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Archive for August, 2010

I have noticed that funeral directors sometimes have a hard time seeing the difference between a product and a service. This is especially true when it comes to many of the “Other Services” (see previous post) that funeral homes are now providing. If you will, please indulge me in a little self promotion to make my point.

We are a Life Story Funeral Home. 5 years ago I joined a progressive group of Funeral Directors who had formed the Life Story Network. They had designed a system to gather the life story from a family and then produce a wonderful suite of products that include a written life story, memory folders containing pictures and the written story, Two video’s that tell the story (not just slide show) A website that allows people to read the story, see the video and share memories and photos with each other, Life Panel collage, custom, cards, register books and more. They can produce this material in 24 hours, send it back to us via the internet and then we burn the videos and print all the materials at our place. Plus Life Story Network trains your staff how to do all of this. It’s an amazing system. It has completely changed how I look at funeral service, how I do my job, and how I relate to the families. I will never go back to doing things the way I used to.

Here’s a link to the last 30 days of our calls. The bolded names are the families that chose to have us help them tell their Life Story. Click on a few and you’ll get an idea of what we do.

Clock Life Stories

I also belong to a number of funeral Groups that include funeral industry leaders from around the country. I attend several meetings a year with these folks. I try to make it to the big conventions too. And at all of them I talk about Life Story. I have given presentations on it and I have talked one on one with folks and shown them what we do. The typical response is polite acknowledgement that it’s a nice product. They usually say they do something just like it or just as good. They also say things like “isn’t that a lot of extra work”, “isn’t it expensive” “I haven’t got time for that”. And the big operators figure they can do the same thing in-house themselves. (I thought the same thing and tried for a few years before joining the Life Story Network)

The challenge is that these folks think what I am telling them about is a product.

Products are typically commodities that people can buy at multiple places. The same caskets can be bought at most any funeral home or even Walmart. You just make a phone call and it’s delivered to your door. Take your photos to a Big Box store and get a slide show on a DVD. Do you want pretty folders with butterflies on them? I can get them by the thousands. Folders with simple templates that allow you to drop in photos are better, but any funeral home can buy them and so can the public.

Life Story is a SERVICE. Life Story is not a product or a suite of products. It’s not something we buy at wholesale and sell at retail. It’s a SERVICE that we provide to the families that call us. It’s something we do for our families that sets us apart from everyone else. So if the true value of a funeral is 1. the Gathering of People and 2. the Telling of Stories, what better service to provide than helping the family tell the Life Story of their loved one to everyone that attends the gatherings at our funeral home.

It’s in the arrangement conference where the true “Life Story is a SERVICE” first comes into play. Think about this. I spend at least 2 hours gathering the great stories from the family; SERVICE. (Gathering the life story is the most rewarding thing that I have ever done in funeral service. It really connects me with the families.) I spend another hour typing, organizing and uploading those notes; SERVICE. The professional life story writer spends 2-3 hours writing a unique Life Story; SERVICE. I spend 90 minutes going through photos with the family, scanning them, uploading them; SERVICE. The life story graphic folks spend 2 hours cropping, tweaking, doing layout to make the Life Panel, Memory Folders, books and cards; SERVICE. The Life Story video folks spend 2 hours editing, panning and zooming, adding music to create two different videos that tell a story (not just a slide show); SERVICE. I spend another hour printing, folding, collating, cutting, sticking and burning to make all the products. Then I spend another 30 minutes setting up all the products; SERVICE. All of that stays online forever; SERVICE. Add it all up and there’s at least 12 man hours of service there. That’s twice as many man hours as it takes to prepare, dress, cosmetize and casket a body. Which service is more important? How much would you charge for each service? Which service can you provide when the family chooses cremation with no viewing?

In the end that family walks away with a few Life Story products (things you can see, touch and hold). Those Life Story products enhance their experience with us. Those Life Story products always make the gathering better. Those Life Story products will last for generations to come. A Life Story Memory Folder and a Life Story Video with a professionally written life story is always a completely unique product every time because every Life Story is one of a kind. It’s the SERVICE that we provide to make the product that is valuable to the family, not the piece of paper that it’s printed on or the DVD it’s burned on. The SERVICE behind the Life Story products is what sets us apart.

I know that the Life Story system is not for all funeral homes out there. And many folks are doing a fine job with the products they use and offer. But are there things that you are providing for families that are really services and you are selling them like products? Just because what you do doesn’t involve a body doesn’t mean it isn’t a valuable service.

I’m Dale Clock. Thanks for listening.

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In my last post I talked a little bit about “Other Services”. These are the things that we do for people that are not tied to the body or the box (casket/vault). As time goes on I’m positive that these other services are going to be as important to the success of the funeral industry as the traditional services we now provide.

Some of these “other services” include Reception Planning, Reception Setup and Cleanup, Catering, Master of Ceremonies, Celebrant, Scanning photos, Retouching photos, Printing Photos, Graphic Design and Print product production. Life Story Information gathering, Life Story Writing, Video production, Video recording, Video Presentation, Video Broadcasting, Digital Music procurement, Music Playlist production, Display design for personal items and memorabilia, Aftercare/Grief Counseling, Transitional Care, Benefits processing, Insurance processing, Contributions processing, Website entry, Social media entry, Web site maintenance, Post funeral follow-up, Cremation product customization and more. Plus providing and maintaining all the equipment necessary to do all of those services.

That’s a pretty long list, huh??? I’m sure some of you could add some other items to the list.  These are the “other services” that many progressive funeral homes are providing now. 25 years ago I didn’t provide a single one of those services and now I do them all and I’m trying to make them my signature services. Yet none of these are taught in mortuary school or require a funeral directors license. In fact, people can get all of these services elsewhere or do it themselves. And there in lies the challenge. When you take away the “Spook Factor” (see previous post) people can put on an event without us. Our challenge is to show people that we are still the affordable right choice for hosting that special event.

So how do we do that? I’m not exactly quite sure yet. But here are some thoughts.

If the true value of a funeral is 1. The gathering of people and 2. The telling of stories, then those two things need to become the focus of what we do. They have to be the “Main Thing” and everything else has to compliment the Main Thing. Does your facility and its layout make it easy for people to gather and share stories? Is it open and inviting? Do you serve snacks and beverages? Or are the chairs arranged so it’s easy for you to set up the room in straight lines for tomorrow’s service?? And do you force people to stand in a receiving line instead of spreading the family out so guests can visit with the family members that they know or even just talk to each other. Remember it’s about telling stories.

Do you encourage other friends and family members to speak at the service? Do you spend an extra hour with the family gathering the stories of their loved ones life and then act as the Master of Ceremonies and share some of those stories with the guests. Or do you just get Pastor Bob to give sermon # 3. Do you get 50 photos from the family and drop them into the standard slide show program with the nature scenes and the heavenly flight intro?  Or do you take the time to put captions on the photos so the slide show tells a story and is more than just pictures of people the guests may not know.

I could go on with dozens of more examples but I think you get the gist if it all. Think about everything that you do and see how it relates to the 2 Main Things. My theory is that if we can show the public that we can help them, better than anyone, put on the kind of gathering they want and make it easy for them to tell their stories and for them to hear other people’s stories, then our businesses will continue to thrive. If we don’t then people will continue to use us only for the disposition of the body and look elsewhere for someone to help put on the party they want.

I’m Dale Clock. Thanks for listeneing.

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In my previous post I said that in its most basic form “Service” is something you do for someone else and Great Service is doing that something with heart and a smile on your face.

Typically I think most funeral homes give wonderful service. They care about the people and they do the standard stuff they have done for the last 75 years with compassion and empathy. But because so much of what they traditionally do is tied to the body and the box, many funeral homes are having a hard time seeing that the things they do that are not tied to the body and the box are services too. And those other services are just as important as the traditional services. Plus, with an increase in cremation, no viewing and memorial services it’s those other services that are going to have to produce the income that we will all need to stay in business.

The services that are tied to the body and the box all have the “Spook Factor” attached to them and that typically has played to our advantage. “The Spook Factor” (my wife invented that term) is anything having to do with a dead body. The general public is scared of dead people. It gives them the creeps. It’s spooky. Horror movies are all about death and dead people. But we funeral folks are the small special breed that isn’t scared of dead people. So the general public calls on us to take care of the things that scare them. And since we’re already taking care of the dead body they figure they might as well use us for all the events that involve that body. And that’s where all of the traditional services that we provide came from.

We, funeral folks, have always provided those services involving the body with care, compassion and kindness. For the most part, we are not in this line of work to get rich (God knows that’s never going to happen to me) but we are in this line of work because we like to take care of people.  Deep down we know that there is a spiritual, religious, psychological and sociological purpose for what we do and why we do it. But I think, over the years, our focus on the body and the box have led many people in Funeral Service to believe that the value of a funeral is all centered around the body, it’s preparation, the viewing of it, the ceremony involving it and taking the body to it’s final destination.

Unfortunately that is a very self-serving belief. Attempts to “educate the public” in the belief of this value will ultimately fail because the public will (and does) see it as self-serving. Using the mere handful of funeral industry psychologists that support this belief as experts will not work either. If it were true that we, as human beings, absolutely needed to view a dead body and have a ceremony with that body present to have a healthy recovery from the emotional loss of that person, then the whole world would be filled with crazy people and every other day there would be a different expert on “Dr. Phil” and “Oprah” telling us view dead bodies. I do believe that there is value in viewing a body for some people. And that there is value in ceremony for most people. But the value of a funeral does not require a body, or a box or even an official ceremony.

What I have come to believe is this:

The true value of a funeral is the Gathering Together of People to share Stories of love, memories, respect, and honor. We, as human beings, need that contact and the emotional connection. We gather together at happy times and sad times. We gather at births, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, retirements and deaths. We gather to worship, to praise, to celebrate and to mourn. And at every one of those gatherings…. we tell stories. It is through those stories that we share our love, knowledge, memories, respect and honor for one another.

It’s our job as funeral directors to make that Gathering easy, comfortable, meaningful and memorable for all who attend. It’s our job to help people tell their stories and help people hear the stories of others. Each gathering can be as unique or traditional as desired. It can include a multitude of products, music, personal items and food. And yes, the Gathering can include the body and the box and a parade to the final resting place. The pieces and parts all add to the value of the whole. But at the core, the true value always comes back to the same two elements; The gathering of people and the telling of stories.

In My next post I’ll talk about the “Other Services” we now provide and how all of it relates to the core Value of Funerals.

I’m Dale Clock. Thanks for listening.

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There are many articles I read about the funeral business that talk about service. “You gotta give ‘em great service”; “Our staff gives the best service” “it’s all about service” Yet as Alan Creedy said in comments on his blog, when he asks a funeral director to describe what it is about their service that sets them apart from the other guy, usually the funeral director is at a loss for words.

So what is service??   I think of it like this:

Service…. is something….. that you do…… for someone else.

Great Service…. is when you do that something….with a smile on your face and warmth in your heart.

It’s really that simple. It doesn’t matter if you’re picking up garbage, delivering flowers or embalming a body. The same principles apply. Great Service comes from the heart.

The challenge with funeral service today is that so much of what we traditionally did for people was tied to the Body and the Box. Embalming, dressing, cosmetics, casketing, explaining, providing and selling the casket and vault, moving and placing the casket and body, transportation of the casket, equipment to hold the casket, a building designed to easily accommodate the casket and body and more. Now with the increase of cremation, decrease in visitations and viewing, decrease in processions and an increase in DIY memorial services… the services that we have been trained to provide are no longer desired.

So what service is it that we are supposed to provide for people?  What is it that people truly value about what we do?

I just read a couple books that Alan Creedy suggested. “Marketing Metaphoria” and “How Customers Think” both by Gerald Zaltman. They were very thought provoking and I highly recommend both of them. Some of the things I learned from them were that most decisions/choices are made on an emotional level, not logical or analytical. And that it’s a deep unconscious thought/feeling that holds those emotions. The Zaltman’s have developed an interview system that can discover the deep metaphors that harbor those emotions that can give us insight into what people value and why they buy what they buy. I completely agree with Alan that it would be great to have the Zaltmans do some work for the funeral industry to help all of us understand what people really think/feel/value about funerals. The customer surveys and market studies that I have done really haven’t told me much in this area. The future success of my business lies in understanding what today’s customer’s emotional needs are and then making sure that my services and products meet those needs.

In my next post I’ll talk about what I think some of the values of the funeral are.

FYI – I bought the Kindle edition of Marketing Metaphoria online from Amazon. Then I downloaded the free “Kindle for PC” software on my Laptop, Work and Home computers. I don’t own a Kindle (yet) but my wife does and it’s a great little piece of hardware. With the Kindle for PC I was able to read the book where ever I was. You can adjust the look and font size which is great because the computer screen is sometimes in-between my regular and cheater lenses of my bifocal glasses. It also keeps your place, so where ever you open the book up next it knows where you left off.

I’m Dale Clock.  Thanks for listening.

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