Arguing. Fighting. Physical violence. Destruction of property. Extreme denial. When I ask funeral professionals about their most difficult challenges, I frequently hear about extreme behaviors in the arrangement room. Not only are the stories jaw-dropping, but they seem to be getting worse and more common over the years. In the face of anger and rudeness, it can be difficult to generate empathy for the bereaved. That’s why I think it is valuable to do our best to understand the source of these extreme behaviors. We may be able to be more patient and gracious if we understand what is causing these behaviors.
One way to make sense of these behaviors is through the lens of “defense mechanisms” – a concept originally developed by Freud. When you hear the name “Sigmund Freud,” you might immediately dismiss anything developed by a pipe-smoking, sex-obsessed, Viennese physician from the early 1900s. Even as a psychologist myself, Freud isn’t my favorite guy; I believe many of his perspectives are outdated, misogynistic, and outright wrong. However, some of his theories and perspectives have stood the test of time and can provide valuable insights into human motivation and behavior. I hope you will continue reading to discover if these 3 examples of defense mechanisms match your experiences in the arrangement room. I suspect you will discover that you actually agree with Freud on several of these concepts.
While I love giving a good lecture on Freud (seriously, just give this former college professor half a chance…), we don’t have the time or space for a full exploration of defense mechanisms. In a nutshell, Freud said all people use defense mechanisms to reduce anxiety or mental discomfort. Most of the time, these defense mechanisms are relatively normal and healthy; they only become problematic when they are used in extreme ways. For example, “denial” is one of the most commonly used defense mechanisms. A common experience of denial related to bereavement is when you reach for your phone to call a loved one, only to quickly remember they are deceased.
There’s absolutely nothing abnormal or pathological about this – our brains are simply used to them being alive and it takes a moment for that reality to reappear. On the other end of the continuum of denial is an extreme reaction. For example, when the police find that a family still has grandpa sitting at the dining room table – eight months after he died. All defense mechanisms can be viewed on a continuum; mild and common uses of reducing anxiety and pain or extreme situations when the individual’s reaction is much more dramatic and often pathological.
It is important to note that defense mechanisms are largely unconscious responses. Or put another way, these are not deliberate or premeditated strategies. They still hurt if you are on the receiving end, but I don’t want you to think these are intentional efforts designed to attack others. They are the unconscious reactions of someone trying to deal with painful thoughts and emotions.
Although Freud and his daughter, Anna, described several dozen defense mechanisms, we are going to focus on three that you may see in the arrangement room: displacement, projection, and reaction formation.
Like denial, displacement is a very commonly used defense mechanism. Displacement is when we take the angry or aggressive impulses toward one person and “displace” them on another, usually safer, target. For example, let’s say your boss yells at you and it makes you angry. You realize that it isn’t smart to strike back at your boss, so you go home and yell at your spouse, yell at your kids, or kick the dog as a way to displace your anger onto a ‘safer’ target. (I fully realize that getting angry at your spouse may not be a “safer” target – this is just an example. Also, don’t kick dogs.)
A common example of displacement in funeral service is when the bereaved are angry at the deceased. Perhaps the deceased wasn’t a kind person. Perhaps the bereaved are angry that the deceased didn’t take better care of themselves or go to get a check-up when they suggested it. But even though they are angry, Western culture states that it is not acceptable to “speak ill of the dead.” So where does that anger and frustration go? Sometimes it goes to a “safe target” like the funeral professional. They may assume they won’t see you after the services conclude and therefore you are a safe target for their anger – even if you haven’t done a thing to deserve it. Have you had situations where the bereaved are angry at you for no apparent reason?
Have you ever had someone accuse you of only caring about money? A second defense mechanism, projection, might be a part of their response. Projection is the process of taking our own feelings and thoughts that make us uncomfortable and then dealing with them by projecting them onto someone else. A common example of projection is when we deal with our own self-hate by projecting that view onto others. Projection takes “I don’t like myself” and turns it into, “He/She hates me for no reason” or “Everybody hates me.” It reduces our anxiety and negative self-worth to suggest it is coming from others, not from oneself.
Here are some examples of what a person might be feeling and how they may project that onto the funeral professional:
Bereaved individual’s thought: “I’m curious about death and death-related procedures, but am worried about how others will judge my curiosity.”
Projected onto funeral professional: “Why are you so obsessed with death!”
Bereaved individual’s thought: “I’m so angry at my mother for not taking better care of my father and look what happened.”
Projected onto funeral professional: “Why are you treating my mother so badly!”
Bereaved individual’s thought: “I wonder how much this is going to cost. I could desperately use some extra money right now.”
Projected onto funeral professional: “You’re only obsessed with money!”
A third defense mechanism that may arise in funeral situations is the use of reaction formation. Reaction formation is when a person takes a thought or feeling that is uncomfortable and attempts to convince themselves (and others) that they don’t really have that view by making an extravagant display that is the opposite of their true feelings. For example, if a man found himself sexually attracted to his best friend’s wife, he might deal with the anxiety caused by those feelings by suggesting that he doesn’t like her at all. (We see an example of this exact scenario in the movie Love Actually: It’s a self-preservation thing, you see.).
In funeral scenarios, reaction formations arise when the bereaved hates the deceased yet acts as if they were perfect. The bereaved reacts by choosing extravagant funeral products and having an elaborate funeral. Freud would suggest this individual is attempting to convince themselves that their feelings of hate don’t exist. Of course, later the bereaved individual may resolve those feelings of hate and wonder why they spent so much on an elaborate funeral. I suspect this is when they unfairly turn the blame on the funeral professional and say things like, “You tricked me into spending a fortune on the funeral!”
In the Arrangement Room
While many other defense mechanisms come into play, these are three that appear frequently. After learning about these defense mechanisms a natural question is, “How does a funeral professional respond in these situations?” That is the focus of my presentation: “Defusing Conflict in the Arrangement Room: Strategies from Family Therapists” at the CANA’s 101st Annual Cremation Innovation Convention. I will be reviewing how funeral professionals can better understand the conflict that sometimes arises in the arrangement process as well as strategies funeral professionals can use to defuse these situations. I hope to see you there!
With a wide range of valuable networking and educational opportunities, the CANA Convention features sessions from presenters carefully chosen to make the most of your time away from the office and ensure you leave with practical takeaways.
We can’t wait to welcome Dr. Troyer to the CANA stage in Louisville this August. See what else CANA has planned for our 101st Cremation Innovation Convention: goCANA.org/CANA19.
Can’t join us? We’ll have recordings available so you don’t miss out on this amazing content.
Dr. Jason Troyer is a grief expert, author, former psychology professor, and therapist. He provides grief support newsletters, Facebook content, and informational videos at www.GriefPlan.com/funeral. He also provides community presentations, professional workshops, and trainings on behalf of funeral homes and cemeteries. Dr. Troyer can be reached at DrJasonTroyer@gmail.com.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, March 27, 2019
Updated: Monday, March 25, 2019
This one is a special blogpost for our supplier members — and anyone else who's ever had to transfer the excitement from their table to the masses walking by.
In 2017, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) released an eight part Attendee Floor Engagement Report from a comprehensive study of exhibitors at trade shows. We read it through and identified a few key takeaways that we hope will provide inspiration for enhanced engagement with attendees at your next trade show.
People to Product
This is the ultimate goal for anyone at a trade show and everyone knows it. You have something you want someone else to buy. That could be an urn, software, intellect, or a preneed contract. And CEIR reports that this is the number two reason why attendees keep going to trade shows: so they can interact with the products themselves. So your focus should be on getting people to your booth and selling them on the value of your product.
The good news is that data shows that people like free stuff. The pens, candy, and hand lotion you pass out are appreciated. This is especially true at a CANA show — our association doesn’t give our attendees bags, paper, pens, or any of those goodies so they’re extra appreciated from you! Plus, these end up back at home or the office where they are shared with colleagues.
The bad news is that the paper handouts aren’t as appealing as the free stuff. We know this from both the data and the folders, business cards, catalogs, and more they’ve collected from you but left on the cocktail tables at the end of day at a CANA show. Instead, people are looking for digital versions — a screen in the booth for a quick glance or a pdf to share back home right then (especially if they can send it themselves). That way, they still have two hands free for a drink and a handshake.
If your product or service isn’t a tangible thing, or is too large to demo in your booth, you’ll need to get creative to allow attendees to engage with the product or service information in a meaningful way. Here too, a screen can allow someone to get the feel for your product with a demo, a video, or tutorial. After all, the goal is for them to understand how your product or service meets their business need.
If your product or service supports it, a sale on the premises and a receipt emailed to the office yields instant gratification for the attendee, and a satisfied customer for you. The data shows that many exhibitors aren’t doing on-site purchases, but the ones that do report high usage by attendees. Going through the whole sales cycle on-site is easier for some products than others, but there are still opportunities with big ticket items: if you can at least schedule a phone call to explore their needs further, or even better, send a quote then and there, you’re that much farther into the process.
People to People
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, because we forgot Sales 101: people buy from people. Data shows that the most valuable tool on the show floor is emotion. Initially, it’s friendliness and approachability that welcomes someone to your booth, and we don’t have to tell you that means eye-contact, a smile, and stepping from behind the table or display. Then, trustfulness and credibility shows that you’re not some flash-in-the-pan product that’s here today and gone the next — we’re an industry of long relationships and they want to know that their business (and equally importantly, their families) can count on you when they need you most.
But to really hook them, it’s the connection of their problem to your solution and the resulting weight off their mind. Giving them that “aha” moment or that warm feeling that comes with a meaningful product to serve their communities better will go a long way to building your loyal customer. That comes from listening. There are no silver bullets, one-size-fits-all in our profession (even though your product probably comes pretty close). So you need to start by asking them about their business, their community, the persistent challenge that occupies them on their commute, and offer a solution that meets their unique needs.
In some cases, it’s the marketing or sales person that’s best for this job, but data shows that it really depends on your product and goals. Highly technical products — like software and hardware — can often benefit from a technical person at the booth. This person can answer questions, provide recommendations, and tell attendees how this product can work for them. In other cases, someone from upper management is your ace in the hole. With their credentials, the executive can wield their position to build stronger relationships and shorten the sales cycle.
Technology to People
Across the board, data shows that exhibitors have been slow to add a technological component to their attendee engagement strategy. Whether through social media, the event app, or even emails, few exhibitors are doing it. But, those that are have seen value.
In general, these broadcast platforms are about buzz and thought leadership, not the sales cycle. This means that you’re working to stay in people’s awareness as a resource they might need in the future. These avenues are also great places to tell people where they can see your product in action and meet people with answers — your end goal is getting them to the booth for that emotional response.
Before you even register for the event, you want to demonstrate thought leadership or ways to think about problems they face and provide solutions your audience can use. But when you know you’re going to be at a trade show, treat it like the event it will be and start getting excited. Tap into the culture of the event and share the host’s posts to grow your audience both online and on the floor. Build buzz about the event and your booth — who will be there and what will you feature? On site, you have two audiences: the ones that are with you and the ones at home, but sharing photos will appeal to both! Other offers like free stuff, purchase discounts, and raffles will bring the people to your booth and keep the buzz going at home.
After the show is over, it’s back to thought leadership — hopefully a bit wiser from all the great event programming. When people get back to the office, they’re usually playing catch up with everything, and the energy they got from the ideas at the event quickly fades to the background. Anything you can do to recapture that emotion and keep the momentum going (while solving something with your product) will be welcome.
Education to People
Attendees report three primary objectives when attending a show — engagement with people, product and learning. These become the three pillars which all exhibitor and show organizer activities should fall under.
The first two objectives — engagement with people and product — are usually met in the booth. Attendees gain knowledge through their interactions with booth staff, whether that be with product/technical experts, sales staff or management. The quality of these interactions is the top ranked reason that attendees come to an expo, CEIR reports. They also love to interact with products- whether that’s picking them up and holding them, playing with a software program, or pressing buttons on a demo unit.
The third objective — learning — can be fulfilled in multiple ways. Providing skills-based education on your product, whether it be sales tips for cremation products like urns, short-cuts for software programs, or best practice tips for equipment, goes a long way toward meeting attendee objectives and building those relationships. If your show host offers it, participate in skills-based education or learning sessions outside of your booth. Finally, one-on-one, small group learning sessions are very popular; host short sessions at your booth at scheduled times and provide education (not sales gimmicks) on hot button topics about which attendees crave more information.
Set Your Goal
Exhibitors report three main goals when exhibiting at an event:
This was 73% of all companies, looking to introduce their product to new people. While this sounds like you can count how many people are at the event compared to how many people you talked to, the math isn’t that simple. As valuable as people are, contact with decision-makers is key — just like having management staff man the booth shortens the sales cycle, so does talking to management attending the event.
That said, lead capture was the easiest way to track this. At many shows, this is digital now with badge scanning to capture contact information allowing the conversation to flow faster.
More than half (58%) of all companies say getting their name out there is key. Called “impressions” on social media, this means you want to know how many people can now say they’ve heard of your company, your product, and seen your logo. And it doesn’t take a table to do it, which is why exhibitor profiles and digital engagement is so important, and why alternatives like sponsorship can be so valuable.
Here, it’s most useful to know where exhibitors are featured and how many people saw and interacted with listings there, often from the show host.
The third most common reason for exhibiting is relationship management (46%). Connecting with current clients and furthering the sales cycle with strong leads is key in this category. In many cases, this is measured by time away from the booth — side meetings, dinners, a tab at the bar, and other things that convey a mutual investment between your clients and the company.
In that case, the amount of time you spend on each of these activities is the real measure of success.
To a much lesser extent, exhibitors attend to announce a new product (23%), to offer special promotions (18%), establish themselves as thought leaders (13%), or connect with other exhibitors as partners or distributors (12%).
Overall, both trade show hosts and participants are thinking about the attendee experience. This move toward experiential design brings everything from the above plus the atmosphere and the culture of the host organization and location into account. From CANA’s perspective, we’re thinking about the most enjoyment people can get out of our event locations, not just our programming. We host exhibitor training to teach them what a CANA event is like for everything from arranging shipping to our vibe. And we make sure that our promotional materials for the event are on brand for the conference and our association. As exhibitors, you do the same: choosing your events for their match with your goals, sending the right people to work the table, telling prospects to join you there, and getting your logo front and center. It’s the goal of every event host to work together with the exhibitors to make sure that the attendee experience is one to remember and tell others about.
So, how do we make changes, as exhibitors and hosts? (1) Be intentional about choices. Don’t just look around and see what collateral is cluttering the office and who hasn’t gone to a show recently. Know your audience, know your event, make the right choice for them. (2) Get feedback about the event. Don’t add the notch to your chair and move to the next. Ask the host for data about who attended, what your exposure was like, and do your own data collection from attendees on the floor or after about your booth and offerings. (3) Keep the experience alive. Don’t end the show and the conversation. Build some lead up excitement for the event, host a client or just promote your presence on the floor, and follow up about the show and the experience after.
Face-to-face is still one of the best ways to connect, and trade shows provide a perfect way to start. In the spirit of continuous improvement, CANA has implemented new tools for the upcoming convention to help you act on some of these suggestions. Our new event website and event app offer you the opportunity to increase your exposure by having expanded exhibitor profiles in both places, as well as more places for your logo to be displayed. Through the event app you’ll now have the option to add lead-retrieval. Finally, the event app allows you to send messages to attendees as well as invite them to meet with you through a calendaring function. We hope these new features make your next show with us even better. And if you won’t be at the CANA convention, we hope you can use these ideas to make your next event great, wherever that may be.
Registration is open to exhibit at CANA’s 101st Cremation Innovation Convention! Join us in Louisville, Kentucky and get your product in front of key-decision makers for funeral homes, crematories, mortuaries, and cemeteries across North America. We place our trade show in the same room as our programs to keep the funeral directors and cemeterians interacting with our exhibitors all day — plus, you can benefit from the presentations, too!
Jennifer Head is the Education Director of CANA. She plans the events and works closely with exhibitors and attendees to constantly improve CANA events and shows.
Posted By Barbara Kemmis,
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2018
“What do you know about Alkaline Hydrolysis?”
Recently, I’ve been getting this question everywhere. It doesn’t matter what my presentation is about, or if I’m presenting at all, someone asks me about Alkaline Hydrolysis.
What is Alkaline Hydrolysis?
Alkaline hydrolysis. Also known as AH, flameless cremation, water cremation, green cremation, chemical cremation, aquamation, biocremation™, or Resomation™, alkaline hydrolysis is, in short, cremation. CANA took this position in 2011 for the simple fact that cremation is the method of speeding up decomposition, traditionally done with fire, but also through other methods like alkaline hydrolysis. As states and provinces began to legalize the process, their laws expanded the existing regulations to define alkaline hydrolysis as a form of cremation. In 2013, CANA observed this trend and decided to broaden its official definition of cremation to recognize this new reality:
"The mechanical and/or thermal or other dissolution process that reduces human remains to bone fragments."
CANA remains the only trade association to take this controversial position. And ever since we did, we’ve had the book thrown at us – specifically, the dictionary. Merriam-Webster defines cremate (v): to reduce to ashes by burning. “There you have it,” people exclaim, “alkaline hydrolysis doesn’t burn and thus cannot cremate. Ergo, it isn’t cremation!” But cremation is not defined in dictionaries, it is defined in legislation. For many states and provinces, cremation is not just combustion but chemical, mechanical, or thermal dissolution of remains to bone fragments.
In essence, CANA is following the leadership of the state and provincial regulatory bodies and classifying alkaline hydrolysis as cremation. And since it’s cremation, it can be marketed as such. Hence, the many terms to describe the process.
What AH Is, and Isn’t
In practice, CANA prefers the term “alkaline hydrolysis” because it clearly describes what happens – an alkaline solution using water to break chemical bonds at the atomic level (aka hydrolysis). What it looks like, though, is a typical cremation: body goes in, bone fragments come out. The process of alkaline hydrolysis requires that the body be submerged in water with alkaline (base) chemicals and, through a combination of time, pressure, heat and possibly agitation, the body is reduced to bone fragments. The sterile waste water (or effluent) can flow into the water system with the remaining chemicals (salts, amino acids, peptides, etc.) which help break down waste at the water treatment plant or even fertilize crops.
But the public isn’t thinking about that. Current practitioners find that their families don’t ask much about these details. Instead, they see the same results as flame cremation (cremated remains) but, presented side by side, perceive “water cremation” as gentler and more environmentally friendly. The term evokes something like a bath – one person called it “the final spa treatment.”
Our profession, on the other hand, hasn’t seen it the same way. While AH practitioners find the public doesn’t ask about the process, it seems to be all the profession can think about. And many people say it’s gross to “dissolve bodies in acid” and disrespectful to “flush grandma down the drain” and celebrate legislation being quashed in their state or province. But these fears aren’t based in fact: AH doesn’t use acids and the waste water doesn’t contain identifiable bits of grandma (especially when compared to the wastes of embalming). This has not stopped the Catholic Church from taking an official position opposing AH, nor industry leaders from dismissing it out of hand and even attempting to make it illegal.
But the process has caught people’s imagination and emotional reactions have spread faster than good science and facts.
Emerging Technology That’s Here to Stay
Alkaline hydrolysis has been everywhere recently from letters to newspaper editors, national science magazines, and governors’ desks. When they call CANA, they are looking for answers and predictions. I explain that, while it’s gaining popularity as an alternate form of human disposition, it’s a proven technology that has been in use in universities and colleges since 1994, and was originally patented in 1888.
Recently, I had a reporter ask if alkaline hydrolysis is the reason that the US cremation rate is over 50%, if it had pushed the cremation rate passed this milestone. The question is logical given the coverage AH has received in the media and also the push to legalize the disposition, but the impact of AH on cremation rate growth is negligible. Because alkaline hydrolysis is considered a form of cremation, it is counted with cremation in disposition rates and there is no way to accurately report AH alone.
CANA estimates that less than one tenth of one percent of cremation uses the alkaline hydrolysis process nationally. This is roughly on par with home funerals and green burials, which have also captured the imagination of consumers and professionals alike, but is rarely practiced. This figure does not (nor should it) count the thousands of pets and animals (data not collected) or the hundreds of bodies donated to institutions like the Mayo Clinic or UCLA that have AH machines in their medical schools (reported in vital statistic data as body donation).
More and more states and provinces are legalizing AH, but few of them have actual practitioners. While it takes a united front of practitioners, manufacturers, consumers, and the media to change the law, it is a different mix to make a business successful. One of the primary obstacles to new AH businesses is the business model itself. There are regulatory and financial barriers to entry, as well as the need to educate and recruit the public. Then significant capital investments and uncertainty of what consumers choosing AH will ultimately pay for the option. It took 100 years for traditional cremation to reach 5% of dispositions in the United States, but AH businesses will need to see a return on their significant investments in a much shorter timeframe to be successful. Early adopters have navigated these obstacles and are enjoying success that may be a model for others to follow.
Outcomes of CANA’s Alkaline Hydrolysis Summit
The second Alkaline Hydrolysis Summit brought practitioners, regulators, and other curious people together to discuss the practicalities of running an AH crematory. But with such low adoption of AH to date, why talk about this now? CANA specializes in bringing experts together, pooling knowledge and problem-solving with peers facing similar challenges. Our attendees were people who have been operating an alkaline hydrolysis facility for years, people who are eager to launch their own, and so many others curious about the process and how it works. And this group doesn’t represent even half of the people operating alkaline hydrolysis units every day.
Together, we gained a greater understanding of the practical and technical matters of running an alkaline hydrolysis crematory. We learned that cotton is the enemy of the process, that a larger urn is actually not always necessary, a mixture of two hydroxide salts is more effective than either alone, and so much more. But, there’s a lot we still need to learn and to share with our colleagues and the public to combat the misinformation out there. Alkaline hydrolysis has been in use for over twenty years in body donation programs and pet crematories. The science of the process is well documented. It has a significantly different environmental impact. Current practitioners have much to share regarding best practices and successful business implementation. CANA is excited to be involved in curating all this information for use by future practitioners.
The outstanding questions can only be answered by time. For instance, cremation started in cemeteries who built crematories as a side project – who will be the early adopters and evangelists for AH? At the moment, practitioners are installing units in response to market interest, regulations prohibiting flame crematories, and curiosity. Which leads to another question – what kind of training will regulators require of AH owners and operators? States and provinces vary on crematory requirements, certification standards, and even funeral director licensing, so it stands to reason that variance will continue when AH is in the mix.
We’re excited to participate in this conversation, and proud to be a resource for practitioners and the curious alike. The content presented at the summit will be made available in the coming months through articles in The Cremationist, online learning modules, and presentations at various events. Stay tuned for more...
Barbara Kemmis is Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Updated: Monday, October 8, 2018
The triumphant opening of The History of Cremation exhibit culminates more than three years of work under the guidance of several dedicated people, including CANA Historian Jason Engler, Genevieve Keeney, President and COO of the National Museum of Funeral History, and CANA’s own Executive Director, Barbara Kemmis. On September 17, 2018, the National Museum of Funeral History recognized their achievement with an opening celebration and ribbon-cutting. For many, the cremation exhibit represents the newest addition to the funeral story. For others, it is an event more than 100 years in the making.
Much of the collection on display embodies the lifelong passion of Jason Engler. A cremation enthusiast since he purchased his first urn at the age of 14, Jason has assembled an array of books, photos, urns, and pamphlets—and even the cremated remains of Baron DePalm—to tell the complete story of cremation in the United States. From DePalm’s cremation in 1876—the nation’s first—to a look at present day products, services, and statistics, the items comprising the exhibit span nearly 150 years.
As he developed the exhibit, Jason discovered that much of cremation’s history is intertwined with CANA’s history. The leaders of the national cremation movement also came together to share knowledge about best practices as this new technique grew. These men and women laid the sturdy foundation of the cremation profession, rooting it firmly beside the idea of memorialization.
The exhibition presents the work of our industry as a whole, from the care of the funeral director to the artistry of the suppliers. By showcasing the work of these dedicated cremationists throughout history, it tells the story of the past and provides a guide for the future. The visiting public will walk away knowing more about cremation, understanding that it isn’t a mere means of disposition, but the beginning of memorialization.
How to Donate to the History of Cremation Exhibit
Financial or artifact contributions are what make the History of Cremation Exhibit possible. Please consider donating to the History of Cremation Exhibit today.
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.
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.
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