hiring a new person.
- Succession planning, which is a huge topic right now as a significant portion of the profession prepares to retire, should include competencies. When evaluating which employees may be well suited to move into other positions, comparing their current competencies to those needed in the new positions will identify any gaps, which may need to be filled through education courses before promoting that person. Employees should never be promoted first and trained later. They should always be provided education and support to prepare them for the new role so they can step in and find success right away.
- Many professions offer certifications to recognize achievement of individuals in certain areas. The best certifications are based on competencies. Individuals must identify their own skill gaps, take education courses, read papers or books, practice doing certain tasks and any number of activities to help fill that gap. At the end, they have to demonstrate achievement of those competencies through rigorous testing that validates not only knowledge, but implementation of skills.
- A few examples include the Human Resource Professional (HPR) designation from SHRM, the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation from EIC and the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) designation from ATD.
The funeral profession is no stranger to competencies. For example, every seven years the Conference of International Funeral Service Examining Boards conducts a task analysis of the role of both funeral directors and embalmers in order to determine what content to test graduates on when they complete a funeral service or mortuary science program. Through this task analysis they ask practicing professionals about their daily jobs in order to determine what the common tasks are, and then they determine what you need to know in order to do those tasks.
After completing school, students generally complete an apprenticeship where they learn hands on skills to apply that knowledge learned in school. Once the apprenticeship is over, state and provincial agencies take over and monitor continued professional development through required continuing education. And that’s where CANA enters the lifelong learning continuum. As we look at competencies within our profession, CANA believes we could be doing more related to cremation.
We can’t set employees up for success if we aren’t teaching them the knowledge, skills and abilities that are specific to cremation, particularly the employees who graduated many years ago, and have seen the profession rapidly changing around them. This is what we refer to as a skills gap – when only a limited set of the population has the needed competencies to do the job. And we see a big skill gap when it comes to cremation.
What Can We Do?
Fear not, CANA friends. After all, we are All Things Cremation. We have been diligently working to identify those cremation competencies and will be developing education programs and other resources needed to support employees as they work to achieve them. We can’t wait to share them with you. Be sure to attend CANA’s 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention with your staff where I’ll preview these competencies and talk about how to use them to support your employees and improve your bottom line — and earn some professional and innovative continuing education while you're at it. And watch for future blog posts where I explain the process we go through to identify competencies.
Join CANA July 25–27, 2018 at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa where Jennifer will uncover the competencies that make a cremation professional as part of Session 4 • Cremation Fundamentals, topics related to foundational business practices.
Travel together at a discount! For over 100 years, CANA has drawn the best and brightest in the industry. Now, you can share the wealth of professional cremation education and network with innovators and save! Early birds get $100 off and any Additional Employee registration is $200 off that.
With a wide range of valuable networking and educational opportunities, the event will feature sessions that examine the last 100 years of CANA conventions and growth in cremation, evaluate where businesses are today, and focus on the next 100 years by providing strategic and practical information for long-term success. See our full program and learn more about how we'll mark more than 100 years of cremation success here: gocana.org/CANA18
A former high school science teacher, Jennifer Head began working for the American Foundry Society in 2005 after receiving her Master’s Degree in Education. She was responsible for the administration and operations of the AFS Institute’s programs and facilities, and initiated a complete redesign of Institute programming, including both classroom and online courses. A Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP), she brings to CANA a wealth of experience in best practices for workplace learning.
tips and tools
Posted By Jason Engler, CANA Historian,
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Updated: Monday, May 7, 2018
It is impossible to pinpoint a single reason that the rite of cremation gained any acceptance during its early years in America. It was not a popular option and tradition ruled out crematories in many areas of the country. Several of the early crematories were built on a grand and beautiful scale, and this might have influenced public attitudes. However, with only the most basic research, one could easily attribute cremation’s growth to an idea that gripped all areas of death care: the “Memorial Idea.”
The Memorial Idea
The Memorial Idea began in the cemetery. The establishment of a memorial identity for each person who lived and died was the most important part of the rite of passage called death. Cremationists quickly adopted the idea to include cremation, but the obstacles they faced were harder to overcome than those of their cemeterian counterparts.
Clifford Zell, Sr., owner of the Valhalla Chapel of Memories in St. Louis, was the originator of the slogan of the Cremation Association of America (CANA’s original name), a variation of which is still the mantra of our association today. It was during the 1933 convention that Clifford Zell made the statement: “There is one thought I hope that I can impress most deeply on all crematory men – cremation is not the end – cremation alone is not complete, but is only an intermediate step towards the permanent preservation of the cremated remains.”
The Memorial Idea stated simply that no cremation was complete without inurnment, which always included ALL of the following:
- A memorial urn of imperishable material
Cremation urns have been utilized in one form or fashion since the dawn of civilization. Greeks placed their dead in urns of various materials most often terracotta. The Romans placed their dead in urns of semi-precious stone deposited in columbaria. After cremation’s modern revival began in the U.S., urns still were not uniform in size or composition. By the early 1900s, urns of various metals, including copper and tin, were frequently used. In the 1920s, as cremation began to stabilize, bronze urns became the norm.
For many years, the urn memorial was so important to cremationists that CANA’s logo, as the Cremation Association of America (CAA), featured illustrations of an urn in a niche.
- The engraving of the memorial urn
When a bronze urn was engraved indelibly with a person’s name and dates of birth and death, the urn became part of the memorial. Together with the other urns in a columbarium, they lent their beauty to add to the overall experience of a columbarium.
- The permanent placement of the memorial urn
Just as every person who lives must die, so too should every person who dies have a permanent resting place. Just as the ancients inscribed names on the urns of their loved ones, the ancient Greeks erected Tumuli in memory of their dead, the Egyptians erected the pyramids, the Romans inurned in columbaria, Kings and Queens entombed in Westminster Abbey, so the placement of the urn became the permanent memorial that cremationists required. This was the utmost concern of the cremationists who were active in the Cremation Association. The inurnment of cremated remains was not always a priority for cremationists, but became the sole purpose of the plight of the association beginning in the late 1920s.
Scattering cremated remains, permanent destruction of cremated remains, and home retention of cremated remains were all in direct conflict with the Memorial Idea. Often, the practice was equated with desecration and was fervently discouraged.
Standardizing Crematory and Columbarium Practices
The conventions of the Cremation Association were breeding grounds to further the Memorial Idea to those who chose cremation. Lawrence Moore, long-time president and operator of the Chapel of the Chimes in California, was the most instrumental character in the cremation world – he coined the word “inurnment,” invented the first electric-powered cremator, and began the practice of including a unique metallic disc used in every cremation to identify cremated remains. He also was the first to suggest using a cardboard temporary urn to encourage the selection of a permanent urn.
Throughout the meetings of the Cremation Association, there were frequent discussions about standardizing the practices of crematories across the country. Many ideas were exchanged on how this could be effected to encompass the cremation customs from the east coast to the west coast and the mix of both in the Midwest. A committee was formed and, after much research, in 1941 the Manual of Standard Crematory and Columbarium Practices was adopted.
This manual was considered the textbook of the operations of the modern crematory and columbarium, and became the bible by which cremationists promulgated the Memorial Idea. Throughout the manual, sections dealt with all aspects of operating a crematory and columbarium, but the sections that discussed the handling of cremated remains and the permanent placement of memorial urns were the most doctrinal in nature.
During the Memorial Idea era of cremation’s history, most cremationists refused to pulverize, crush or grind cremated remains to reduce their consistency to the cremated remains we picture today. It was the belief that the reduction of the remains to the finer consistency was a desecration to the remains and gave the impression of valueless ash. Their stance also enforced the need for a permanent urn and to aide in the prevention of scattering.
The Manual of Standard Crematory and Columbarium Practices spelled it out clearly:
Never Crush or Grind Cremated Remains
This is very important. We have no right to crush, grind or pulverize human bone fragments. They should be placed in the temporary container or urn, just as they were removed from the cremation vault… To do otherwise encourages desecration, gives an impression of valueless ash, and will eventually destroy the memorial idea. There is usually sentiment for the cremated remains of a loved one, but it frequently disappears when desecrated. All crematories should adopt this same policy, so the practices are the same everywhere.
This was further supported by the suggestion for reverent handling of the cremated remains:
Cremated Remains Should be Carefully Prepared and Handled Reverently
Cremated remains are human remains and are deserving of careful and reverent handling. The attitude of the individual toward cremated remains is oft-times represented by the way he handles them, and the attitude of the crematory-columbarium is definitely expressed by the way remains are prepared and handled by its employees… How can we expect a family or interested party to recognize the fact that cremated remains are human remains and are deserving of proper memorialization if, as crematory-columbarium operators we fail to express by action as well as by word and thought that the remains are sacred?
The admonition regarding scattering was perhaps the most doctrinal statement of the entire manual, and carried with it the most important ideal for the cremationist’s purpose:
Never Scatter Cremated Remains
Cremated remains are not a powdery substance, but the human bone fragments of a loved one. They will not blow away… but will remain where strewn...
A request to scatter is frequently made with the supposition that it is the kindly thing, least expensive and least trouble for those remaining. In fact it is usually the most difficult and unkindly request that could be made. Certainly the deceased would not have requested it had they realized the possible heartaches that it would cause. There is comfort in being able to place a flower, on occasion, at the last resting place. Scattering makes this impossible. [There will be] no tangible memory where a flower may be placed in memory. When cremated remains are once destroyed, regrets cannot return them…
Much of this may seem like heavy cremationist doctrine, but the cremationists were quite successful in their endeavors. This time frame in cremation’s history in America caused some of the most beautiful memorials imaginable to be created, and they remain beautiful to this day. The idea also caused some very successful revenues for the cremationists.
The Memorial Idea revealed the heart of the true cremationist in every way. It took cremation from the hands of reform societies and placed it in the gentle care of business men who brought the idea to life. Unfortunately, by the 1970s, a new idea in cremation began to move in. The face of cremation was about to change drastically.
Cremation’s transformation began in the 1960s. Although influenced by many factors, this change was primarily due to a movement toward simplicity. It was in 1963 that Jessica Mitford wrote her satirical expose, The American Way of Death, lambasting all aspects of the allied funeral and memorial professions. Urged by the excitement that her book spawned, businesses formed to advocate for simple direct cremation and provided easy avenues for those preferring minimal services.
The Memorial Idea began to lose hold, and, as it did, the Cremation Association of North America (CANA), led by Genevieve “Jinger” Zell, daughter-in-law of Clifford Zell, Sr., mentioned above, did everything possible to maintain the integrity of what CANA viewed was right: the permanent memorialization of cremated remains. National ad campaigns were initiated and the association’s trade magazine began publication in 1965 to disseminate the news and advocacy of the association.
The simplification process that cremation underwent was underscored by the general public’s idea of death care practices. However, this movement did not only affect the memorialization side of cremation – all areas were affected. Cremation chambers were manufactured to ship to different locations, where they had been previously constructed on-site. The first modern crematories were constructed in the basements and wings of chapels across the country, but soon were moved from chapels to garages and metal out-buildings.
During the transformation, scattering cremated remains became more and more popular. Crematories installed “cremulators” and processors to reduce the consistency of the cremated remains in order to facilitate cremation. Did scattering encourage processing or, as was the fear of Lawrence Moore in the Memorial Idea period, did processing encourage scattering? The answer is unknown. However, it is clear that the two went hand-in-hand during this time.
With the focus of cremation changing from disposition and memorialization to cost-conscious simplicity, the cremation urn industry changed as well. While a majority of urns sold during the time of the memorial idea were constructed of fine cast or spun bronze, aluminum and wood now became popular options.
Through all the changes that the cremation profession has faced over the years, the constant underlying ability to succeed amidst the challenges of doing business has proved stronger with membership in the Cremation Association of North America. Since its inception, the association has maintained cremation as its theme, and no other professional association has the roots, track record, singular focus, or knowledge that ours does. All of this has been gained by experience and by maintaining the ability to adapt to the needs and desires of those our members serve.
What does the future hold for cremationists? That is entirely dependent on the attitude of the cremationist. If we simply measure how far our profession has come in the years since America’s first modern cremation in 1876, and review how CANA has guided this profession for more than a century since its formation in 1913, we will quickly realize that our true potential lies ahead. In reading the proceedings of almost 40-years-worth of annual conventions of the Cremation Association, I have learned some very important lessons that I can use in my daily dealings with families choosing cremation.
Paper dissolves, computers crash, but when a name is engraved on a permanent memorial urn made of material that will last, or on a stone marking a place of rest, these permanent, tangible signs provide stepping stones for future generations. May we never lose sight of the ever-present necessity of our association and our calling, and may we never fail to put families and their needs and desires ahead of our own. We must do all that we can do to maintain the heritage of our ever-changing culture. To do so is to fully serve those who call on us in times of need. It is, after all, what our life’s work is all about.
This post is the second in our series on the history of cremation in preparation for the opening of The History of Cremation exhibition at the National Museum of Funeral History. Catch up with the first article and the women who contributed to cremation and CANA. Learn more about the exhibit and how you can contribute on the museum’s website.
Jason will present on the history of cremation and our association in honor of CANA’s 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention this July. Celebrate with us while learning from the experts on where cremation is going and how your business can continue its success. Learn more and register: gocana.org/CANA18
Update! One hundred years of conventions proves that CANA successfully tackles the topic of cremation by continually providing relevant, progressive content. The 2018 convention was no exception. Weren't able to join us? You can access Jason's presentation recording and all other speakers' wisdom on our Learning Management System. View session descriptions and pricing here: gocana.org/CANA18.
Excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 49, Issue 3: “Memorialization: The Memorial Idea” and Vol 49, Issue 4: “Simplification: The Cremation Movement Since the 1960s” by CANA Historian Jason Engler in honor of CANA’s Centennial celebrated in 2013.
All photos from the Engler Cremation Collection, courtesy of the author.
Jason Ryan Engler is a licensed funeral director and is known as the Cremation Historian. His interest in the funeral profession came at an early age in his life and his intrigue with the practice of cremation memorialization has put him on a journey of appreciating the beauty of the torch over the spade. Not only is Jason a practicing funeral director, he is also a speaker for local, state, and national associations. He also serves as the Cremation Historian for both the National Museum of Funeral History and the Cremation Association of North America. Mr. Engler’s articles have appeared in regional and national funeral and cremation trade journals including “The Dead Beat,” “The Cremationist of North America,” and “Funeral Business Advisor.” Additionally, he is author of the book "Body to the Purifying Flame: A History of the Missouri Crematory, St. Louis, Missouri."
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
If we asked, “Do you know your community?” most of you would say, “Yes, I know the community I serve.” You know the demographics, you know the population, you know the general make up of it. Yes, you know your community.
But your own personal experiences shape your view of the communities you serve. If we encourage you to broaden your perspective, you’ll find resources and tools to help you look at your community from outside your personal experiences—perhaps shedding a new light and a providing a new vision.
If you are reading this post, you are not satisfied with a simple answer or benchmark and are ready to move beyond business as usual. Congratulations to you! You’re eager to position your business more strategically.
Find the Data
You have data that paints an overall picture of the market: disposition data, what motivates consumers, what they’re buying, etc. Understanding statistics is a good way to forecast your business’s future. Start with the data you collect at your funeral home. Train your directors and apprentices on the specific things that should be entered into your computer software. From this, you can tell where your deaths come from, the ZIP code, the average age, the race, the average cremation sales average—all with just a few requests through the software program.
Then there are trusted sources of information for our industry to get a big picture of the forces at work.
Be sure to visit your local public library. It can be a great resource for accessing and interpreting business data.
Apply the Data
Assume that you do nothing to expand or change services to cremation families over the next five years. Find the cremation rate of your state or province and your business. Compare those rates against the rate of cremation growth and your total calls. Think about your sales averages now and consider what they will look like projected in the coming years. Ensure your casketed burial sales are not subsidizing your cremation sales. The number of deaths is increasing but so is the cremation rate, both of which are projected to increase for the next 20+ years.
Initiate this exercise with your staff at the next staff meeting: Engage them in tracking a variety of your business transactions. Keep a record of each keepsake sold, each special request fulfilled, etcetera and log them in your software to help you build a better data set and transform your numbers into solid metrics. An added benefit to this training is your staff becoming more conscious of interactions and opportunities. Discuss the trends and experiences you all have regularly to learn from each other. New package opportunities may emerge. Trends and feedback may drive marketing language. Your people, employees, colleagues and families are your best champions through their own behavior and interactions.
As the cremation rate climbs, steadily, with an anticipated plateau north of 70%, metrics and statistics become increasingly important. Cremation customers want personalized experiences and therefore your service offerings will be transformed. Your revenue mix becomes more complex and margins shrink so every family served matters. Every option every time can be overwhelming, or it can be your core.
The number of deaths are increasing and will do so for the next 20+ years. The cremation percentage, and therefore numbers, will also increase. So now,
- What does this mean for your business?
- How will you define your business in a crowded cremation marketplace?
What's Your Blind Spot?
We all have them. Those unknowable unknowns that no book, report, or presentation will answer. We assert that your blind spot is understanding who your competition is and how much market share you hold. It is nearly impossible to quantify as businesses become more specialized and competition more fierce. Keep counting obituaries and tracking your nearby funeral homes and cremation societies. But be aware of other sources of competition. For instance, the statewide online service that offers direct cremation and provides solutions to boomers making arrangements out of state.
Business Planning with Data
After reviewing your data, you may find you need to grow. Look at the numbers again and determine how much you need to grow to remain profitable in your developing market. Then calculate whether that amount of growth is possible—and we’ll go ahead and tell you that yes, it is entirely doable! Let’s look at three main strategies for growth: acquisition, organic growth within your current market, and redefining your market.
“But we’ve been trying to grow for several years and so far it hasn’t worked!” you say? That means you’ve got to do something new. This blog post will ask you to do something a little different, to think a little bit outside of your norm, and help you understand why there is value in that. Let’s look at what this means financially. Look at your data and look at your goal in terms of sales revenue. Let’s say that 20% growth is 20 additional calls and $140,000 of additional revenue. Long-term, that’s $100,000 in profit and an additional $500,000 in business value. Imagine if you increased those figures. So, we ask you, “Is it worth it to look at things differently and to really understand the community?”
Strategy #1 • Acquisition
Whenever you look at growth the first strategy to explore is acquisition. It’s a good strategy. But depending on the amount of growth you want to see, it may not be feasible. What capital is needed to buy a new business and how long will it take to recoup? If your goal for growth is only an additional 20 calls, buying a new business is would be over the top. If you do have your sights set higher, we refer you to the expert consultants who work to evaluate businesses for sale and growth. This piece is about statistics, so we’ll move on.
Strategy #2 • Organic Growth
Achievement through organic growth, means getting more from the resources that you currently have. The easiest way is to start by asking consumers how they chose you, typically in your aftercare survey. For many of families, the choice is based on personal experience. They already know the funeral director or firm. This means you want to get your funeral directors active in the community to build that awareness so that when the worst happens, people will look to you for support. Some consumers are motivated simply by location and convenience. You can’t relocate, but you can look at ways to make your location more convenient. What can you do to bring people back into your funeral home on a more regular basis so it’s part of their lifestyle?
In both cases, you want to take a look at your Aftercare and Outreach programs. Open your doors to the community to reach new sectors. Interact with them so they get to know your staff and build those relationships. Find ways to bring people into your funeral home at times that are not the emotional stress of a funeral, but throughout the year on an ongoing basis. Get people involved through social media and raise awareness of the funeral branch.
Your aftercare survey tells you about families you’ve already served and how to find more people like them—but for organic growth, you’ll need to look at the demographic data to understand your broader community.
A good place to start is evaluating your self-imposed service area. How did those boundaries get drawn? Your consumer doesn’t know that you’re constrained to a particular geographic area, so maybe you can push those borders a little further. Will your community drive a little farther for your services if you demonstrate the value they provide? Then take a look at pre-need. If you already have a program in place, look at the ages of your population. If 20% or more of the total population is 55 or older, you have what’s considered a “target-rich community” for pre-need. What can you do with your business and with your existing resources to capture additional calls through pre-need? Again, there is opportunity here.
Demographic Data Sources
There are so many data sources for demographic information that can serve as a great starting point.
Be sure to visit your local public library where they’ll have local and county reports on demographic data. It can be a great resource for accessing and interpreting demographic and business data.
Strategy #3 • Redefining Your Market
The third strategy is hardest to sell because it’s time- and effort-intensive. If you can do more with what you have, are you willing to go beyond what is traditionally considered your market and proactively look at the total market? Can you market your business as a funeral home for everyone in the community? Is there value in changing your marketing program? Look at the numbers and interpret what they’re really telling you.
Examine the growth of the minority sections of the community. The funeral home of the future will need to respond to all of the growing and developing cultures in the community. Even if you stay in your primary market area today, your market is changing. You need to start establishing new relationships in the community, changing your reputation so that you are the best funeral home for the entire community.
No matter where you are on the spectrum of cultural diversity, the more you reach out to understand and interact with the community, the more you can identify opportunities for growth. And this might not mean other ethnicities or religions. As CANA’s own demographic research pointed out, cultural shifts are occurring at every level and your old standby methods will not continue to serve us for long.
Putting a Plan into Action
It’s very easy for us to tell you how to do this. It’s easy to list these options and describe how they work in theory. But we know it’s not always so easy to implement these changes.
We also know that there are many resources out there. Go back to the start of this post and you’ll see recommendations for finding statistics reports and evaluating your situation. Look at your community. Evaluate your choices and envision the changes you might make. It may be scary to do this, but it’s even scarier not to.
Excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 51, Issue 2: “Know Your Community: Build Your Business” as transcribed from CANA Board Members Archer Harmon and Erin Whitaker’s presentation at CANA’s 2015 Cremation Symposium titled “Meeting the Cremation Needs of a Growing and Diverse Population in North America.” Some of this post was originally written for “The Answer is in Your Numbers” by Barbara Kemmis and Bob Boetticher, Jr. and published in The Funeral Director’s Guide to Statistics, 2016 Ed. by Kates-Boylston.
Special thanks to Erin Whitaker for her Data Collection Tips, available as a free pdf.
Members can read the full article with specific examples of connecting with and meeting the needs of rising diverse populations in the community in Vol. 51, Issue 2 of The Cremationist. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access this and all archives of The Cremationist plus resources and statistics to help you find solutions for all aspects of your business -- only $470.
tips and tools
Posted By Barbara Kemmis,
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Scan some recent headlines and you may see a recurring problem:
BCSO Looking for Owner of Abandoned Urn
Searching for Ashes Within Ashes
Salvation Army Receives Donated Urn Filled With Ashes
If cremation is final disposition, we cannot fully serve our communities when they need us most.
Legally, cremation is regarded as final disposition almost everywhere. However, even in places where there are laws on the books requiring placement in cemeteries, such laws are typically not enforced.
Historically, these laws were promoted by funeral directors and cemeterians who held certain assumptions about cremation families. Conventional wisdom dictated that cremation families didn't want ceremony and were focused on price—and therefore not worth the attention of an experienced funeral director. Thus, the laws were designed to protect traditional funeral service elements: casket, wake, clergy service, burial, graveside. Even the FTC Funeral Rule was created along those lines, requiring price disclosure of funeral elements but only addressing cremation as one item—direct cremation.
Our assumptions that cremation and funeral were diametrically opposed created the concept of “direct cremation.” On top of that, the laws that were enacted did more to teach the public that cremation doesn’t need service or burial than they did to prevent cremation’s rise in popularity. And the public continues to choose cremation.
So, after decades of telling the public that they don’t need our service and treating cremated remains as final disposition, how do we expect to change public perceptions now?
I’m not the first to say it, but this is a polarized profession. On one side, there are those who embrace the whole spectrum of cremation, from direct disposition to full service. The other side doesn’t believe in cremation and doesn’t understand the experience of the family beyond the transaction. Unfortunately, you can’t sell what you don’t believe. Tacking “Cremation Services” on to your company name by contracting with the local third party doesn’t mean cremation families will flock to your business—especially if you don’t understand why they’re choosing cremation in the first place.
For too many in the industry, cremation is fine on their terms: “Cremated remains can be buried—in fact you can even place two sets in one space!” Or “A wooden casket can be cremated and you can have the body present at a visitation and service prior to cremation.” Both of these statements are true and many families may find comfort in these rituals—but they aren’t the only truths. They’re not the only path toward healthy grieving and gathering.
Other providers segregate our communities by the labels of “traditional” or “cremation” because they “figured out what cremation families want” and it’s a transaction, not an experience. The resistance to creativity and personalization under the guise of ritual and dignity has done even more damage to consumer attitudes than regulation has.
Consumer watchdogs reinforce the assumption that cremation is merely disposition. Their arguments make cremation about price, where “dealing with the body” should be as cheap as possible to avoid being taken advantage of by funeral directors. Worse, funeral directors reinforce this by starting the conversation with pricing and not service. Low-cost, direct disposers succeed by speaking directly to cremation families in the same language as the media and watchdogs, reinforcing that funeral directors and cemeterians are mercenary and superfluous.
All this propaganda leaves consumers fearful and confused. Cremation is supposed to be simple! Complete some paperwork, make a few basic decisions, and take home a box—with little guidance and support, let alone memorialization ideas (and forget about any mention of permanent placement altogether).
In pop culture, memorialization is reserved for the military or the wealthy and scattering is the option for everyone else—other than maybe a fancy urn on the mantel. The funeral director’s expertise is absent.
Then there is the stereotypical funeral director. All stereotypes have a kernel of truth, otherwise they would be absurd and implausible instead of funny. The creepy, morbid, silent man in a black suit standing in the back of the room is funnier than a man or woman directing and educating the family in options to create a meaningful experience and finding a meaningful place for the remains to rest.
But we created this problem. There is no point in blaming hospice, Hollywood, or the watchdogs. Funeral directors, cemeterians, death care trade associations— we created this problem, and we need to find the solutions.
Strategies and Solutions
- Public trust is at an all-time low for institutions across the board. This is hard for funeral directors as first responders relied upon to serve people at need and anyone in the industry trusted with the memory and the finances of a loved one. Building trust is about transparency, communication, and apologizing when you’re in the wrong. In our industry, we have to go one step farther and educate the consumer about what we do. We can’t let watchdogs and the media tell our story and we have to demonstrate how we contribute to the public service.
- Building hospice and health care partnerships centered around grief services is brilliant. Maintaining a level of continuity builds the trust in the expertise of professional care. Too often, when somebody dies, health care’s job is done except for the paperwork. The grief services dictated by Medicare, delivered in conjunction with funeral homes, provide an opportunity to develop a relationship with a family and educate them about options. They’ve become used to the level of support and care of the medical profession, so abruptly turning the conversation to the transaction of a direct cremation is too jarring. We can do better.
- Funeral home and crematory staff are more than happy to help a family to their car with a box of cremated remains. Would you do the same with the casketed body of their loved one? Why are cremated remains so different? Where is the reverence and the ceremony? Expert Celebrant Glenda Stansbury’s concept of infusing ceremony into every interaction with families includes the moment the cremated remains are retrieved from your care. We need to remind ourselves to maintain the respect for the cremated remains. Knowing you’ve helped to lay remains at a gravesite offers a sense of closure and security, so why not ask where the cremated remains are going? Chances are good that you’ll be able to provide the same closure and security if you offer useful ideas.
- Cemetery placement is only possible if the cemetery embraces cremation, too. Cemeterians—have you truly updated your cemetery rules and regulations to accommodate a cremation age? Do you offer multiple memorialization options—burial, above ground niches, benches, ossuaries, scattering, and memorial walls for those who scattered elsewhere? If 60-80% of cremated remains go home, there are millions of boxes sitting on shelves and guilty family members cringing every time they see that box. They have a problem and you have a solution. You can help remove their guilt, offer closure, and lay their loved one at peace—even years after the death. I recognize that this is the toughest market in which to communicate value, but the recent consumer media frenzy about maintaining clean cemeteries demonstrates that people worry about perpetual care and they abandon their loved ones at funeral homes because they know they’ll be safe there. A recent speaker at a CANA event called cemeteries the “biggest museums in the world” with “more history in them than a lot of other places” and genealogical information for generations. Your role has never been more important, and framing it that way is key.
You’ll notice none of my proposed solutions attempt to convince the consumer they’re wrong. That tradition is the best, that cremation is bad. Partially that’s because I work for the Cremation Association of North America, but mostly it’s because cremation is a bell that cannot be unrung. The cremation rate passed 50% in 2016 and will not revert.
In our industry’s past, we tried to partition families by their burial and cremation preferences. Now, we have to unteach the public and ourselves. There’s no such thing as “just cremation.” Compassion, service, options, grief, problems, solutions, and placement are relevant to every death, no matter the disposition. But solutions only work if we believe we can solve the problem, and if we can meet the family’s needs.
Barbara Kemmis is Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America.
All CANA members can benefit from community outreach and consumer education programs by using the PR Toolkit to develop a strategy. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access tools, techniques, statistics, and advice to help you understand how to grow the range of services and products you can offer, ensuring your business is a good fit for every member of your community – only $470!
tips and tools
Posted By Danielle Burmeister, Homesteaders Marketing Communications Lead,
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Today’s consumers foster inherent skepticism toward traditional advertising. Instead, they prefer and rely on recommendations from people they know and trust. To effectively reach these consumers, you need brand advocates – individuals who have first-hand knowledge of your funeral home and can share their positive experiences through word-of-mouth referrals.
Your brand advocates are well placed to offer credible recommendations to their peers. They sing your praises to others in the community without incentives like coupons, discounts or special offers. They do it because you have earned it, and they are often your most effective recruiters, a compelling blend of advocacy and authenticity.
The most successful funeral businesses rely on word-of-mouth recommendations and testimonials to increase brand awareness in their community. But to truly capitalize on this valuable pool of promoters, you need to know how to identify and mobilize your brand advocates.
How do you identify brand advocates?
The most obvious place to look for brand advocates is among your client families. These individuals are well acquainted with your goods and services because they’ve experienced them firsthand. This makes them valuable sources of information about your business. However, not every customer makes an effective brand advocate. To ensure you’re focusing your attention on those individuals who are going to have the most impact on your business, you should identify customers who have had memorable and rich experiences with your funeral home.
Storytelling is an essential part of word-of-mouth recommendations for funeral businesses. No one truly wants to shop for a funeral – caskets, vaults, urns and monuments are not fun to buy. Very few people are going to be compelled to use your services because they hear you have an impressive collection of 18-gauge steel caskets. Instead, they respond to story-based recommendations that describe experiences and emotions. And the most effective stories are the memorable ones – the ones that get told and retold from person to person.
My family recently experienced two losses that illustrate the importance of memorable services. When my grandmother passed away, we planned what many of us think of as a “traditional” service: an immediate cremation followed by a visitation for friends and community members, a memorial service at the local church, a lunch reception at the community center and a short graveside service at the Veterans cemetery. While the day was certainly meaningful for my family, it was not necessarily memorable to those who attended.
When my cousin died a year later, we planned a very different service. We held the funeral in the high school gymnasium, with his name lit up on the scoreboard above a red bowtie – his favorite accessory. Every member of his graduating class wore bowties, even some of his coaches. During the service, dozens of teachers and friends shared stories, some sweet, others funny – all memorable. The luncheon afterward was even catered by his favorite barbecue restaurant. His service was memorable – so much so that many in the community are still talking about it three years later.
Consider the last 10 services you performed at your funeral home. How many of them were truly memorable? Can you picture attendees sharing stories from the service with their friends and relatives? Will people still be talking about that experience a year from now? Two years? Ten? If you’re not sure, you likely need to spend some time working with your staff on creative memorialization and personalization so that each and every family leaves your funeral home with a memorable experience that they are excited to share with everyone they know.
When looking for brand advocates, you should also consider the breadth of experience a family has had with your business. Someone who selected direct cremation is unlikely to have much to say about your funeral home – good or bad. They simply haven’t had much exposure to you or your business. On the other hand, consider the credibility and influence of an individual who met with you in a prearrangement setting for their spouse; interacted with your staff at the first viewing, visitation and memorial service; took advantage of your aftercare efforts; and then returned to plan and fund their own funeral. A customer who has this kind of rich experience with you and your staff is much more likely to be a loyal, informed advocate for your business.
How can you mobilize brand advocates?
Unfortunately, identifying your most effective brand advocates is the easy part. Learning to motivate and deploy them effectively is much more difficult.
To mobilize your brand advocates, you first need to build and nurture meaningful relationships with them. This first part is likely something that already comes naturally to you – after all, you work in a relational profession. You likely know many of your client families before they come in for an arrangement conference, and if not, you are skilled at establishing a connection with them within a few minutes of meeting. However, it’s just as important to continue to foster those relationships long after the immediate need has passed.
There are few tangible ways to do this. First, take advantage of as many fact-to-face interactions as you can. That means dropping off paperwork at a widow’s home instead of mailing it, offering to transport flowers to the family’s home so they don’t have to pack them into their station wagon, and taking time to greet your customers whenever you see them out in the community. You may even consider calling the surviving spouse three or four weeks after the service just to check in, or taking them out for coffee so they have something to look forward to once all their friends have stopped calling and visiting.
You should also leverage opportunities to continue to provide service to families through your existing aftercare. Make sure every family knows what’s available – newsletters, emails, grief support groups, etc. Let them know why they’re important and offer to connect them with others who have found value in participating in those programs. Whenever you have events at your funeral home, like open houses, memorial services or holiday events, make sure you invite your brand advocates. Attending provides them with more exposure to your business and gives them one more thing to talk about with their friends and relatives.
The last – and most important – step in mobilizing brand advocates is asking your client families for referrals. This is often an uncomfortable thing for funeral professionals to do, but it’s a key part of leveraging brand advocates to promote your business. Often, customers who have had great experiences with your business are already inclined to promote you in their communities, but it’s still a good idea to remind them that it’s a valuable thing for them to do.
When you ask for referrals, make sure you incorporate three things:
- Explain why their recommendation is valuable. Talking about death can be uncomfortable for your client families, but you can help normalize it by encouraging them to share their experiences. I’ve found that the most effective way to do this is to focus on what they can do for other families: “Losing a loved one is difficult for every family – especially those who have never experienced loss before. You can help the people in your life prepare for the loss of their own loved ones by sharing your experience with them.”
- Ask them to provide a testimonial or referral. Timing is important. If you already have a follow-up system in place (like a survey), that is the ideal opportunity to ask for testimonials. If not, follow up with families a week or two after the conclusion of services to check in and ask about their experience. If they have great things to say about you and your staff, encourage them to share their thoughts with others: “We’ve found that hearing from other families we’ve served helps others who experience a loss understand what they can expect when they use our funeral home. Would you be comfortable providing a testimonial about your experience?”
- Let them know how/where to provide feedback. Decide how you want your client families to share their feedback. Ideally, they will be talking about your business everywhere they go. But it’s also a good idea to give them a concrete starting point – like your funeral home’s Facebook page. Once you’ve asked for a testimonial, make sure they know where to go to provide it: “We are honored you chose our firm to care for your loved one. Our service standard is to provide exceptional service to each and every family. If you feel we went above and beyond in our service to you, please share that on our funeral home’s Facebook page.”
One final note: The best way you can ensure you are identifying and mobilizing your brand advocates is to build the process into your standard operations. Make sure everyone on your staff understands the importance of providing memorable service to your client families. Train them to be on the lookout for individuals who have rich experiences with your firm and stories to share about your services. Then set expectations for how you will ask families for testimonials and ensure that every member of your team knows how valuable those testimonials can be for your funeral business.
Danielle Burmeister grew up in an apartment above her parents’ funeral home, where she cleaned cars, arranged flowers, and played “Taps” for graveside services. Some of her earliest memories include family dinners squeezed between visitations and road trips to local and national funeral association conventions.
Now, Burmeister works as Marketing Communications Lead at Homesteaders Life Company, a national leader in providing products and services to support the funding of advance funeral plans. In her current role, she offers a unique perspective on blending the day-to-day demands of a funeral business with creative and comprehensive marketing strategy.
Follow her on Twitter @burmeisterd1.
tips and tools