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Archive for February, 2011

The Funeral Home Office

A friend of mine who writes for the funeral industry is doing an article on how things have changed in the office at the funeral home. He asked me what I thought about the changes, what’s working, what’s not and what do I think is coming down the road in the future. So here are a few thoughts.

I am a systems guy. From my engineering degree, to my days in the Navy, to my being a devoted fan of Michael Gerber, the author of the E-Myth, I am a firm believer that if the system is in place and you train people to work in the system, things will work better. And there is no more important place to have good systems than in the office. Many of the systems that we use in our office at the funeral home were put in place decades ago and we still use the same basic structure today. The way we number our cases, the information we gather and the forms we use look very similar to the ones we used nearly 100 years ago. Yes, we gather additional information (fields) and store  it in different places (electronic files, pdf’s) but the process hasn’t changed a whole lot.

It’s all about access to information. The office has typically been the place where the information is stored and organized. And to get at that information you had to go to the office or talk to somebody who was there. Now with computers and the internet we can have access to that information anywhere we are. We also have access to much more information. And more information can be a good thing and a bad thing. Having too much information (showing 150 caskets on a kiosk, all with interchangeable corner pieces and cap panels) can be overwhelming. But if it is organized so people can narrow down their choices easily it can increase customer satisfaction.

What has been a big improvement for funeral directors is to have much more expansive lists of things available to them during the arrangement conference. By just clicking on a file folder on a monitor you can get church lists, florists, singers, phone numbers, pictures of merchandise, pre-arrangements, etc. The ability to quickly compose obituaries for proof reading is a big plus too.

For many years I have been trying to get a presentation program that works during the arrangement conference. As a manager with multiple directors talking to families, it’s my desire to make sure that there is a consistent delivery of information to each family. I always felt that if I could get a program on a screen that could help the directors deliver that information it would help. I looked at all of the programs developed by the casket companies first. As expected, they were always product oriented. Then I looked at the funeral data management programs. Those tended to be busy screens asking for too much information. Then we joined Life Story and we used their Today Presentation for a number of years. It had great information and graphic design but it didn’t flow the way we were used to talking to our families. And the program didn’t allow us to tweak it without going through the designers which always seemed to take forever because of the back and forth communications.

So last year I designed a program in PowerPoint. It wasn’t that hard to do. I have some basic knowledge of the program. The most important feature to designing this is the “hyperlink” control. It allows you specify a word, or graphic or box on the screen that when clicked on will take you to another page. My program allows my directors to use as little or as much of the program as they are comfortable with and what is needed for each individual family. It also includes all of our merchandise and packages. It has worked well so far and I can make changes to when ever I need to. It’s still a work in progress and I could use someone with a better eye for graphic design to clean it up for me.

What I haven’t developed yet is a way to use this technology to better show what it is we (the funeral home & staff) do and what we can provide. I believe that with the use of video and short slideshows/commercials (2 minutes or less) we can easily show families the options and possibilities along with showing just what the funeral home does behind the scenes and why they should consider using us for all of their “gathering/funeral/memorial service/celebration” needs.

I also believe that once these short “info-mercials” are done they could be shown on lobby video screens, kiosks, online and also put on to DVD’s that can be given to people during pre-arrangements and in any info packets.

The other part of the office that has changed dramatically is the production of printed material. When I first started in funeral service  we had one register book, one memorial folder with the 23rd psalm on it and took everything to the printer where it was type set. Now we have custom books and folders and color printers and scanners and web pages and slide shows and videos. So many different options it can make you head spin. For us, we have taken much of this work out of the office and created a whole separate job description. We also created a whole separate location in the building where all the print/video production is done. Yet for some smaller funeral homes this is probably still done in the main office which just adds to the list of things the secretary/office person has to do.

The amount of “stuff” that the office will be responsible for will only continue to grow. Doing things digitally instead of in person will continue to grow; death certificates, billing and payments, body identification and tracking, video conferencing during the funeral arrangements, video recording and broadcasting of the service. Online obituaries will eventually eliminate the printed version.

So as I stated above, it’s all about access to information. The funeral home office will continue to be in charge of getting, storing and distributing that information. The technology they use to do that is changing which allows the office to work with more information than they ever have before. It’s the same job just more stuff.

I’m Dale Clock. Thanks for listening.

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A Proud Father

After reflecting on my last post I realized that I forgot to tell about something else.

My daughter, Kellie, left last week for 6 months on a study abroad program to the Czech Republic. She is a junior at Michigan State University in the James Madison College majoring in Comparative Cultures and Politics. OK, so you don’t know what the heck that major really is. But in simple terms it means she’s studying how different cultures (countries, societies, people) act and relate to everyday life. And how those different cultures can work together. You’d be surprised how important this is to big international companies who need to understand how to sell the products and services to people all over the world. Kellie spent her junior year of high school as a Rotary Exchange Student in Finland and fell in love with foreign studies.

Kellie was supposed to leave two weeks ago but ran into some challenges with getting her Visa from the Czech Republic. It seems that they changed which official agency was doing the paperwork over there and it got lost in transition along with some 40 other students trying to get over there. Well, Kellie didn’t take this sitting down. She contacted everyone she could think of; teachers, friends, professors, congressman, senators, you name it. With the magic of facebook she was able to instantly touch base with other students in the Czech Republic and work on things from over there too.

She is also writing a blog for the university (MSU) about her study abroad experience and she started detailing her efforts there. Her story got picked up by the newspaper in the Czech Republic and a reporter called her. The resulting article didn’t paint a pretty picture of the government. But magically a few hours after the paper came out, Kellie received word that her Visa had been approved.

I couldn’t be more proud of her. She’s quite a talented writer. Here’s the link to her blog. http://clockkel.blogspot.com where you can also read the translated article from the Czech paper.

It’s also amazing to me how things have changed so much since my first days of foreign travels when I was a Navy Midshipman in the late 1970’s. On my first trip to the Philippines in 1976 I had to sign up to make a phone call back home. The operator had to make the connection and it cost me $20.00 for a 5 minute call. On Thursday morning while sitting at my computer in my bathrobe Kellie rang me up on Skype for a free 20 minute video chat. I could see her and she could see me.  She told me all about her flight, and train and bus ride to get her to the university in the Czech Republic. (which she did all by herself) I had already seen on her bank account online that she had gotten cash there and transferred enough money get her going for a couple weeks. How much easier and better things are now than from just the few years ago when I was in college where I had to buy toothpaste and write a check at the local drug store in order to get a few dollars spending money. I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like in another 25 years.

I’m Dale Clock. Thanks for listening.

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It’s Always Something

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks.

First off, my wife and I took our annual vacation to Mexico. It was a great break for us. Quiet, sunny, relaxing and very much needed. I read two books, the new Clive Cusler adventure staring his Dirk Pitt character. (kind of like Indiana Jones meets Sea Hunt) and Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” ( he’s the author of the DaVinci Code). It was good to wrap my mind around something other than work.  I don’t take a whole lot of time off when I’m home because as the big cheese (as some of my staff like to call me) I tend to be at work more than I really need to be. Which was proved by the fact my staff did a great job taking care of everything while I was gone. I even missed the Snow-pocalypse of 2011. And I’ll have you know the snow burner kept right up with the over 2 feet of snow that fell over two days.

Second, it’s been a busy year at the funeral home so far. When I tell people that, the typical response is “that’s good for you but not so good for the people”. That’s the dilemma we funeral people have with talking about our business. Some people get the fact that it is a business and it’s important that we have enough activity to keep the doors open and pay the bills and our staff. And there will always be people who look at us as merchants of death, who take advantage of people in their moment of grief. The fact is 95% of all people in funeral service are very caring, good folks who take care of the people that call on them as if they were their best friend. Unfortunately the other 5% can be real bad folks, who are only interested in money. And somehow the press always finds those folks and portrays all of us like those 5%. Such is life. Good news doesn’t sell papers.

Third is I’ve had a couple of medical issues to deal with. One of my staff became terribly ill while at work. He started shaking uncontrollably, could hardly talk and wasn’t breathing right. We called the ambulance. They were there in minutes and got him to the hospital. It turned out to be an infection in his kidneys that had spread to his blood. He is 75 years old and one of those guys who says “I’ll be fine”. He’s OK, but it scared the crap out of all of us.

Then a few days later, my wife, Jodi, while giving a eulogy at her former mother-in-laws funeral, out of town, had a massive migraine attack (she’d never had one before). She got violently ill, they called the ambulance, went to the small town hospital emergency room, got marginal care but eventually got some drugs into her and calmed things down a bit. Luckily her son was with her while I drove 2 hours to be with her. After a few tests they decided it wasn’t a stroke and I drove her home. I played caretaker for the next few days, made another trip to the emergency room for more drugs and tried to keep her off the phone. I figure it was all stress related. Jodi is always juggling a dozen different projects and I think one of them hit her in the head. I hope this lets her know she can’t do it all and slows down a little (fat chance).

On top of all of that, the 3 rooftop furnaces at my Grand Haven branch are all taking a crap and they tell me I need to replace them all very soon. That’s 20 grand I don’t have. Oh well, It’s always something.

I’m Dale Clock. Thanks for listening.

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