Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Everybody knows some of the challenges we have in the industry right now, and that 2016 marked the first time there were more cremations than casket burials. Now, as we approach 2020, the cremation rate in the US is expected to be about 56%. This is one of the biggest challenges we face every day. Additionally, studies show that the percentage of people who feel a religious component is necessary to their service is declining rapidly. Five years ago it was about 50%, this year it’s about 40% -- a loss of about 10% of people who feel a need for a traditional religious component to their service.
Some more challenges: 70% of baby boomers do not want the same type of service that their parents or grandparents did and 62% want a much more personalized approach. Many of us, even some reading this, still only offer the very traditional services that we offered several years ago: 90% of cemeteries and funeral homes only offer very traditional things. So though consumers say they want something different, we offer them the same. We have a traditionalist mentality and the statistics mentioned above support that.
This one is probably our fault: 68% of families want an organized gathering of some sort, but only 16% know that they are able to have one. We’re the ones that said “Hey, let’s call this direct cremation and we can sell this for $495, $595, $695, $795 – cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap!” Finally, about 70% of families know they have an ability to be in a cemetery. I grew up in cemeteries, I’ve been in the cemetery business for 30 years – that statistic drives me absolutely nuts. We need to evaluate all of these challenges and find strategies to overcome them.
Strategy: Relevant Offerings
When we talk about relevant offerings, we need to give people a reason to see us other than visiting a loved one. In order to do this, you need to produce some relevant offerings at your location.
In cemeteries, I suggest having multiple products in one area: in-ground, above-ground; multiple price points – 6 or 7 is a good number (less and you look like a tightwad, more and you’ll confuse not only your families, but your staff as well); personal and private. Picture a planned community with some private homes, clusters of quad homes, and then a high-rise condominium that houses 800 people. You have a couple options as you flow through the space. But again, you have to make sure that you are giving people a reason to come visit you without visiting their loved ones. And it can be done.
Many businesses in our industry are opening their doors to other events. The right space can be used for a field trip, a wedding, and other community events. Relevancy is something we need and lack in this industry and we have to get out of our own way sometimes.
Offering food and beverage is one of the hottest trends in this industry. We’re trying to find ways, especially with our cremation consumer, to create value in what we do. Remember only 16% of families know they are able to have a gathering but 68% want one. How can we bridge that gap? It’s simple, folks: when a death occurs, between the death and when the service or cremation occurs, people eat an average of 7-9 times. That means we have 7-9 times to serve a family other than “Hey, how about a direct cremation today? Great, hand me your $695 and let’s go home.” Valuation consultants estimate that if you were to add just 12 hospitality services a year, it could bump the value of your business up $400k. With 12 a year at $600, that increases your sales and the value of your funeral home or cemetery.
Keep in mind that hospitality is a strategy. You’re not selling food, you’re not selling beverages, you’re not selling your room rental. We have to stop thinking like that. You’re selling experience and convenience. A widow who just lost her husband of 60 years has family coming in but the last thing she wants to worry about is how she’ll feed them. It’s an added stressor, so offer food trays and include it with the service or with the opening/closing fee. It becomes an automatic add-on – provide a nice platter to the family every time they come in. Stacie Schubert corporate catering for SCI, and she says “catering is for the busy, not the affluent.” Change your mindset. We think, “Catering? That’s going to be really expensive,” but it’s for people who are too busy to worry about eating the 7-9 times after a death occurs and before a service happens.
How can we plug in hospitality as part of what we’re doing? We don’t have to, but I can promise you somebody is. It may be your local hotel, country club, banquet halls, and restaurants. Every one of them is in the funeral home and cemetery space getting $1,500 for the ballroom plus food and we have the same facilities and can do the Same. Darn. Thing.
We need to create a space to hold a non-traditional funeral service. Today’s consumers are telling us repeatedly that the days of having a visitation from 6-8pm, a service at 8pm, and a graveside the next morning are done. We’ve got to find a way to meet the needs of the consumer instead of always saying “Here’s how I’ve always done it, I’m going to continue to do it this way.” I heard a joke recently,
How many cemeterians does it take change a lightbulb?
My granddaddy put that lightbulb in 40 years ago, why would I need to change it?
Provide a full catering package, and think past the funeral luncheon. A lot of people are following the family home with food after the arrangement conference because food is the last thing they’re thinking about after they just signed the authorization to cremate Dad. But they need to eat – they physically need to eat. So, people are following them home.
Give people what they want. I’m not saying you need to go out and build a huge facility, most people are retrofitting what they have.
None of this really matters unless you’re able to get the word out effectively. If only 16% of families know they can memorialize somewhere, we’re not doing a good job educating people about what their options are and about what we have to offer. We do a great job saying “direct cremation: $495,” but we don’t do a good job everywhere else. We have to be able to show we’re the experts, but more than that we have to be able to humanize ourselves to them. We’re not just creepy funeral directors, crematory operators, or gravediggers.
Did you know that YouTube is the second biggest search engine after Google? People are going to YouTube for information, 3 billion searches a month, but how many of us have an active YouTube channel? And how many people have an active email campaign? What about tying to a social cause? Giving a percentage to a charity or foundation – how hard would that be to do? You say “it’s not really relevant, John. These Boomers don’t care about that.” But guess what happens when a death occurs? They sit down with their kids or their grandkids and say “what are we going to do with Dad now?” And one of the kids, one of the 25- or 30-year-olds, googles “cremation” and sees a direct cremation for $495. So it’s not just the 80 year old person that we are serving anymore, it’s a whole lot of layers underneath that 80 year old person. And the younger generations do care about those kinds of things.
One idea is to get a cremation “genius” on your funeral home or cemetery staff – someone who specializes in cremation. Roll with me here – it’s not just how the crematory works, it’s “Oh, you want to wait and do this 6 months later? Okay. We’ll cremate Mom now, hold her here. Here’s a list of hotels, caterers, cemeteries and we’ll put this together and in 6 months we’ll have a service.” It’s similar to how you walk into an Apple Store and you talk to a “genius” and they know everything there is to know about their product. But in our funeral homes or cemeteries, we have one person who does a lot and they have to know everything. Yet with cremation we're generalists – we’re not focused on knowing everything there is to know about the process, what drives the cremation consumer, what they look like, or what pushes their buttons. But it’s what people expect.
Everyone knows the old adage that value has to equal price, but I’ll take it a little further: the perceived value has to equal the price. Sales 101 in two paragraphs:
People buy for two reasons: to get rid of a problem they don’t want or to create a result that they want but don’t have. It’s that simple. Think of your position in your marketplace with your pricing just based on that. Now let’s break that down a little bit more. You’re selling utility, the value of your product. You don’t buy a can opener to sit and be pretty, you buy it to open cans. Consumers don’t pay for products, they pay for what the product does. We have got to define our added value. We have to create something significant for people we serve. A lot of cremation is low-cost, cheap and easy. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be that way, but you can still create value for “cheap and easy.”
People buy from you for two reasons: they like you and they trust you. If they like you and trust you, they’re going to buy from you. If they don’t, they won’t (or they might, but not much). Once they see the utility behind what you’re doing, they want to see the credibility. Once they think you can deliver what they want you to deliver, they want to make sure it’s relevant to them. This is often the most crucial stage in closing the deal. To successfully get through this phase of the sale, two key skills are required: the ability to question skillfully, the ability to listen carefully. Part of our biggest problem in dealing with the consumer is not listening. We already know. We’re programmed with what we’re supposed to say. When they skew, we try to bring them back.
So, dig a little deeper. Ask questions and listen to their answers: “Tell me about yourself and your family.” Push the papers, the contract away and ask them to tell you about them. Even with a direct cremation, do this and build value.
“If you could design the perfect way to remember your loved one after they are cremated, what would it look like?” Don’t just show them the 14 urns in the catalog or on the shelf, ask them to describe what the urn, the service, the keepsake would look like. Then make relevant suggestions and create value.
What do you do?
Make a plan.
Understand where you are, create a baseline. Take the key points from this post and create a strategic plan to get where you want to be. Decide what changes you would like to make and how you are going to make them. Focus on something you could implement immediately, then focus on the short term. “When I’m at the CANA convention next year, where do I want to be?” Set a target or improvement goal. Make the beginning something easy to create value. But then set the long-term goals and figure out what you need to do in a year to make it happen. Then, make it happen.
This post was transcribed and edited for length and clarity from John Bolton's presentation at CANA's 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention on July 27, 2018 at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa in Session 7 • Beyond the Niche: Creating an Effective Cremation Development Strategy, to lead us past the “If we build it, they will come” philosophy and break down the ins and outs of developing a true cremation strategy to effectively meet the needs of today’s non-traditional cremation consumer.
With a wide range of valuable networking and educational opportunities, the CANA Convention featured sessions that examined the last 100 years of CANA conventions and growth in cremation, evaluated where businesses are today, and focused on the next 100 years by providing strategic and practical information for long-term success. Missed it? You can access John's full presentation recording and all other speakers' wisdom on our Learning Management System. View session descriptions and pricing here: gocana.org/CANA18.
Save the Date for CANA's 101st Annual Cremation Innovation Convention in Louisville, Kentucky July 31-August 2, 2019.
John Bolton is President of Blackstone Cemetery Development, which specializes in the planning, development, construction and marketing of cremation garden areas and digital mapping. With over 15 years of cemetery development experience and 30 years in the death care business, John has designed and/or implemented over 500 cremation development projects across the United States. During his 30-year career, he has served in almost every facet of the industry. He has actively managed and owned medium to large cemeteries, and funeral home/cemetery combo’s in East Tennessee, and Southwest Virginia.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Now that we are entering the final quarter of the year, most companies in the funeral service are working on next year’s marketing plans. As you move through this process, it’s a great time to ask (and answer) some key questions about your company and its operations.
A solid marketing plan assembles all of a company’s marketing objectives into one comprehensive plan. While each company has a unique set of goals, the overreaching aims for most firms are to increase business and, in doing so, grow revenues, profits and market share. Here are a number of questions to ponder as part of the marketing plan development process.
- Have your analyzed your competition?
You can learn a lot by taking an objective look at your competitors, their operations and their marketing efforts. Now would be a great time to take a long, hard look at what your competition is offering. You might be very surprised at what you find.
- What is your customer’s experience?
Happy families are loyal customers. Make the customer experience easy, enjoyable and convenient. When you do that successfully, they will use your firm and promote your company to others in the community. Evaluate every step of the customer’s journey once they contact your firm and work toward creating a customer experience that is unparalleled in your market. Remember, the little difference makes all the difference.
- How is your firm perceived in the community?
Discover what your reputation is and whether your “brand” matches your intention and perception. Talk to customers and prospects. You might discover a shortcoming that needs to be addressed or better yet, learn about a strength that you were not aware of.
- What, if any, changes or trends have emerged in your marketplace?
Research the CANA trends and make sure your services are still meaningful and relevant. Assess current customer needs and pain points, and make a plan to address them in your marketing messages. Look for growth opportunities in new marketplaces when appropriate.
- What did you do well last year, and where do you need to improve?
Some marketing plans are left on the shelf and not followed. In addition, even when implemented, some programs do not generate the expected results. In that case, it’s important to evaluate the components of each campaign, including the messaging, medium and the delivery. Ask for input from all team members to get a better understanding of what needs to change in the future.
- What strengths do you need to leverage and protect as well as what weaknesses must you address?
Figure out what you are doing well and make plans to make them even stronger. At the same time, take an honest look at where you and your staff fall short. Outline a plan to make this shortcoming a strength.
- What opportunities can you exploit and what threats should you plan to mitigate?
If you are in contact with other CANA members, find out what new services or products they offer and have had success with. Conversely, find out what regulations they are faced with in their states and communities – as it’s only a matter of time until they may find their way into your market.
- Is your vision and mission clearly acknowledged and understood throughout your company?
Without a succinct and easily expressed mission, it is unlikely that everyone will be united and be able to work together in a collaborative way to reach the outlined company’s goals. Find ways to remind the staff (and inform your families) about the vision through things like signage throughout the firm.
- Do you have well-defined strategies to drive your marketing initiatives?
Take a look at what products and services you plan to offer, how they will be priced, where you will interact with family and what you will communicate with them. Each of these is crucial in providing the backbone for the tactics and activities included in the marketing plan.
- Is your messaging customer-centric?
Today’s savvy families can spot a marketing pitch a mile away. Personalize messages to customers based on their pain points, needs and interests, and deliver them in a way they like. Successful companies create tailored, relevant communications based on customer preferences that highlights a key point of difference.
- Is your marketing plan written, known and supported throughout the organization?
While the vision, mission, goals, strategies and tactics are important components of any solid marketing plan, they are not enough. Make sure your plan includes a budget, schedule, assignment of responsibilities and a method of monitoring and evaluating plan performance. Share the plan and get buy-in and then fine-tune the plan throughout the year.
As you answer these questions, your marketing plan will begin to unfold. Start by focusing on the big picture and then define the specific strategies and tactics necessary to accomplish your goals. When strategy and tactics in your marketing plan work in tandem as they are executed, your company can efficiently and effectively reach its goals and enjoy success.
Joe Weigel put attendees though their paces at CANA's 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention on July 26, 2018 at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa in Session 2 • Marketing Boot Camp 101: You Must Start with the Basics, to acquire the core skills of a marketer to improve your firm’s overall competitiveness and increase revenues, receive a solid grounding in the tools, techniques and approaches used in a plan.
This article appears in The Cremationist Vol. 54, Issue 3 — CANA Members can log in to see this and more articles from our quarterly publication. 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!
With a wide range of valuable networking and educational opportunities, the CANA Convention featured sessions that examined the last 100 years of CANA conventions and growth in cremation, evaluated where businesses are today, and focused on the next 100 years by providing strategic and practical information for long-term success. Missed it? You can access Joe's full presentation recording and all other speakers' wisdom on our Learning Management System. View session descriptions and pricing here: gocana.org/CANA18.
Save the Date for CANA's 101st Annual Cremation Innovation Convention in Louisville, Kentucky July 31-August 2, 2019.
Joe Weigel is currently principal and owner of Weigel Strategic Marketing. a communications firm focused on cremation and the funeral profession that delivers expertise and results across three interrelated marketing disciplines: strategy, branding and communications. You can visit his website at weigelstrategicmarketing.webs.com. He also can be reached at 317-608-8914 or email@example.com.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, July 11, 2018
The funeral industry has a challenge on its hands: consumers are choosing cremation, but they know little about it. They don’t know the process, the possibilities for memorialization, and they don’t understand cremation’s history. Worse, because America’s cremation story has largely been untold, misconceptions about the industry fill the gaps.
Cremation in the United States is the new tradition. In 2016, cremation reached a major milestone when it eclipsed casketed burial as the most popular form of disposition—and it shows no signs of slowing. In 1960, only 3.6% of Americans chose cremation. In 2016, 50.1% did. But even as cremation has soared in popularity, a significant lack of understanding about the process and possibilities of cremation exists. That’s why the History of Cremation Exhibit is so important.
On September 16, the National Museum of Funeral History (NMFH) celebrates the opening of The History of Cremation Exhibit, a joint project developed with CANA to tell the full-circle story of cremation in America: from chronicling its birth in Pennsylvania to demonstrating a step-by-step modern cremation process and illuminating the seemingly endless possibilities for memorialization. Visitors will walk away with a new respect and appreciation for this widely misunderstood industry.
What does Cremation have to do with Funeral History?
The National Museum of Funeral History was founded in 1992 to realize Robert L. Waltrip’s 25-year dream of establishing an institution to educate the public and preserve the heritage of death care. The Museum provides a place to collect and preserve the history of the industry, including how it began and how it has evolved over time. Permanent exhibits feature vintage hearses, international funerary practices, and tributes to notable figures, but no exhibit had touched on the fastest growing method of disposition in the Western world – cremation.
Like its history in America, the global story of cremation is marked by wide-swinging societal shifts. From its ancient use in Roman and Greek culture to purify and honor souls through fire, to its Christian condemnation as a pagan ritual, cremation’s road has been long and conflicted. And people were curious about this story – museum visitors left comments about cremation’s glaring absence from the museum when it’s so present in society.
How did cremation make such a giant leap forward in American society?: The First US Cremation (an exhibit sneak-peek!)
In 1876, the LeMoyne Crematory in Pennsylvania became the first crematory in the United States. That same year, a man named Baron De Palm was the first person cremated there. The inaugural cremation was an event. Local Board of Health members and physicians were invited. Crowds gathered outside the crematory hoping to get a glimpse of the mystical method of disposition by fire.
A handful of honored guests received a small, clear apothecary jar filled with a portion of De Palm’s cremated remains. Those jars signify the birth of cremation in America, and one of them will be on display at the unveiling. Visitors will experience the transition from 1876 to today, from a replica of the LeMoyne Crematory to a modern cremation chamber.
The exhibit is a first-of-its kind undertaking, not merely displaying interesting artifacts, but telling a visual story of cremation in America through historical urns, pamphlets, replicas of original equipment and other artifacts, while educating on the technology and memorialization possibilities of modern cremation. Like the witnesses to Baron de Palm’s cremation, the exhibition will allow people to go behind the scenes—seeing cremation containers, the process, how we recycle, and how we memorialize.
More than getting America’s cremation story in one place, The History of Cremation Exhibit delivers well-deserved clarity to an industry shrouded in mystery. The exhibit will demystify cremation for the public, particularly that cremation memorialization means more than an urn on a mantle. The exhibit will showcase cremation history, but also help the public understand memorialization options and open their eyes to things they never knew about cremation.
While cremation continues to rise in the United States—more than half of Americans are choosing it—too often, people stop at “just cremate me.” Moving beyond direct disposal, the exhibit will showcase meaningful ways to memoralize whether adhering to tradition or creating a personalized experience. This exhibit provides an understanding of the complete cremation process, including the role of the funeral director and cemeterian when exploring options for cremation and permanent placement of their cremated remains.
By the Industry, For the Industry
The idea for an exhibit began long ago when Jason Engler, a funeral director who has been involved in funeral service for most of his life, began collecting facts and artifacts at 12 years old. When he joined CANA as its official historian, he began exploring ways to communicate the fascinating beginning of the American Cremation Movement to a wider audience. This exhibit features much of Engler’s own extensive collection as well as other CANA members’ donated time, resources, and artifacts. Together, they tell the story of cremation and the possibilities for memorialization.
But it’s not simply about educating the public. The exhibit will demystify cremation for funeral service professionals as well. Even seasoned funeral directors and cemeterians struggle with presenting all the options and effectively educating consumers on cremation. Some in the industry may even personally dislike cremation, but they are not alone. Twenty-first century funeral service professionals are the latest in a long line of professionals who struggled with and succeeded in meeting the needs of cremation families.
For a long time, cremation was taboo and certain religions and people within the funeral industry didn’t accept it. But the cremation rate shows that opinions have changed and this exhibit takes a large step toward acknowledging cremation’s history in our profession—and we should take a great deal of pride in it. Understanding the historical context of cremation allows you to learn from the past and embrace the future.
What to Expect at the History of Cremation Exhibit
A driving force behind The History of Cremation Exhibit is Jason Engler, CANA’s official historian. Engler donated approximately 90 percent of his personal collection of historical cremation items to the exhibit, including:
- 140 books, pamphlets, and brochures about historic cremation facilities
- 120 urns, some dating back to the late-1890s
60 postcards depicting various crematories
20 urn catalogues printed from the 1890s to the 1990s
20 original articles, documents, certificates, and images about different aspects of cremation
Outside of Engler’s collection, the exhibit will feature some extraordinary items from the LeMoyne Crematory, which opened in 1876 as America’s first crematory:
A notebook listing all who were cremated at LeMoyne Crematory, which was kept by the designer, builder, and operator of the crematory
A book written by Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne, LeMoyne Crematory’s founder
A copy of the exclusive invitation for the cremation of Baron De Palm, the first modern cremation in the United States
The casket plate from De Palm’s casket
An apothecary jar containing a portion of De Palm’s remains
The exhibit will also showcase the casket lid of the first woman cremated in America—Jane Pitman, who died in 1878. Visitors will also see a letter written by her husband, Benjamin Pitman, requesting her cremation.
Throughout the exhibit, visitors will see how cremation has evolved over time—the changes in societal views, equipment, and memorialization options.
How to Donate to the History of Cremation Exhibit
Financial or artifact contributions are what make the History of Cremation Exhibit possible. Please consider donating to the History of Cremation Exhibit today.
Read on to learn more about the history of cremation starting with the role of women in the Cremation Movement and how the Memorial Idea has changed since the first cremation. This post was excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 54, Issue 2: “Preview of the History of Cremation Exhibit” by Kelly Rehan.
Jason will present on the history of cremation and our association at CANA’s 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention tomorrow! Do you know what cremation innovation will look like in 100 years? Share it with us for our time capsule to be opened in 2118!
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, July 10, 2018
CANA’s 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention is only two weeks away. That means you’re figuring out what to pack, finding your dog-sitter, and — oh, yeah — who will keep the homefires burning while you’re gone. Don’t worry, after doing this for 100 years, CANA knows what we’re talking about.
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 the presentation recordings on our Learning Management System. View session descriptions and pricing here: gocana.org/CANA18.
- Plan ahead. You can check this one off – you’re already reading this!
- Pack smart. Florida is the Sunshine State for a reason and with average July highs at 90°F (32°C), and lows of 75°F (24°C) so bring out those summer threads. (Though the rain isn’t far behind, so grab a raincoat.)
- Whether this is your family vacation or your worktrip, you don’t want to stay cooped up every night. See what Ft. Lauderdale has to offer you and your whole family to plan your evenings!
- But there’s no reason to venture too far away either! Marriott Harbor Beach is a resort with many amenities to ensure that your experience is great — including air conditioning.
- Which reminds us, we recommend layers when you’re at the Convention — finding the perfect temperature for hundreds of people is tricky (it’s hard enough in our office of 5!).
- CANA meetings are typically business casual so a blazer or cardigan is your perfect accessory.
- Speaking of the event floor, don’t come empty-handed — you’re here to learn! Bring your questions and favorite note-taking method (tablet or pen & paper) because you’re not going to want to miss a word.
- …and you know you won’t leave empty-handed! Get ready to network with your business cards and shop at our 60+ exhibits.
- But we’re cutting back on our handouts so make sure you download the CANA Events App now and get logged in (iPhone or Android and check your email for your login code). The app has information on our exhibitors, extras from our speakers, and surveys to tell us how we’re doing.
- It also tracks your continuing education credits quickly and easily. Phone not so smart? You can still use your name badge to check in for CE.
- Contribute to once and future cremation and get ready to fill our time capsule with what you think will change our industry over the next hundred years.
- And be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter with #CANA18
Come on, did you really think we’d come up with 100 Things you need to add to your to-do list? We know how busy you are. You take care of the packing, we’ll do the rest. See you in Ft. Lauderdale!
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
tips and tools
Posted By Lori Salberg,
Monday, June 25, 2018
Recently I went to a local store to purchase school uniforms for my youngest child, who after years of agonizing anticipation, gets to finally join her two siblings at the “big school.” I wanted to embrace her enthusiasm for the transition. So, one week after her pre-school graduation, and at least two months before the first day of school, we headed to the uniform shop. I had received a “rookie days” coupon worth 20% off my bill if I came in before the back to school rush. Why wouldn’t I jump on this? My daughter was so excited! We loaded up on polo shirts, pants, skirts, jackets, sweaters, and a new backpack. Unfortunately, I made one critical mistake. I didn’t realize it until I reached the register, but I forgot the coupon.
I hoped it wouldn’t be a big deal, since it really was more of a flyer than a coupon, without a bar code or discount number. To my dismay, my discount request was rejected. I was told that I needed to have the coupon in hand in order to receive the discount. I assured the store employee that I had the coupon and even described the hot pink, black inked design and where I received it. It was suggested that the store was still open for another hour and that I could probably drive home to get it and bring it back before the store closed.
I tried to plead that since they only offered the coupon to specific private schools, and mine was one, and I only knew about it because my child is clearly a “rookie,” purchasing the Kindergarten uniform for one of the specific schools, perhaps they could make an exception. No, unfortunately, I was denied. I asked if I brought the receipt and coupon before the expiration date at the end of the week, if I could receive a price adjustment. This was, thankfully, approved.
Two days later I notched out some time after work and between my son’s all-star baseball practice drop off and my daughter’s dance recital rehearsal drop off, to return to the store with the receipt and coupon in hand. After interrogating me about which particular employee gave me permission to get a price adjustment, the Assistant Manager reluctantly authorized the adjustment. This authorization came only after she had me identify the employee in an almost court-room drama style: “Can you please point to the employee.”
The employee in question first denied that he gave such permission. I’m certain he was afraid of the boss, but I was not walking away from this after all of my trouble. I had to remind him of our interaction, plead with him to look at my kids and remember how he helped us find a specific jacket in the stock room two days earlier. He eventually admitted to the interaction. Finally, after much anticipation, anxiety, and frustration, I’d get my discount.
Another employee at the register was visibly annoyed that she had to process the adjustment. She had to enter the return and then charge back all of the items on my extra-long receipt in order to issue a credit. This of course, was not her fault. After making her frustration known to me, and a few grumblings later, she did attempt to be polite. The Assistant Manager noticed but made no attempt to address this behavior or the situation.
She did give my kids a free grab bag with pencils and plastic toys; and entered them into a guess how many gumballs are in the jar game to win a gift card. A nice gesture, yet despite the freebies and fun promo, my customer experience was less than what I’d call positive. In fact, if they had one of those one-question surveys that every other retailer loves to ask these days, I know what my answer would be. Question: Based on your experience today, would you recommend this business to anyone? Answer: “No!”
Sadly, I have a feeling that the Assistant Manager thinks that I had a positive experience. Yet, I will make every effort to avoid this store in the future, and I’ve already told this story a few times to other school moms. They had an opportunity to WOW me, by making a small exception in order to make my experience more convenient. Instead, their strict policy wasted my time and frustrated their employee, which made me feel unwelcome and guilty for calling out someone who tried to help, despite the strict policy. The coupon was meant to make me feel special, but instead, the experience left me feeling burdened and untrustworthy.
Customer Experience Starts Before We Meet Them
Customer Experience is your customers’ perception of how your company treats them. CEO’s from companies like Amazon, Zappos, Chik-fil-A, Apple, and Southwest Airlines obsess over Customer Experience. When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explains why Amazon has become one of the most successful companies on the planet, he does not offer his genius or innovative technology. It comes down to one basic principle: outstanding customer service. Amazon’s brand promise is to become “Earth’s most customer-centric company.”
In fact, they have a return policy that is so liberal, they often tell customers to just keep items that were shipped incorrectly. This actually happened to me twice. The first time was when they accidentally sent me two DVD’s of the toddler video, Wiggles: Pop Go the Wiggles. I tried to return it, but they simply said, “we are sorry for the inconvenience, please keep it.” I’m sure the $8.99 was not worth the hassle of processing a return, but with that experience, they received a customer for life. The generous return policy is one of the reasons I, like millions of customers, love to buy from Amazon. They, unlike my local uniform shop, instill trust and confidence with the customer.
Amazon has permanently redefined what Customer Experience should be, making Customer Experience a primary source of competitive advantage in business today. With over 63% of all cremations going home, competition is fierce. We have to compete for customers more than ever before. In today’s business environment, we must assume that a customer is anyone who steps foot on our property and anyone who looks us up online. Customer Experience starts when they first learn about us to when they no longer need our services. Particularly for funeral homes and cemeteries, that journey may never end.
Customer perceptions affect behaviors and build memories. If customers like you and continue to like you, they are going to do business with you and recommend you to others. It is critical to develop a Customer Experience strategy, which leads to the level of satisfaction that breeds loyalty, referral, and greater sales volume. Keep in mind that 86% of customers are willing to pay more for a better Customer Experience!
Begin with a plan
Customer Experience must be part of your brand identity, it must be something that everyone on your team owns, and that you, as owner or manager, obsess over. Customer Experience is more important than any traditional advertising you do. How do you develop Customer Experience that makes everyone feel welcome, builds trust, and fosters loyalty? It starts with a plan – an actual strategy. Just like a marketing and sales plan, operations plan, budget and financial plan, master plan for development of cemeteries, you have to have a Customer Experience strategy. Start with this:
Have a vision - it starts at the top
- Find an owner
- Get everyone on board
- Understand customer needs – ask and really listen to understand
- Develop a roadmap to meet those needs
- Know how to measure success (and accept failure)
- Be ready for change, and make sure the whole team is too
- Sustain the momentum
Getting everyone on board and truly understanding customer needs is the key to a successful and sustainable program. As you learn about what it means to communicate with customers on their terms, you'll find it's easier to make informed decisions about your overall Customer Experience strategy. If you want to learn more about how to develop a Customer Experience strategy, please join me at the CANA Cremation Innovations Conference next month in Fort Lauderdale.
Lori will present on Customer Experience 101: How to Develop a Customer Experience (CX) Strategy at CANA’s 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention this July. We know you have high expectations from the presenters' content so learn 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 Lori's presentation recording and all other speakers' wisdom on our Learning Management System. View session descriptions and pricing here: gocana.org/CANA18.
Our presenters are carefully chosen to ensure practical takeaways that you can apply to your business. Cremation consumers reject ritual and tradition and expect a unique and personalized experience. The industry has seen an influx of products and services that aim to create that experience. But Customer Experience is defined as how customers perceive their interactions with your company. Leading companies understand that how an organization delivers for customers is as important as what it delivers. That’s why Customer Experience is the next frontier for companies hoping to maintain a competitive edge.
Lori Salberg is Senior Business Development Consultant at Johnson Consulting Group. She has over 17 years of experience in cemetery, funeral home, and pre-need sales management. Lori began her career as a Family Service Counselor and quickly moved into management, rising to Associate Director of three cemetery locations. She furthered her career as General Manager of a large combo location and cremation center. She continued her career as Director of Administration for a national consulting management firm. As a member of the leadership team, Lori brought management expertise and software solutions to cemetery and funeral home clients. More recently, Lori contributed to the development of a cemetery software product; and as Vice President of Sales was principally responsible for introducing it to the US market. She is a frequent speaker at many state and regional industry events and an article contributor to many industry magazines.
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