Archive for November, 2010

Several weeks ago we had a Clergy breakfast here at the funeral home. We had a dozen area clergy from a variety of churches come and dialogue about the state of funerals, memorial services, new trends and generally commiserate about the challenges they face in dealing with their parishioners and funeral homes. Some of them thought we were going to give some dog and pony show about a new program we were trying to push. But they were pleased to find out that we really just wanted to hear from them, the clergy, on what they felt were the issues at hand.

One of the main topics discussed were memorial services at their churches where no funeral home was involved. At our funeral home we have given these types a services an acronym, OSNR. That stands for Our Services Not Requested. With the increasing cremation rate in our area and the current economic challenges the clergy were seeing an increase in this type of service. And while a few churches have committees and personnel to handle all of the setup necessary to handle such services, many of they clergy at our breakfast stated that it was a lot of additional work on their part to organize and run the memorial services. Not that they weren’t willing to help but that they (the clergy) really appreciated it when the funeral home people were there. The clergy also said that families really don’t understand all that goes into setting up a service and then making the service run smoothly and on time. One pastor asked if I could give her a list of everything that we did so she could show it to her parishioners so that they could understand what needs to happen  when they choose not to have a funeral home involved with the service. So I put together a list that is at the end of this post.

Some of the problem is that funeral homes have done too good a job over the years and people don’t notice what we do because we do it so quietly and behind the scenes. What we do isn’t hard to do. It’s not rocket science. But we know how to do it very well. We have the equipment and the experience to know what goes where and at what time to do what needs to be done.

It’s the little things like pens, contribution envelopes, collection plates and hiding the church guest book so people don’t sign it instead of the funeral register book. It’s knowing where the light switch is and that the church secretary likes to have someone at the back door to help run the elevator. It’s making sure the lunch crew has placemats and napkins and helping them set up extra tables when the crowd is bigger that expected. It’s putting everything back where you found it so come Sunday the parishioners have things just they way they’re used to it. I could go on and on.

My father used to make us go the OSNR memorial services at the church, even though people weren’t paying us for that service. He figured we better show up to make sure everything got started OK because our name was on the obit and people would expect us to be there. But at some point we had to stop doing that. It wasn’t fair to the paying customers. We hope that people will see the value that we bring to services. I’m sure price plays a part in all of this and finding the right charge that seems reasonable to people is key. The challenge is getting folks to understand all that we do. The Clergy know.

Can a family run a successful memorial service on their own? Sure they can. You can also change the wax ring on your leaky toilet for less than $ 5.00. But you pay the plumber to come and do it because he has the right tools, the right parts and knows what to do when something isn’t quite right. It’s not hard to do, but the plumber knows how to do it.

I’m Dale Clock.  Thanks for listening.

And here the list of what we do for a memorial service. Just in case you want to Do It Yourself.

Arranging the service

  1. Call the church secretary
  2. Call the minister
  3. Call the organist
  4. Call the soloist
  5. Arrange for catering
  6. Compose the obituary
  7. Submit the obituary to the newspapers
  8. Cut Checks for
    • Minister
    • Organist
    • Soloist
    • Custodian
    • Sound Tech
    • Caterer

Service setup – arrive at least One Hour prior to service time

Equipment and products that we provide

  1. Delivery Van
  2. Flower stands
  3. Cremation Stand
  4. Easels
  5. Poster boards
  6. Picture frames and stands
  7. Video equipment
    • Plasma Screen
    • Video Projection
    • DVD player
    • Digital Movie Camera
  8. Pens
  9. Contribution envelopes
  10. Signage
  11. Register books
  12. Memorial folders
  13. Prayer cards
  14. Mass Cards

What we do at the service

  1. Deliver flowers to service location
  2. Set up Flowers in service area
  3. Move flowers to reception area after service
  4. Deliver flowers as directed after the service & reception
  5. Setup Cremation Urn and Stand in Service Area
  6. Set up and arrange the Lobby/Narthex
    • Tables
    • Signs
    • Register Stand, Book, Pens
    • Contribution envelopes
    • Contribution Plate/box
    • Easels
    • Poster Boards and Pictures
    • Video equipment
  7. Deliver Checks to Minister, Organist, Soloist etc…
  8. Stuff and combine memorial folders, prayer cards, song inserts and Church Service Folders
  9. Usher people into service area
  10. Crowd control and guidance in Lobby/narthex
  11. Parking lot control and assistance with doors and elevators
  12. Pass out Service Folders and Music Books
  13. Start the service in a timely fashion
  14. Video Tape the Service
  15. Run sound equipment when needed
  16. Dismiss and usher out the service attendees
  17. Direction to reception area
  18. Move all photos, videos and personal memorabilia to reception area
  19. Collect, sort, deliver and process contribution envelopes to proper locations.
  20. Clean up and reset all church/facility furniture and equipment to original setup
  21. Deliver all photos, videos and personal memorabilia to residence following activities

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In a recent seminar I attended the speaker stated that we (Funeral Homes) need to educate the public on the value of a funeral before they (the public) come into our doors. In general I agree with that statement. Knowledge is power and the more people know about funerals and the services we offer the better they can make decisions that they will be happy with when everything is all done.

One challenge is – What is it that we want to educate the public about?
Here’s a list of things to consider (in no particular order).

  1. The value of a funeral and ceremony
  2. The value of viewing a body
  3. Grief, loss and recovery
  4. Services we offer
  5. Products we offer
  6. Prices
  7. Our staff
  8. Our facilities
  9. Funeral customs and etiquette

These are typical things that we put on our web sites and in brochures that we print up. Which ones are the most important?  What should we talk about first?

But is this what the public wants to know or are these the topics we want to “Preach” at them about? It’s a dilemma that we as funeral directors have. We want to inform the public about the things listed above, but if we present the information in too much of a “sales” format we fear that the public/press will portray us as merchants of death.

I’m a big fan of Seth Godin, author of over a dozen different marketing books and one of the web’s most popular blogs at http://sethgodin.typepad.com (I read Seth’s Blog everyday). Seth has always said that people learn best through stories. Put a message in a story and people will put it into the context of their own life. Think of the popular book “Who Moved My Cheese” or all the parables in the Bible. These are stories that teach us values we live by.

I think that funeral service needs to collect true stories from around the country and put them together in an easy to read parable that allows the public to see all the different aspects of funerals, customs, and rituals.

Tell me your stories. I’ll start collecting them. We’ll see where it leads.

I’m Dale Clock. Thanks for listening.

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Seminars at NFDA

When I go to any funeral service conventions or gatherings I always try to get to as many of the seminars as possible. I like to learn what other folks are doing and see if there are any good ideas that I might apply to my business. I attended 6 different presentations this time in New Orleans. One on web sites and the internet search engines, Alan Creedy’s talk on the future of funeral service, employees and motivation. A great presentation on Pet Funeral Homes and memorialization by Coleen Ellis, a group participation called 60 ideas in 60 minutes where the audience shared good ideas that they were doing, A round table discussion with fellow Selected Independent Funeral Home members and a 2 hour presentation by web site provider FuneralOne, Bill McQueen from Florida and  Lajos Szabo from Schoedinger’s in Ohio. My wife Jodi went to several different presentations and we also got the printed handout from a few that neither of us could make.

When I get back home I go through my notes and try to remember the stuff that I liked. My dad always taught me that all you need to do is bring home a few nuggets from these meeting and it makes it worth the trip. There were many things I already knew and appreciated being reminded about and I did pick up a few good things in each of these meetings.

The one I enjoyed the most was the FuneralOne/McQueen/Schoedinger presentation titled. “Educating Today’s Families on the True Meaning and Value of Funeral Service”. Since I have been giving that very topic a lot of thought over the last year I was curious to see what these folks had to say about it. FuneralOne has really embraced the new “facebook” era of the internet. They have designed some very impressive and progressive web sites for McQueen’s and Schoedinger’s that have the look and feel of facebook and many of the same feature; the ability to upload photos, videos, and communicate with other visitors to the web site in addition to leaving personal messages for the family. And as I expected much of this seminar was a promotion for FuneralOne, which is OK. I try to look past the promotional aspect and focus on the content of what they were saying. But just so you know, the Life Story Network web site has already been doing this very thing for over 7 years now. Anyway…..

These were the major points I wrote down.

  1. Funeral Homes need to educate the public before they come in our doors.
  2. Things that have changed with the internet revolution
    1. How people get information
    2. How they engage with other people
    3. How they make purchasing decisions
  3. Funeral Business used to be 80% logistics and 20% making people feel better and now it needs to be 20% Logistics and 80% making people feel better.
  4. Funerals should be a healing experience
  5. Websites need to enhance conversations in addition to providing meaningful content and information.
  6. Funeral homes need to join in the conversations.

Rather than try to talk about these points in a long blog entry I’m going to take a few of them at a time and expand on them over a couple different posts. I invite you to give these ideas some thought and then join in the conversation with me.

I’m Dale Clock.  Thanks for listening.

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