January 2007


Walkonthegrass
(Photo courtesy of Creating Passionate Users)

Next time you sense the words “We can’t” or “You can’t” getting ready to spill forth from your lips, stop and think about this sign from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia.

Too often we rattle off a list of the 50 or so things we FORBID our clients to do.  We inundate them with all the stuff we won’t let them do, blurring all the great things we claim we CAN do for them.

Would you use this funeral home:  “We can create a beautiful custom service with a memorial photo slideshow.  And why not bring in your dad’s collection of model airplanes?  But before we go, remember that you can only have the viewing between 6 and 8, we can’t start the service until 2 and it can’t be on a Saturday.  We only allow five people in the limousine and no one can ride with the driver in the hearse.  You have to…”

You get the point.  You can’t claim amazing feats of personalization and offload a big pile of restrictions in the same breath.

Families can see through the smokescreen.  And they’re usually looking for another firm.

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Found in a list of the type of marketing that one consumer hates:

Funeral Home Direct Mailings: The funeral home where we held Dad’s memorial service sends me 9″ x 11″ packets nearly once a month now. The first package was some information on grieving as well as a condolence letter, which was nice, but still a stinging reminder.

That bit (and a whole lot more about how annoyed the aggressive marketing made him) was taken from the personal blog of Josh Janicek.  While he doesn’t mention the funeral home by name, others might not be so restrained in their comments.

In an age when computer technology (you’re reading my ramblings on a computer screen right now!) can shape the way we think about products and companies, funeral homes have to be especially careful with the things that are said about them.  Gone are the days when you could afford to mistreat a family from out of town, because there is no “out-of-town” anymore.  A simple web-search for information about your funeral home will find the personal website (or blog) of that person from 1000 miles away that you upset or mistreated when they traveled to your town to handle grandma’s arrangements.

It’s also time to step back and try to look at the industry at-large and your funeral home (in-general) from the perspective of your community. 

Subway advertising for a funeral service company in Berlin.

The joke:  If you follow the advice of the billboard, you’ll need their services.

(Found on Adhunt)

Might not go over as well in the U.S., but still funny.

A disturbing article by a non-funeral industry writer is archived here.

The disturbing part?  Ms. Janes cites several quotes from the executive director of the Funeral Consumers’ Alliance and others from families whose experience was far from normal. 

The article, entitled “10 Things Your Funeral Director Won’t Tell You,” presents an alarmingly one-sided argument against funeral directors.  It was published in 2005 by www.SmartMoney.com.

It further proves my little pet peeve:  Funeral directors don’t do enough to educate the public about their business and services.

We recently returned our Dyson vacuum cleaner to Target (for a full refund) after getting nowhere with their customer service department.  (Read the full story here.)

 Now, the part that they couldn’t ship to us within a month has just arrived, more than ten days after we CEASED OWNERSHIP OF THE VACUUM!

We told Dyson that we were going to return the vacuum.  We told them not to bother sending the part, since they had several chances to send the part they promised and they kept failing to help us.  They shipped the part two days AFTER we told them to shove it.

Now they’ve wasted even more money by sending me a part that I’m just going to throw away.

Or maybe I can sell it on eBay?  You know, I might be looking at this the wrong way. 

Gotta go.  I need to call Dyson and see if they’ll ship me five or six other parts.  I might become a full-time Dyson parts distributor if they can’t fix their customer service problem!

Be a professional interpreter!

Yesterday I spent a few minutes reading a heated discussion on www.Ridorlive.com started when a woman complained that the funeral home she visited for a family member’s funeral did not have a sign language interpreter readily available for the funeral service.

At first, I dismissed her outrage, since, having spent five years managing day-to-day operations of a small firm (serving over 800 families during that time) I had never even been asked for such an interpreter.  I don’t even know that I would have been able to find one without doing quite a bit of research.

But at one point in the discussion, someone typed out the acronym A.D.A., better known as the Americans with Disabilities Act.  This is the law that required funeral homes to ensure that bathrooms, hallways, walkways and other areas of the building are handicapped accessible.  Many funeral homes have spent tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars retrofitting their spaces to be compliant.

It is also possible that the law also requires funeral homes (as buildings of assembly or public accomodations) to make provisions for hearing-impaired visitors.  This means interpreters and/or special audio-visual devices.

We’ll be investigating the truth of these claims.  I’ve got calls into several funeral law professionals, trying to find the extent of the law.

In the meantime, you should read the original article and the 54 comments (or more!) that have been posted by consumers who care about the deaf community.  Their misconceptions and attitudes about the funeral industry are very revealing.  You can read the full text here.

roseville-ad.JPG
(Ad  from
Roseville Memorial Chapel in Roseville, Minnesota.  I’m sure they’ve copyrighted it, so don’t steal!)

As families slowly walk away from simple, cookie-cutter funerals, they are headed in two possible directions:  Away from a funeral home of any kind or toward a progressive firm that offers the services they really want.

Does anyone REALLY want to bury or cremate a loved one?  I’ll let you answer that for yourself.  When a family chooses a funeral home, they assume that every funeral provider can get the basics (the uncomfortable disposal part) right most of the time.

Therefore, families base their decision upon other factors.  They decide what they really want (a pretty memorial service, a low price, a convenient location, etc.) and then choose the funeral home that meets those needs.

Living and working in Florida, I’ve seen the march (sometimes the outright SPRINT) toward cremation by many of my friends, family and clients.  Most of them have a rationale for choosing direct cremation (don’t want to be a bother, don’t have money, etc.) but the most common answer that I find after a lot of prodding and digging is that “I don’t want a regular funeral for my loved one so I don’t want a regular funeral home doing the service.”

It’s time to become the “exceptional funeral home” in your community.  It’s time to listen to your customers (and potential future customers) and offer them what they really want and need.  This starts with simple things like pet memorialization products and services, progresses to video tributes and audiovisual systems and culminates in the community room.

A community room is a flexible space that can accommodate large services or catered receptions.  The community room should probably also include a kitchen so that catering staff or others who rent the facility can serve food.

In many areas, local churches serve this function.  The family has a service and goes back to the fellowship hall for a meal, provided by the church.  But today’s market includes a number of families who have no ties to a local church (recently moved to the area) or who do not attend a church.  Often a person who has friends and family from many different backgrounds will choose not to have services or a reception in their church so as not to offend others.

Being able to offer a variety of services will keep your families from opting for direct cremation and running to the country club for a reception.

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