Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
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One of the best parts of an industry event is the opportunity to hear from your peers. We are a network of industry leaders who have seen it all, tried it, and know what works best. Fortunately, we’re almost as verbose in print as we are in person with hundreds of blogs from funeral director fashion to meticulous legal interpretation. So we decided to collect some of our favorite blog posts – the ones we recommend to others – into one list. No two voices are the same, and all offer a valuable perspective on our industry and some food for thought long after you’re done reading.
This post is tagged "business" and "cremation" and that's an apt description. Tom Anderson admits that updated pricing is not a cure-all for falling revenue, but he explains how a deliberate and thoughtful evaluation of your policies can lead to careful reasoning that will support your cremation families and encourage memorialization. There are ways to add value to even direct cremation packages without significant cost, which in the end often pays off as additional revenue.
The Bottom Line: Do you make it easy for families to plan with you? Do you educate while you assist in the arrangement room?
Short answer: sort of. Nathan Nardi post's stuck out to us because his look at social trends in US CDC data aligns with some of CANA's own research into the demographics of cremation families. Cremation families are typically highly educated and higher income while casketed burial families are typically homeowners who have lived in their communities for multiple generations.
The Bottom Line: What community are you serving and how does understanding them help you meet their needs?
Larry Stuart, Jr. knows exactly what the details of his service will be and, no surprise, he’s not shopping for the low-cost cremation provider. Like one of CANA’s most popular posts, Just Cremate Me, Larry reminds us that we can’t lessen the pain of those we leave behind, especially not through cremation-and-landfill method.
The Bottom Line: How can you show your cremation families that they are valuable and worth remembering?
You've heard it a million times, you have to educate cremation families. Whether it's because death is too sanitized, we're not trusted, general fear of mortality, or something else, as a society, we don't like to think about death. To many, cremation seems like the simplest way to avoid it but it can't be avoided. So Mark Allen of the Order of the Golden Rule provides a script to help.
The imagined conversation with John Q. Public (fully-bearded and chest out, no less) is as informative as it is funny.
The Bottom Line: What has worked best for you to tell cremation families why they matter?
Family protectiveness meets "professional empathy" in this post where Matthew Morian of the Millennial Directors, reminds us that it's the little things that make a difference to our families – even the direct cremation ones. The little details surrounding the arrangements become second nature to funeral directors and we often forget to discuss them with the family. But it's all those little details that the family craves, and often misunderstand or misconstrue when we gloss over them. Taking time to explain them is one way to set yourself apart from the competition when it comes to exceptional service.
The Bottom Line: You know that a typical work day for you is far from the typical day for the families you serve. How can you keep the boring part of your work fresh for the experience of your families?
Many people have theorized that our society experiences many "little deaths": moving away, our own or a loved one's divorce, changing jobs, and, in this case, the donation of a favorite stuffed animal. The CANA Historian, Jason Engler, is particularly suited to reflecting on how quickly things can change and encourages us to make each goodbye count for the families we serve.
The Bottom Line: No one wants to say goodbye, so what can we do to make that goodbye just a tiny bit easier?
Like most funeral directors, Glenda Standsbury hadn't preplanned. And that's surprising -- funeral directors advocate for preplanning, see too often the questions that pile up without a plan, and are reminded of mortality daily. After walking away from a major accident, Glenda felt that she'd escaped death once and reminds us all that "none of us should assume that we'll be here tomorrow to take care of the details."
The Bottom Line: It's not just your funeral to pre-plan, but your business and estate. Do you have a succession plan?
One of biggest values of choosing cremation is the time it gives the grieving to make decisions. ASD's Public Relations Specialist, Jessica Farren, shares her deeply personal story of grief and remembering her father for who he was. Her honest reflection and her descriptive style makes this story vivid and relatable.
The Bottom Line: Cremation is not just a cost consideration -- it's an immediate answer to a question of "what now?" that allows for services months, years, or a decade, after a death. How can you support cremation families throughout their grief journey?
This blog post from the Corporation des thanatologues du Québec (CTQ) addresses a problem we’re all too aware of: cremated remains going home. The post highlights a creative ad campaign run by Athos asking “Is this your last wish?” and encouraging people to contact a cemetery (in this case an Athos one, of course) to find a “placement of dignity and respect.”
The Bottom Line: We know from several recent headlines that risks of keeping the urn at home can lead to dramatic and depressing indignities — and that too many consumers don’t know their options for placement. How can you help your cremation families connect with the urn and educate about memorialization?
This new podcast from Wake Forest Law Professor Tanya Marsh is a new favorite among CANA staff. We couldn’t single out just one — simply take a look at the guests and you’ll see why. Tanya does a great job of surveying the wide range of death care movements and activities and providing balanced attention. Best of all, she doesn’t accept the press release story – she pushes for more, for statistics, and asks questions we all have. There have been just 13 episodes when we wrote this so choose whichever sounds most interesting or listen to them all – you can’t go wrong! (PS – Stay tuned and you may get to hear CANA’s Executive Director Barbara Kemmis soon! 😉 )
CANA Staff had a great time developing this list and there are plenty we left off that stand out in our minds: Is Smoking Cremains Abuse of Corpse?, Viceland’s Most Expensivest Celebration of Life, and Funeral Cribs among them. What are you reading and listening to that belongs on this list? Leave us a comment!
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2018
The Cremation Logs presents the first in an occasional series featuring guest posts from industry experts. Cody Lopasky is the Associate Dean of Academics and Distance Education Coordinator at Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service and teaches both face-to-face and online courses. Lopasky enjoys writing and academic research; especially in regard to funeral service. He has published numerous articles, written a continuing education course for funeral service practitioners, and was a contributor for a funeral service education textbook. He is also a licensed funeral director/embalmer and a certified crematory operator.
We may see a time when burial becomes the new cremation – something chosen by only a handful of families. This was the norm for cremation only a few short years ago, and the same could be coming for burial. The trend toward cremation is nothing new, but what are cremation families doing? And what are we offering cremation families to achieve their goals?
Cremation families who keep their loved one’s cremated remains on display at home are willing participants in selecting merchandise, but scattering families (or the undecided) present a situation that can be vexing for both you and the family. Without a firm plan in place, how can you effectively guide them to a decision that makes sense? Should they even buy an urn, and if so, what type and when?
Plastic is a Choice, Not a Default
When an urn is not purchased at time of arrangements, most families receive their loved one’s cremated remains in the plastic “temporary container.” This gray or black plastic box can be presented to a family in a velvet bag, but it is still nothing more than a plastic box. Many cremation families are offered a package that includes a “temporary urn.” They may not be shown an example of a temporary urn and may not realize it is a plastic box, but they know they don’t want an urn from the selection room. Offering a temporary urn in a package is a business decision made by the crematory or funeral home; normally due to cost or necessity. On the other hand, some forward-thinking businesses have chosen to provide a spun bronze or cultured marble base option that can be upgraded or personalized. However, the decision to stick with the bare bones (pun semi-intended) should not be made in haste.
Of course, the funeral home wants the scattering family to get an urn because it can help pay the bills for the month and it’s also a more dignified choice, but choosing an urn is often the best choice for the family, too.
- Before scattering, many families have a service of some kind to memorialize the deceased. If the cremated remains will be present for the service (e.g. a ceremonial scattering or memorial service), then a dull plastic box may not be the best option.
- A family can report that their loved one preferred scattering, but we all know that services and merchandise are for the living. The deceased is no longer here to care. So, when you hear the word “scattering,” do not automatically assume that the family understands what that entails or is choosing a plastic box over an urn. The voice of practicality will say that a simple and disposable plastic box is all that is needed without the knowledge that these can be difficult to open and are not always resealable.
- Remember that there should be some thought that goes into choosing the container that will hold what is left of a family’s loved one. This is especially true for scattering since the exact date and time of that event is normally set much later. In fact, internal industry research has shown that roughly 80% of families that say they will scatter have not done so by 5 years after the death occurred. This means that if the plastic box was chosen, then it will be sitting on a shelf for some time.
Urn Options as Solutions
If we assume that a family has not scattered before (yet is planning to scatter their loved one), then they may not fully grasp what is entailed. So you, the funeral director, are just the expert they need. For the scattering families that desire something a little more, there are actually quite a few options that can be presented, for example:
- Asking a family where the scattering will take place is a great question with which to start. If they plan to do it on the water, then many suppliers and vendors now offer biodegradable urns that will actually float, sink, and/or disintegrate. Using one of these will keep the shore winds from blowing grandpa back onto the deck or into the crowd of family members.
- If the urn is to be opened for scattering, then ease of entry will be of great importance to the family. That $1,200 piano wood urn may look pretty, but the family may not want to remove 6 screws and scratch up the bottom before they are able to scatter. A good rule of thumb is to show scattering families urns that can be opened easily. Screw-top and chest urns are great examples.
- Most funeral homes do offer scattering urns, but they can have an inherent flaw that is unnoticed until the scattering occurs: What does the family do with it after they have scattered the cremated remains? This is an opportunity to present the features and benefits of different styles of urns for scattering.
- A family may not realize it at the time, but the oblong, sliding-top box that they purchased has no purpose to serve after scattering.
- The benefits of chest urns include attractiveness, utility, and (often) reasonable prices. Many chest urns either come with a plastic container already inside or they will fit the one from your crematory. Using these urns will allow the family to have a presentable container until scattering can take place, and then once it is empty, the chest can be used for a variety of other things, such as mementos of the deceased – old childhood photos, mom’s seashells, vacation matchbooks, dad’s army medals, etc.
- Psychologically, the empty container can serve as a quasi-replacement for a grave or niche.
- Obviously the two are quite different, but the positive benefits can be generalized to both. An urn (although empty) that held cremated remains is a tangible and physical reminder of a loved one. It’s an object around which survivors can reminisce and provides that missing link to the cremated remains which are now irretrievable.
An Opportunity for Education
In a world where cremation is taking over, we funeral directors need to change our thought process. The revered casket is now being replaced by the once-inglorious urn. Traditionally, picking out a casket was an integral and prominent part of the arrangement conference. This is now transitioning into the selection of an urn, temporary or permanent, for cremated remains. It is essentially the same concept (a vessel that will hold earthly remains) but on a much smaller scale and with nearly endless options. This is where a funeral director’s experienced advice can really be helpful. Scattering families (and those that are undecided but may scatter) often think that they do not need an urn. The passive funeral director will take this as a cue and move on without any more conversation on the topic. The active funeral director will discuss the options available to a scattering family and educate them so that they can make an informed decision.
Some client families may choose cremation because of the price, but that does not mean they want or need a plastic box – even scattering families. A funeral home’s operational success and sustainability will become reliant on the ability to properly offer and promote cremation merchandise and services. One area within the broad umbrella of cremation in which many funeral homes may fall short is with families who intend to scatter. It is easy to dismiss them as simply another family not getting an urn, and then, they in turn are led to that conclusion by the funeral director’s subtle cues and passive approach, but that is a missed opportunity. This is not simply about the bottom line but rather an opportunity to do what you do best – educate your client families and present appropriate options that meet their needs. If done correctly, this can make both sides of the arrangement conference happy.
Yes, some families will still go with the temporary container, but with proper guidance, the curse of the plastic box can be broken.
Cody Lopasky has an M.A. in Psychology and History from the University of Houston-Victoria, a B.A. in Psychology from Texas State University-San Marcos, and he is an A.A.S. graduate with honors and distinction from Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service. As a student at Commonwealth, Lopasky was a member of the National Funeral Service Honor Society. He is a Texas-licensed funeral director and embalmer as well as a certified crematory operator. Starting in high school, and continuing after licensure, Lopasky worked at Schmidt Funeral Home in Katy, TX. He was employed there as a funeral director and embalmer for several years before joining the education side of funeral service in 2016 when he accepted a full-time faculty position at Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service. Currently, Lopasky is the Associate Dean of Academics and teaches both face-to-face and online courses. Lopasky enjoys writing and academic research; especially in regard to funeral service. He has published numerous articles, written a continuing education course for funeral service practitioners, and was a contributor for a funeral service education textbook.
tips and tools
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 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.
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!
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