Johnson Consulting highly recommends that you survey your families that you have served. It is a gold mine of valuable information that will help you formulate your marketing plans and strategies….

2010 – THE BIG QUESTION – “DO WE REALLY KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON?” Todd Van Beck

This is a powerhouse of a question for funeral service and cemetery work. Do we really know what is going on out in the world? Of course we do, certainly we keep tabs on how the community is changing, we keep our fingers on the pulse of the funeral/cemetery environment; of course we do, been doing it for years.

These responses are predictable and totally natural and understandable. However they do not answer the question – do we know, really know what is going on out there? It might be that we don’t know precisely the details, and the realities, and nay the unpleasant news that might be, could be, and is most probably is floating around our communities about you and me.

Here is an example. I once had occasion to perform a focus group for a particular funeral home. Most everything was changing for this particular funeral home and unfortunately the owners were in psychological denial. In other words they truly and honestly “thought” they knew what was happening but in reality there were many gaps in their “knowledge” base. So they asked for a focus group.

A focus group as most know is simply an elaborate survey of the attitudes and opinions of the community concerning a funeral home/cemetery operation. They are extremely valuable, but not used very much in this line of work – for a variety of reasons.

Before the focus group started the owner took me to dinner and with great confidence proclaimed that in “my town, my name is synonymous with funerals.” I sat quietly sipping my drink.

Family surveys, community focus groups, in fact any type of truly inside information that we a glean about our operations is today terribly important, in fact I can’t remember a time in funeral service when this importance was not greater.

Years ago most funeral homes had their clientele. That was it. The Catholics went here, the Protestants went there, the Jews went here, the rich went there and the poor went here, the Masons when there, the American Legion went here, and so on. It was indeed what the marketing guru’s call a “niche” market. Not so today.

The culture is and has been homogenizing itself for years, and make no mistake this social movement which units many different cultures, traditions, beliefs, mores, and folkways has had a tremendous effect upon funeral service. Because of the tremendous effect, focus groups and family surveys have emerged as the most economical, safest, and more accurate method for any operation to gauge just what is actually going on in their world instead of depending on speculation after speculation, random opinions, and finally idealized hopes and dreams which are not based in reality.

Here is a case in point. I have a good friend who is a manager of a large Jewish funeral home on the East coast. This firm has over a 100 year history of being the Jewish funeral home and is known throughout the United States. I took my friend to dinner in Manhattan one evening. In the course of conversation the issue of Jewish funerals came up, and my friend quickly shared this experience of reality which was happening in his very funeral home. He told the group that the greatest challenge to the future of Jewish funeral service was of all things inter-marriage between Jew and Gentile, and these unions in the next generation basically eliminated the firm connection that generations of Jewish families had towards this historically Jewish funeral home.

I asked my friend where he got this information from and he simply replied family surveys and random focus groups.

The information which is taken from such outside sources is indispensible for obtaining a true and realistic portrait of what is the state of the state of any funeral/cemetery operation. In fact the longer the survey the more accurate the information, and remember my friends when a negative survey comes in it means that 25 other people thought and/or experienced the same thing and said nothing – except to all their friends.

Surveys work. Focus groups work. Mystery shoppers work.

In tough economic times the two main expenses which are usually cut are advertising and training and education. While this is common business practice, the commonality of it does not equate into the practice being right or wise.

Training of the staff is essential to prepare for dealing with the future – they go hand in hand. Training of the staff improves what Dr. Deming called “invisible numbers.” You know things like being self-directed, autonomous, excited, dedicated, goal-oriented, practical common sense improvements. In bad economic times any business needs and should want this to happen instead of the opposite which actually can destroy morale, destroy loyalty, destroy commitment, destroy quality service, destroy, destroy, and destroy. Do we even need to give examples of this in recent United States business experience and history?

Training creates a new environment, an escape from the day to day. Training allows the staff to express deep feelings which are just as valuable to the future of the business as is any family survey and/or focus group. Training can be fun and entertaining.

In fact just last week, for the first time in my training career, I had an owner ask for a “fun” seminar. No doom and gloom, no end of the world FTC or OSGA stuff, no feat mongering, none of that old standard seminar stuff. This one was just light and fun. In fact I personally almost did not know how to begin because for 35 years most of the seminars I have presented appeared to be in the realm of funeral crisis management, when in reality the funeral profession chugged ahead in a mighty fine way with or without my deadly serious seminars.

The fun one however elicited laughter, giggling, shoulder poking, smiles, applause and a variety of real nice emails after the seminar was completed.

Training is basically the connection to the people, the vital people who make up the organization and in whose very breath the future of the organization rests upon. Possibly a funeral home/cemetery might survive without the umpteen thousand dollar Yellow Page ad very well, but without training – I personally would not take the risk. It is time and money well spent, for it all goes to people – our people.

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