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
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!
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
Posted By Administration,
Thursday, March 1, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 27, 2018
In light of recent regulatory events, the consumer media is turning to all of us and asking the question that everyone in the cremation industry hears most often:
How do I know this is my loved one?
A Chain of Custody procedure is never more important than in moments like these. Here, you can demonstrate your commitment to a family and leave them with confidence to trust you with the care of their loved one.
But what do we mean by chain of custody? Every step of your work in the handling of each case must be documented accurately and carefully: custody, control, transfer, analysis, and disposition. CANA recommends crematory facilities make a description of the cremation practice, policy, and procedures available to the family. And, even more importantly, the policy must by followed every time, no exceptions.
Chain of Custody
Many forms are used to document the steps in the cremation process. It may seem that some of the forms repeat the same information, but it is important to maintain complete, accurate, and cross-referenced records. Your firm should have a comprehensive written procedure guide outlining the steps in the process from receipt of the deceased to return of the cremated remains, and it should include the associated forms, verification, and documentation required. Chain of custody documentation, including the ID tag, ensure the identity of the remains and provide objective evidence of identification post-cremation.
Keep in mind that state and provincial laws governing documentation and record keeping range widely, and every crematory operator must learn what laws specifically apply to their location(s).
But chain of custody goes beyond merely complying with regulations. A thorough and followed chain of custody demonstrates professionalism by establishing and adhering to policies and procedures consistent with industry best practices. Every step of the process needs to be performed in absolute accordance with policies and procedures that have been designed to prevent errors.
Once the remains are in the custody of the crematory, it is important to track and record every step of the cremation process. In the event that there are ever any questions about any case, you will be able to demonstrate that the remains were appropriately handled at every stage. Policies, procedures, forms and all of the paperwork in the world are worthless without compliance and consistency. Doing it the same way every time helps assure that mistakes are not made. If you never do it differently, you will do it right every time.
Documenting chain of custody is key to avoiding lawsuits for negligence in this area. Every step of the way must be recorded without exception, and the records must be archived and accessible if needed. Inaccurate, incomplete, or unfollowed documentation is worse than not having it.
Be thorough and complete with every entry every time. Write legibly when filling out forms. A document that you cannot read is worthless. If you leave a field blank it will raise a red flag. Was that field forgotten? Or was it really not applicable? If there is a space to record information and you either do not have that information or it doesn’t apply to this individual, mark that fact down in the space.
Document retention and filing methods are important as well. If you can’t find something, even if it was filled out perfectly, it doesn’t exist.
If you use a third party for your cremation families, you must still prepare chain of custody procedures and require the crematory you work with to meet or exceed your standards. Ask to see their policies and tour their facility. Conduct random checks of the crematory and audit their paperwork as you would your own. You must be able to stand by the practices of their crematory and clearly describe the chain of custody to the families you serve.
If you operate as a third party crematory serving funeral homes, you know better than most the complications that can occur when working with a remote facility. Not only should any crematory working as a third party maintain the standards described above, but you must maintain your policies and follow the procedures for your various clients. Holding their staff to the standards you hold your own requires diligence. Keeping open communication and maintaining transparency allows your clients and their families to rest easy with loved ones in your care.
Assess Your Standards
Despite the importance of maintaining clear and comprehensive documentation throughout every step of the process, too many facilities make the same types of easily avoided errors. Overconfidence in experience, employees spread too thin, sacrificing thoroughness for efficiency, and choosing the company over compliance are common errors but indefensible. A key thing to remember about liability risk is how small, seemingly minor lapses can have huge consequences for the operator and the facility.
How do you know your chain of custody meets appropriate standards? Walk through your documentation with a hypothetical case (like the one below) and make sure you track the remains throughout the entire process: from when you first take custody of the remains until they leave your control.
Management should perform regular audits of the crematory’s record keeping to assure that all the procedures are being consistently performed. Because cremation has become the number one area of liability in the funeral profession, solid documentation accompanied by iron-clad policies and procedures are the best way to demonstrate the truth and ease the mind of a concerned family member.
What follows is a case study of a cremation gone wrong. The case is an amalgam of true events which have occurred in businesses over the past several years.
The decedent is Peggy Jones of Anywhere, USA. Peggy died alone in her home in July at the age of 62. Although she was married when she died, Peggy had been separated from her husband for 20 years. At the time of her death, Peggy was living with Mr. Smith, her partner of 18 years. Mr. Smith was traveling overseas when Peggy died, and thus, her remains were not discovered until several days after her death.
Peggy’s remains were discovered when a neighbor noted an odor emanating from Peggy’s home. The local authorities were notified, who in turn contacted your facility regarding the death.
ISSUE 1: Identification of the Remains at Removal
The medical examiner staff member was on scene when your removal team arrived. Having located Peggy’s driver’s license, the ME staff tagged the remains correctly, i.e., “Peggy Jones.” However, the remains were verbally identified as “Peggy Jonas.” The body bag contained a tag which also identified the deceased as “Peggy Jonas.” Finally, although her given name was “Peggy,” the ME staff prepared documents identifying the deceased as “Margaret” Jones. From the outset, Peggy’s remains had been identified in three ways - two of which were inaccurate.
The easiest way to cremate the wrong remains is improper identification.
What should have happened . . .
The removal staff should have personally examined the remains to confirm the identification affixed thereto. If any discrepancy among the documents, bag and tag affixed to the remains existed, then that discrepancy should have been resolved prior at removal.
ISSUE 2: Tracking and Identification of Remains from Removal to Crematory
The remains were placed into refrigeration at your facility. The refrigeration log reflected that the remains of Peggy Jonas were placed into refrigeration at 8:42 a.m. Due to the uncertainty over the cause of her unattended death, Mr. Smith requested that a private autopsy be conducted by State U. State U logged the remains out of refrigeration at your funeral facility at 5:00 p.m. that same day, having presented documents identifying Peggy as M. Jones. State U logged Peggy’s remains back into your care the following morning at 8:00 a.m., again, as M. Jones.
Each and every document must identify the remains correctly.
What should have happened . . .
You should have ensured that Peggy’s remains were identified correctly and in exactly the same way on each document making reference to them. Effective tracking and accurate cross-reference, is a must.
Cremation is Permanent
As it turns out, the language contained on nearly every cremation authorization form is true:
Cremation is an irreversible, unstoppable process.
Of course, one would think that the statement goes without saying, and yet, every cremation customer is reminded of the permanence of the cremation process. What makes the phrase worth repeating here, however, is that too often cremation providers fail to recognize the weight of the statement. Failing to follow standard practices jeopardize the trust of the cremation-buying public, as well as your license to practice.
By now, you may be thinking: “Any licensee that would make the type of mistakes described in this case doesn’t deserve to serve the cremation buying public.” But, mistakes just like these can be made every day, not from malice but from negligence and ignorance. Keep current on your state’s requirements related to identification, authorization and disposition. Audit your procedures to make sure they are thorough and followed by everyone. Doing so will protect you and your families from the devastation which can be caused by a simple error.
A crematory operator is a vital part of the overall process of turning a dead body into a living memory for a family. It is absurd to think that any good operator would want to do anything less than a perfect job for the family of the deceased. After all, it’s more about the family than anything else, right?
Excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 54, Issue 1: “All Systems Go 4 Record-Keeping” by Larry Stuart, Jr. of Cremation Strategies & Consulting and CANA’s Crematory Operations Certification Program™ (COCP™) Module 4: Chain of Custody. Special thanks for Wendy Russell Weiner of Broad & Cassel for lending her experience and expertise with the case and important lessons we can all learn from.
Members can read the full article with specific recommendations paperwork to use and proper filing in Vol. 54, No. 1 Issue 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.
Always obtain expert legal advice on policies and procedures for compliance and liability review. Contact CANA’s own Legal Counsel Lara Price, Wendy Russell Wiener’s firm, Broad & Cassel, or any death care legal advisor. You can also learn more by contacting Cremation Strategies & Consulting for consultation on improving your systems.
Throughout his experience as President of Crematory Manufacturing & Service, Inc., Larry Stuart, Jr. has seen, first hand, the negative impact that poor crematory operations can bring about, both in the front and back of the house. Larry has written articles, developed cremation curricula, and spoken at numerous professional events. He has trained and certified thousands of cremation professionals across North America, all with a mission to advance the safety and efficiency of cremation facilities and the safety of their employees, and to foster a more positive impact on our community and our environment. As the founder of Cremation Strategies & Consulting, Larry continues his mission to educate our industry peers, our customers, and the public about cremation, its history, its cultural significance as part of the funeral rite, its impact on the environment, and operational best practices.
Wendy Russell Wiener is a partner at Broad and Cassel, LLP, and the chair of the regulatory department. Wiener practices regulatory insurance law and regulatory death care industry law, representing entities and individuals who interact with the administrative agencies that regulate all aspects of insurance and the death care industry. She represents clients in all types of licensing (for individuals and entities) and disciplinary matters, practice before the administrative tribunal, state and federal courts and interaction with regulators. Wiener is a member of the Federation of Regulatory Counsel (FORC), a limited group of lawyers who focus their practices on regulatory insurance law. She is a frequent contributor to the organization’s quarterly journal. Wiener is an active member of various professional and community organizations and is the former president of Temple Israel in Tallahassee. She is co-chair of the Tallahassee Jewish Food Festival and of the Southern Shakespeare Festival (Festival Day). She has served as past president of Raising a Healthy Child, Inc., and is involved with the ACT Board of the Young Actors Theatre.
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Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, December 6, 2017
What do Canadians know that might benefit their colleagues across the border? In order to try and answer that question, The Cremationist contacted successful members from the three most populous provinces— Louis Savard (Quebec), Laurie Cole (Ontario), and Ryan McLane (British Columbia)—to ask them for their opinions on factors contributing to Canada’s higher cremation rate, how that rate has affected the way they do business, how they approach cremation and talk to cremation families, what their experience with direct cremation has been, and what advice they might give to a U.S. colleague.
Market Director for Quebec, Service Corporation International
The impact of rising cremation rates began for Canada in the 1980s and 90s. Since then, we’ve learned to live with the high rate. Because we’ve been experiencing high cremation rates since the 90s, it’s not a big deal for us. It’s just our day-to-day operation. We are living with it. Back then, it changed everything we did.
Celebrating the life of a loved one is the same. Cremation doesn’t mean people don’t want to make an investment. It’s not just disposal of the body and it doesn’t mean they don’t want to get together. There is the same need to celebrate the life of a loved one. Today, cremation and burial in Canada are the same. Visitation in Quebec is the same. Celebration and services, people meeting and talking together to celebrate the life of a loved one.
The cremation rate in the U.S. is going through what we went through 20-25 years ago. I work with an international company that serves the U.S. and Canada. The company only began adding catering services a few years ago in the U.S., but we started catering in Canada 20 years ago. It’s a big, big piece of the service we provide and adds a lot to our revenue. People sharing a glass of wine, being all together, having a eulogy at the same time as the reception.
We need to adapt ourselves to what people want, because we have to create all kinds of ways to have a life celebration. We need to have an open mind. If each life is unique, each celebration is unique. If you have an open mind, you can do everything, listening closely and carefully and working with the family to celebrate a unique life. You cannot be trained for that—you have to be a person who is creative, working with families and listening attentively to build that honor.
People want to celebrate life. The funeral home is not where they live, where they meet with their families, where they have fun. They want to celebrate a life where they are comfortable.
With cremation we can do whatever we want. Not so much with a burial.
President and Owner of Cole Funeral Services
Cremation has become a choice for many families, religious or not. It really is not a cost issue: people truly just want to choose cremation as part of the service instead of choosing traditional burial. With an onsite cemetery, we offer many options for memorialization for cremation burial. Some families do choose to keep the urn or scatter the cremated remains, but we also have a lot of heritage at Pinecrest, so many families do have the option of placing urns with family members who already rest at Pinecrest. That being said, even if there is no room in a family plot, families may still choose to purchase land for the urn burial based on the heritage affiliation as well.
With cremation, families can also focus on more details and options for the service. They have more time to plan the event with us rather than with the more “traditional” type of service. They can turn their attention to items such as linen color, personalization of the photos, stationery, food and alcohol selections, and creating their own floral arrangements or music playlists and the like. A cremation family may choose a simple container or casket, but they tend to focus on the urn and possibly an urn vault. They don’t see the value in an ornate casket, but may find value with the urn, jewelry, an urn vault for mementos, the memorial cards, or the land/monument or niche.
When a family says, “We just want cremation,” as service providers, we should not assume this means direct cremation. It oftentimes means that they want cremation and not traditional burial, but they still want some sort of gathering with food and beverages, a service, and a viewing to honor their loved one. Yes, 80% of our families choose cremation. But of that 80%, only 10% request a true direct cremation—and I always share that fact with colleagues in the industry.
My advice is to communicate all the choices to a family, regardless if they say, “We just want cremation.” We are doing a disservice to our families if we do not show them all the options available, for some simply may not be aware of their choices and may see value in them once they know about them.
Market Manager for Vancouver Island, Service Corporation International
I have been witnessing requests for direct cremation for 20 years now in British Columbia. I don’t think this is a U.S. phenomenon in any way. This direct cremation concept begins with an active increase in cremation requests as a whole.
The cremation rate has been considerable for a long time now in British Columbia. Over the years, many people have discussed the reasons for this and agreed that a number of important factors come into play. The most common suggestion is the nature of our transient society in British Columbia. We have had a very high rate of immigration over the years, as well as a very high mobility rate among people retiring to British Columbia from other parts of Canada. This leads to fewer people in their social network and less family around them. When a death occurs, cremation is viewed as a way to ensure that end of life is “not so complicated” or a way to “keep it simple.”
Funeral directors can never assume that they know what the family is thinking. The most difficult thing to overcome is the perception that the family wants nothing but a direct cremation. So many times the family doesn’t even know what they are asking for. Many request cremation and nothing else. But what does “nothing else” actually mean to them? How can the funeral director be more involved? Families want to keep it simple. But what is your definition of simple?
I see a difference in the need for explanation to what is available to almost every cremation consumer. Many people who select cremation are not aware that they can still have a visitation, or still have a service and still have a cemetery plot. Once you start to explore the options with a family, they will want to create a personal service for their loved one. Many times this is independent of any mainstream religion, and oftentimes families have no affiliation with the local church.
Over the years, it has been evident that the cremation consumer is looking for value. That does not mean that the consumer is cheap but rather that they are focused on purchasing items or services that are meaningful to them. Personalization is very important, as well as efficiency. As time goes on, requests for embalming have been replaced with requests for catering. We’ve also had to adapt and create new traditions for the families that are not affiliated with organized religion and who want chapel services with or without viewings.
Funeral directors have to educate families. The cremation concept is not a new concept but people just don’t know realize all the options they can have for arrangements. Families need to make educated decisions with a funeral director. As traditions evolve, we as funeral professionals need to take the lead to educate and to continue to help create meaningful events for families to say goodbye to their loved ones.
This post has been excerpted from Vol. 53, No. 4 Issue of The Cremationist and edited for length. Members can read the full version and insights on cremation traditions around the world in the original issue.
The CANA network is one of the most powerful benefits of attending a CANA event and membership with the association. CANA provides the space where cremation professionals can share important conversations with people who get you and your business. Consider connecting with CANA and other industry experts at the 2018 Cremation Symposium for topics that inspire innovative thinking.
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Louis Savard, Service Corporation International’s Market Director for Quebec and Vice President of SCI Canada, entered funeral service in 1985. He was the National Sales Director for Atlas Casket and worked for three years at Lepine Cloutier Funeral Home as a sales manager in preneed before moving on to SCI in 1992, where he was involved in corporate development.
Laurie Cole, President and Owner of Cole Funeral Services and Secretary-Treasurer/Director of Operations for Pinecrest Remembrance Services, is a fourth-generation descendant of John Cole, founder of the original Pinecrest Remembrance Services, established in 1924. In addition to her tireless service to Ottawa through the Rotary Club of Ottawa Kanata Sunrise, a supporter of the Live/Work/Play program, she has also served on the Board of Directors of the Cremation Association of North America. A mother of two, Laurie is a country girl at heart and has even earned a college diploma as a veterinary technologist.
Ryan McLane is the current Market Manager for Vancouver Island with Service Corporation International. He has worked both in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island for over 20 years. He is also a Past President of the British Columbia Funeral Association.
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