Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Everybody knows some of the challenges we have in the industry right now, and that 2016 marked the first time there were more cremations than casket burials. Now, as we approach 2020, the cremation rate in the US is expected to be about 56%. This is one of the biggest challenges we face every day. Additionally, studies show that the percentage of people who feel a religious component is necessary to their service is declining rapidly. Five years ago it was about 50%, this year it’s about 40% -- a loss of about 10% of people who feel a need for a traditional religious component to their service.
Some more challenges: 70% of baby boomers do not want the same type of service that their parents or grandparents did and 62% want a much more personalized approach. Many of us, even some reading this, still only offer the very traditional services that we offered several years ago: 90% of cemeteries and funeral homes only offer very traditional things. So though consumers say they want something different, we offer them the same. We have a traditionalist mentality and the statistics mentioned above support that.
This one is probably our fault: 68% of families want an organized gathering of some sort, but only 16% know that they are able to have one. We’re the ones that said “Hey, let’s call this direct cremation and we can sell this for $495, $595, $695, $795 – cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap!” Finally, about 70% of families know they have an ability to be in a cemetery. I grew up in cemeteries, I’ve been in the cemetery business for 30 years – that statistic drives me absolutely nuts. We need to evaluate all of these challenges and find strategies to overcome them.
Strategy: Relevant Offerings
When we talk about relevant offerings, we need to give people a reason to see us other than visiting a loved one. In order to do this, you need to produce some relevant offerings at your location.
In cemeteries, I suggest having multiple products in one area: in-ground, above-ground; multiple price points – 6 or 7 is a good number (less and you look like a tightwad, more and you’ll confuse not only your families, but your staff as well); personal and private. Picture a planned community with some private homes, clusters of quad homes, and then a high-rise condominium that houses 800 people. You have a couple options as you flow through the space. But again, you have to make sure that you are giving people a reason to come visit you without visiting their loved ones. And it can be done.
Many businesses in our industry are opening their doors to other events. The right space can be used for a field trip, a wedding, and other community events. Relevancy is something we need and lack in this industry and we have to get out of our own way sometimes.
Offering food and beverage is one of the hottest trends in this industry. We’re trying to find ways, especially with our cremation consumer, to create value in what we do. Remember only 16% of families know they are able to have a gathering but 68% want one. How can we bridge that gap? It’s simple, folks: when a death occurs, between the death and when the service or cremation occurs, people eat an average of 7-9 times. That means we have 7-9 times to serve a family other than “Hey, how about a direct cremation today? Great, hand me your $695 and let’s go home.” Valuation consultants estimate that if you were to add just 12 hospitality services a year, it could bump the value of your business up $400k. With 12 a year at $600, that increases your sales and the value of your funeral home or cemetery.
Keep in mind that hospitality is a strategy. You’re not selling food, you’re not selling beverages, you’re not selling your room rental. We have to stop thinking like that. You’re selling experience and convenience. A widow who just lost her husband of 60 years has family coming in but the last thing she wants to worry about is how she’ll feed them. It’s an added stressor, so offer food trays and include it with the service or with the opening/closing fee. It becomes an automatic add-on – provide a nice platter to the family every time they come in. Stacie Schubert corporate catering for SCI, and she says “catering is for the busy, not the affluent.” Change your mindset. We think, “Catering? That’s going to be really expensive,” but it’s for people who are too busy to worry about eating the 7-9 times after a death occurs and before a service happens.
How can we plug in hospitality as part of what we’re doing? We don’t have to, but I can promise you somebody is. It may be your local hotel, country club, banquet halls, and restaurants. Every one of them is in the funeral home and cemetery space getting $1,500 for the ballroom plus food and we have the same facilities and can do the Same. Darn. Thing.
We need to create a space to hold a non-traditional funeral service. Today’s consumers are telling us repeatedly that the days of having a visitation from 6-8pm, a service at 8pm, and a graveside the next morning are done. We’ve got to find a way to meet the needs of the consumer instead of always saying “Here’s how I’ve always done it, I’m going to continue to do it this way.” I heard a joke recently,
How many cemeterians does it take change a lightbulb?
My granddaddy put that lightbulb in 40 years ago, why would I need to change it?
Provide a full catering package, and think past the funeral luncheon. A lot of people are following the family home with food after the arrangement conference because food is the last thing they’re thinking about after they just signed the authorization to cremate Dad. But they need to eat – they physically need to eat. So, people are following them home.
Give people what they want. I’m not saying you need to go out and build a huge facility, most people are retrofitting what they have.
None of this really matters unless you’re able to get the word out effectively. If only 16% of families know they can memorialize somewhere, we’re not doing a good job educating people about what their options are and about what we have to offer. We do a great job saying “direct cremation: $495,” but we don’t do a good job everywhere else. We have to be able to show we’re the experts, but more than that we have to be able to humanize ourselves to them. We’re not just creepy funeral directors, crematory operators, or gravediggers.
Did you know that YouTube is the second biggest search engine after Google? People are going to YouTube for information, 3 billion searches a month, but how many of us have an active YouTube channel? And how many people have an active email campaign? What about tying to a social cause? Giving a percentage to a charity or foundation – how hard would that be to do? You say “it’s not really relevant, John. These Boomers don’t care about that.” But guess what happens when a death occurs? They sit down with their kids or their grandkids and say “what are we going to do with Dad now?” And one of the kids, one of the 25- or 30-year-olds, googles “cremation” and sees a direct cremation for $495. So it’s not just the 80 year old person that we are serving anymore, it’s a whole lot of layers underneath that 80 year old person. And the younger generations do care about those kinds of things.
One idea is to get a cremation “genius” on your funeral home or cemetery staff – someone who specializes in cremation. Roll with me here – it’s not just how the crematory works, it’s “Oh, you want to wait and do this 6 months later? Okay. We’ll cremate Mom now, hold her here. Here’s a list of hotels, caterers, cemeteries and we’ll put this together and in 6 months we’ll have a service.” It’s similar to how you walk into an Apple Store and you talk to a “genius” and they know everything there is to know about their product. But in our funeral homes or cemeteries, we have one person who does a lot and they have to know everything. Yet with cremation we're generalists – we’re not focused on knowing everything there is to know about the process, what drives the cremation consumer, what they look like, or what pushes their buttons. But it’s what people expect.
Everyone knows the old adage that value has to equal price, but I’ll take it a little further: the perceived value has to equal the price. Sales 101 in two paragraphs:
People buy for two reasons: to get rid of a problem they don’t want or to create a result that they want but don’t have. It’s that simple. Think of your position in your marketplace with your pricing just based on that. Now let’s break that down a little bit more. You’re selling utility, the value of your product. You don’t buy a can opener to sit and be pretty, you buy it to open cans. Consumers don’t pay for products, they pay for what the product does. We have got to define our added value. We have to create something significant for people we serve. A lot of cremation is low-cost, cheap and easy. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be that way, but you can still create value for “cheap and easy.”
People buy from you for two reasons: they like you and they trust you. If they like you and trust you, they’re going to buy from you. If they don’t, they won’t (or they might, but not much). Once they see the utility behind what you’re doing, they want to see the credibility. Once they think you can deliver what they want you to deliver, they want to make sure it’s relevant to them. This is often the most crucial stage in closing the deal. To successfully get through this phase of the sale, two key skills are required: the ability to question skillfully, the ability to listen carefully. Part of our biggest problem in dealing with the consumer is not listening. We already know. We’re programmed with what we’re supposed to say. When they skew, we try to bring them back.
So, dig a little deeper. Ask questions and listen to their answers: “Tell me about yourself and your family.” Push the papers, the contract away and ask them to tell you about them. Even with a direct cremation, do this and build value.
“If you could design the perfect way to remember your loved one after they are cremated, what would it look like?” Don’t just show them the 14 urns in the catalog or on the shelf, ask them to describe what the urn, the service, the keepsake would look like. Then make relevant suggestions and create value.
What do you do?
Make a plan.
Understand where you are, create a baseline. Take the key points from this post and create a strategic plan to get where you want to be. Decide what changes you would like to make and how you are going to make them. Focus on something you could implement immediately, then focus on the short term. “When I’m at the CANA convention next year, where do I want to be?” Set a target or improvement goal. Make the beginning something easy to create value. But then set the long-term goals and figure out what you need to do in a year to make it happen. Then, make it happen.
This post was transcribed and edited for length and clarity from John Bolton's presentation at CANA's 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention on July 27, 2018 at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa in Session 7 • Beyond the Niche: Creating an Effective Cremation Development Strategy, to lead us past the “If we build it, they will come” philosophy and break down the ins and outs of developing a true cremation strategy to effectively meet the needs of today’s non-traditional cremation consumer.
With a wide range of valuable networking and educational opportunities, the CANA Convention featured sessions that examined the last 100 years of CANA conventions and growth in cremation, evaluated where businesses are today, and focused on the next 100 years by providing strategic and practical information for long-term success. Missed it? You can access John's full presentation recording and all other speakers' wisdom on our Learning Management System. View session descriptions and pricing here: gocana.org/CANA18.
Save the Date for CANA's 101st Annual Cremation Innovation Convention in Louisville, Kentucky July 31-August 2, 2019.
John Bolton is President of Blackstone Cemetery Development, which specializes in the planning, development, construction and marketing of cremation garden areas and digital mapping. With over 15 years of cemetery development experience and 30 years in the death care business, John has designed and/or implemented over 500 cremation development projects across the United States. During his 30-year career, he has served in almost every facet of the industry. He has actively managed and owned medium to large cemeteries, and funeral home/cemetery combo’s in East Tennessee, and Southwest Virginia.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, 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.
tips and tools
Posted By Barbara Kemmis,
Thursday, October 26, 2017
In recent months, preplanning and preneed have become hotly discussed topics in the death care industry. CANA has plans to address them at the Preneed Summit, a special addition to the Cremation Symposium in February – a meeting for preneed professionals and those looking to learn how to improve their preneed strategy. Stay tuned for more details.
In the meantime, consider CANA Executive Director Barbara Kemmis’s own experience with her parents.
One morning, my dad called me at work, which was a first. I was immediately concerned that bad news was coming, however it turned out my parents had made a resolution to “get their affairs in order.” They were starting the process of prearranging their funerals and updating all of their end-of-life documents. My dad’s plan was to have everything in order before I visited in a couple of months. He was calling to confirm that the funeral home he had chosen was a CANA member.
CANA gets similar calls and web inquiries from consumers regularly and it got me thinking: What does a CANA membership and CANA certification mean to the consumer? The funeral home my parents chose is well respected in the community and is a CANA member that proudly displays the CANA logo on its website and front door. The crematory operators are all CANA certified, which means the employer saw value in providing continuing education for the staff. I contacted the funeral home owner, DeWayne Cain of Rest Haven Funeral Homes in Rockwall, Texas why he sought this designation for his business and staff, and what it means to the community he serves.
Dewayne and his staff serve hundreds of families like mine every year. Dewayne said, “CANA is considered the authority in training and certification for crematory operators. The outstanding CANA workshops, seminars and continuing education courses help my staff and me stay current on best practices for crematories. Rest Haven’s affiliation with CANA is important to me and to the families we serve, because it demonstrates our commitment to the highest standards of integrity and professionalism.”
When I visited my parents, we went to the bank and spent time reviewing documents – living wills and worksheets from the funeral home. Not surprisingly, my mom had planned a lovely funeral for herself at which her many friends from church and her social clubs, former students and others could gather together. My mom is a social creature known for her party planning.
My dad’s worksheet simply stated, “Just cremate me.”
He explained that he didn’t want us to be sad or mourn him. He didn’t want a big deal made about his passing. He would be in heaven and we would see him again when it was our time. My mom and I looked at each other and then looked away. I said what she couldn’t at that moment. “I love you, Dad, and I will mourn you and I will cry when you die. I need to be surrounded by family and your friends and former students. I need to hear about the practical jokes you pulled in the classroom and the stories of your leadership in the church and community. I want to respect your wishes, but I will mark your passing. I love you too much not to.”
Cremation is really just the beginning of the conversation, though for too many people like my dad, it’s the end. Recently, I was saddened but unsurprising to read that an urn filled with cremated remains had been accidentally donated to Salvation Army. In a culture of well-meaning but uneducated consumers dealing with the new tradition of cremation, this situation is becoming all too common.
I’m grateful that my parents want to discuss preplanning and that I have access to the information provided by our members on the process, what to expect, and the importance of memorialization. As it says in the CANA Code of Cremation Practice, "Cremation should be considered as preparation for memorialization; and the dead of our society should be memorialized through a commemorative means suitable to the survivors."
The agreement I reached with my parents is that I will honor their wishes to be cremated and the details of the ceremony and final memorialization are underway. Our conversation continues about their “affairs,” and has become about much more than preplanning a cremation.
Barbara Kemmis is Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America.A version of this post first appeared on Confessions of a Funeral Director.
Join CANA at the Preneed Summit for innovative thinking around preneed for all businesses, February 6, 2018 in Las Vegas.
All 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!
Posted By CANA Staff,
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, July 18, 2017
From May 18-20, 2017, CANA staff members were privileged to participate in the InSight Institute’s Celebrant Training presented by Doug Manning and Glenda Stansbury.
As association staff, we're responsible not only for responding to the needs of our members and the industry, but also monitoring the changing winds of consumer preference and practitioner trends and understanding the difference between fads and forward thinking. InSight’s excellent celebrant training spoke to all of these concerns, describing new consumer preferences in an increasingly secular world and illuminating what the role of a funeral director is and can be.
Taking the class with industry professionals allowed us to hear stories about their work with families outside of their crematory operations and their perspective on the role of the funeral director. The thoughtful class lectures, case studies, and the final project assignment challenged preconceived notions of how our members interact with families, what consumers want, and the heart of real service to communities. We've all gained an understanding we did not have before.
Personalization Isn't Product.
I once read an unintentionally humorous article about the right number of accessories to wear based on a codified point system where certain items were worth certain points and you weren't ready to leave the house until you'd scored well. I think we can all see that, while well-intentioned, this method is ridiculous. And, like something as personal as style, you can't codify quality and sell keepsakes and products to add up points and score something as personal as memorialization. It's about knowing your audience—your own style in the case of accessorizing—and listening to a family's wants and needs in end-of-life planning.
The funeral director is the expert in options, but listening and guiding is the next step to making personalization a matter of course. Families can't be coded and assigned urns, keepsakes, and options based on assumptions about their spending, love for the deceased, or style. And it's only when consumers trust that they're being heard without judgment that they will talk and share. From there, the right products, like the right accessories, will come.
— Brie Bingham, Membership Coordinator
Watching Doug Manning and Glenda Stansbury present this workshop was a revelation. It was evident that they’ve spent many years thinking about people and grief and a meaningful way to help families and friends work through the deaths of the significant individuals in their lives—and find deeply personalized ways to remember them. Amidst the current revolution in consumer interaction with the death care industry, Doug and Glenda have developed a powerful response that was inspiring to witness. They’ve truly brought the art of listening to a new level and they lay out clear strategies to incorporate listening into interactions with those that seek their assistance.
The wealth of information and the creative and insightful approach shared by these experts has broad applications to the issues we consider as we work to serve CANA’s members and their best interests. CANA’s staff does not include any funeral directors or cremationists, so we benefit from hearing real-world experiences. Such stories helps us to see the through the eyes of the people who belong to CANA.
— Sara Corkery, Communications Manager
As the education director, I was excited to participate in Celebrant training to make sure CANA education incorporates best practices and well-rounded perspectives. But I got more than I was expecting. My father died when I was 19. He was cremated and we had a memorial service for him. During the celebrant training, we talked a lot about the importance of a funeral or memorial service in beginning the healing process. As I thought back to my father’s service, I began to appreciate what my step-mother did, instead of resent it. She had taken control of planning my father’s service and what resulted was far different than anything the rest of the family was expecting. In other words, a traditional service. What we attended instead was a highly personalized celebration. Various people told stories about my father that I hadn’t heard before, and we played his favorite music. It was exactly what it should have been, but twenty years ago I didn’t understand that and still didn’t until I attended the celebrant training. And once that understanding took root, I was overcome by a desire to make sure everyone I know gets to experience that kind of funeral or memorial service when they lose someone they love.
At the same time I was experiencing a personal healing, I was also learning a lot about the funeral industry. As someone with no training in funeral service, I was shocked to learn that funeral directors aren’t the ones leading funeral or memorial services, and they aren’t the ones helping families plan them either. It’s usually a clergy person who may or may not know the family or the deceased. That explains why my step-mother did most of the service planning. The concept of a celebrant was almost non-existent in the US in 1996. Now I’m excited whenever I talk to funeral directors who have been through celebrant training or incorporate them into their business models. But I also see a huge missed opportunity for those who have not.
— Jennifer Head, Education Director
I'd rather be ignored for $2,000 than $10,000.
I found celebrant training to be a transformative experience. I didn't expect to relive every funeral and grief experience of my life on day one, but that is exactly what happened. At the end of the session I was emotionally drained, but also exhilarated. Doug Manning and Glenda Stansbury provided the language to describe so many of my negative and positive experiences.
In response to a question about the increase in direct cremation, he told an anecdote when he was told, "I paid $10,000 for my father's funeral and my grief was ignored. The funeral director didn't direct anything, just took my order. I'd rather be ignored for $2000."
This story struck me profoundly. I thought about the behaviors of funeral directors that made the most impact on me, such as anticipating my need for a tissue or water, hugging or touching me when I needed comfort and saying my family member or friend's name. I have never been ignored, thankfully, but no one deserves to be ignored.
— Barbara Kemmis, Executive Director
CANA Staff send our warmest thanks to Doug Manning and Glenda Stansbury of the Insight Institute for sharing their passion and professional expertise during the Celebrant Training course. We congratulate our fellow new Certified Celebrants who joined us for this course!
tips and tools
Posted By CANA,
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Have you ever really planned a funeral service event?
Sure, the flowers are set up, the urn is in place, the seats are reserved, and staff knows exactly what to do and when to facilitate a flawless service. But all too often, the actual ceremony, the most meaningful part and the invaluable marketing tool telling everyone in the audience what you do matters, is left in the hands of the family.
For most of us, consulting with families is a mixture of how the person we interned under did it, mixed with a lot of trial and error. Though we want to serve well, we default to an "Every family, every option, every time" approach giving the family our entire set of resources, in hopes that they will choose well. But to your client, it means "I’m unwilling to get to know you, so I’m dumping my entire bag of tricks on the table, and hopefully you can pick what you want."
Beyond legal and financial matters, they have five basic choices to make in their time with you, their trusted guide: 1) having a viewing, 2) type of remembrance event, 3) a final resting place for their loved one’s remains, 4) an appropriate container for saying “good-bye”, and 5) an appropriate urn and/or keepsakes.
As a profession, we have a tendency to either (a) make assumptions and not educate families well or (b) to overwhelm them with options. Instead, we must become expert consultants, asking the right questions and making meaningful recommendations.
Out of necessity, we have to ask families a lot of questions. We are skilled at asking questions clearly and compassionately. We often focus on the questions that meet our immediate needs, but we must also ask the questions that reveal memories and stories stacked with emotion and importance. Examples of these “feeling finding” questions are:
- What are the special things you hope friends and family members will remember most about your brother?
- Who were some of your son’s closest friends? What were those relationships like? How did they spend their time together?
- When your grandmother found time to relax, what would she do?
Being a good interviewer hinges upon your ability to be a good listener. Fight the tendency to tell your own stories in response to what the family is sharing and focus only on the family at that time – set aside the to-do list and listen.
These answers allow us to guide families on the choices they need to make – your suggestions give them permission to be creative. Be willing to take the remembrance event outside your facility or bring the essence of a unique location inside because your recommendations should flow into the event experience itself. Consider the stadium, the beach, the driving range, and other outside-the-funeral-home-box places.
By focusing on asking the right questions and honing our creative event planning skills, you can ensure that each family’s experience is the best possible and that, ceremony or not, the outcome is an experience that you can be proud of having provided.
With thanks to Justin Baxley, Senior Vice President of Business Development for Foundation Partners Group, for sharing his passion and professional expertise.
For more information, take CANA’s new Cremation Arrangement Conference online class get more tips for talking to families.
Members can read more techniques in Vol. 53, No. 2 Issue of The Cremationist.
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