The Value of Funeral Service

The funeral story is about life, family, and friends.

Written by Candace Franco

A prearranged funeral has a common thread – a story line – that is composed by funeral professionals on both the advance planning side and at-need side of funeral service. It is more than a set of directions and paperwork. Writing neatly and including detailed information may be important, but it is not what brings the story to life. In the end, the funeral “story” is about life, family, and friends. All funeral professionals need to bring those elements into the conversation.

It is easy, in this day and age, to forget why we do what we do – why we have funerals. Why we need to tell our loved one’s life tale. Everyone seems to be so focused on price and shopping that it is easy to get swept up and lose sight of how a funeral helps a family who has lost someone they love.

A year from now, or maybe 20 years from now, a funeral director will open the pre-need file you put together this morning. He will be in the presence of those left behind, the family. How will they feel? Most likely there will be relief, coupled with sadness. The family will be relieved that there will be money to cover the cost, relief in knowing what to do. Relief is good, but as we all know, it will not diminish the loss or the sadness. The funeral will begin to do that.

The funeral will gather friends and family. For a time, the conversation will be about what happened. The details of the illness and the medical treatment that was given will be discussed. If an accident occurred, the circumstances and speculation about the cause will most likely be talked about. But then, at some point, the conversation will turn. Someone who worked with the deceased will share a story with a family member. Suddenly, a daughter who knew her father only in his father role will see a different side. Knowing that her father’s co-worker laughed with her Dad, was mentored by her Dad, or learned a valuable skill from her Dad will comfort her.

The focus will change from what happened to her father to who her father was. The long healing process will begin.

As funeral professionals, we need to get it right. On the pre-need side, we need to be certain we consider the survivors when we put together a funeral plan. We need to ask: “Who is closest to you?” “Who do we need to think about as we put together your funeral plan?” “How can we help your family?” We need to try to change the focus from hurry, hurry, and cost to family and friends. That is not always easy.

Sometimes we don’t know how to ask, so we don’t. Some of us are so comfortable with “the way we do pre-need” that we fail to update our process to meet the changing market. Too often, we just let the customer “drive” with cost. We need to make an attempt. Most people will tell you about their family, friends, and those close to them, if you ask.

When death occurs, the at-need team picks up the thread or story line and completes or updates the tale. “Let’s talk about your family today. Who else was close to your father?
How do you feel about this plan? Does it meet your family’s needs and interests today?
How would you like to remember your father?”

When we let the consumer drive the arrangement conference or pre-arrangement conference, a consumer who often does not know all that much about funeral service or its impact on the grieving process, we place funeral value at risk.

We need to embrace the role of confident advisor and paint a word picture. We need to illustrate clearly the kind of service we know will provide an effective funeral experience.

We need to ask, “What if we did this … how would this work for your family?” We need to help find the service options that will be of value to the person we are prearranging and those that will strike just the right chord with his family, friends, and community. Funerals are important. If you have lost someone close to you, then you know that unexpected triggers make that service pop into your head when you least expect it. The memory of the funeral had better be a good one for all who attend. This is how we will preserve the true
value of funeral service.

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It’s a Jungle Out There

By Candace Franco

Are you sending your customer off to fend for himself when you could be closing the “Circle of Service?”

“Depending on the survey source, between 60 and 85 percent of customers who chose a
new vendor indicated they were satisfied or very satisfied with their former vendor.” Online Business Advisor July 26, 2010

It’s 2:00 am and the telephone rings; it’s a first call to your funeral home. Someone has just lost a life partner, a beloved parent, a brother or sister. And so it begins – your “Circle of Service.” You take the call, arrange for the removal, and schedule the arrangement conference. You move through the process, ever mindful of dignity and service. Your family brings in the clothing and selects pictures for the video tribute. They make plans for the post-funeral luncheon. The minister is contacted. A eulogy is prepared. Family and friends gather, a service takes place, those closest to the family move to the cemetery for committal or to the scattering location, others drift away. Perhaps they will gather again at a survivor’s home or maybe they just get back to life, returning to work and family obligations. You return to the funeral home, confident, and rightly so, that this family appreciated your effort, that you helped. How long will it be before you see this family again? What will happen in their lives in the meantime? Are you sure they will return?

Just looking at the statistics should raise some concern. The life expectancy for a boomer at age 60 today is 80.7 for men and 83.8 for women (Source: MetLife study of Boomers in the Middle.) Wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume the next generation will have another 20 years or so before they need your services? A great deal can occur in 20 years. What has
happened in the last twenty? Cremation rates have risen and are still rising. In some cases the church has become a competitor. Funeral discounters have appeared on the scene.
Walmart and Costco now sell caskets. Green burial is on the horizon. Challenging economic times have affected most… and on and on. Can you be sure the family you served will remember you and how much you helped? True of the children, you say, but not when the survivor is the spouse. Surely then, you are all set? Well yes, probably, unless mom or dad moves to be closer to children and grandchildren. You really just never know, do you? It is a bit of a jungle out there, so why leave your families on their own?

Why don’t we close that “Circle of Service?” Why don’t we link today’s service with the next through advance funeral planning and a Continuing Care program? Why are we reluctant to embark on the Continuing Care path? Still not sure you want the “risk” of future business? Afraid the program will be too aggressive and offend people? Maybe you just haven’t had the time to put a program together? Or perhaps you have started a program but it has not performed as you anticipated. No doubt about it, Continuing Care is a tricky program to get off the ground. We have all struggled.

But rest assured, it can be done. When it is done—and done right—it sings. A 250-call funeral home could reasonably expect to add 33 funded prearrangements to their file in the first year alone. That means you have a very good probability of seeing all of those families again. It is also reasonable to expect your Continuing Care program to actually create good will and leave families with a positive lasting impression. Your program need offend no one.

So, what is required?

Preparation
… The right staff doing the right things
… Pre-need & at-need working together
… Good program design
Training
… Everyone knows what to do and how to do it
Data
… A solid tracking system for contact and response
Consistent Activity
… Doing what needs to be done today, tomorrow and beyond

A good Continuing Care program provides you with valuable feedback, brings your families useful information, and assesses interest in learning about the many advantages of
advance funeral planning. A great Continuing Care program provides your families with a positive, lasting touch.

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