The solution to practically all funeral director’s performance problems is training. However, the majority of funeral home owners have no training programs or initiatives in place to improve proficiency and production for their staff. I recently attended a seminar where over fifty funeral home owners were in attendance. In an open forum session, I asked, how many of the owners made unannounced arrangement observations of staff? Astonishingly, not one funeral home owner raised their hand. Funeral arrangements with a family are unequivocally one of the most critical touchpoints with a customer and where revenue for the funeral home is generated. Yet, few owners take the time observe conduct during the all-important interaction for consistency of presentations, accuracy of information provided, and how the arranger is positioning the funeral home from the perspective of customers. My follow up question was how many owners had a training program in place at their funeral home? A few raised their hand however admitted most was really not training, but Continuing Education. The entire consensus of the group, outside of mandatory credits for CEU’s where Pre-Need or Ethics are the topics, for the most part was a waste of time. Why? Requirements for successful completion of a CEU session is making sure payment has been made for the credits and the paperwork in order signifying attendance is correct. Otherwise, no pass/fail or requirement by the attendee to retain any of the content is attempted. Education is not training. Reading to educate how to juggle is one thing, however actually performing the feat without training or practice is another.
The decision to provide training for staff at a funeral home is a leadership decision and shouldn’t be considered only after a costly mistake is made. Training should be continuously provided to change behaviors and drive consistent performance for success. Prior to formulating a training program, owner/leaders should identify specific areas that may need improvement. For example, a funeral home that has multiple funeral directors meeting with families, whether under one roof or not, but using the same General Price List is a worthy start. A wonderful exercise is to examine the performance of the multiple directors by measuring how many calls conducted in a given period, perhaps a quarter. In the chosen quarter, how many families did each director meet and lead from start to finish, broken into burial and cremation categories. Both burial and cremation have subsets of how much revenue was generated from services, products sold, and ancillary sales. The data will show the average number of families a funeral director met during the quarter as well as the average revenue per call for each category along with total revenue. Armed with this information, a funeral home owner may then measure the productivity of his arranger staff and create training programs to elevate each team member’s performance. Depending on the number of arrangers working at a particular firm, the disparity between the most and least effective could reveal questions for the necessity of training. What are the positive tenets of the best funeral arranger and why do families make better choices for services and/or products that the other arrangers? Conversely, exactly what information is being shared with families and in what manner is the lowest producing arranger presenting? The optimum situation for a funeral home owner is every family is presented everything consistently so the family can make good arrangement decisions. Consistency in the arrangement room provides an owner an expected outcome of increased revenue and profitability.
Another worthwhile exercise for a funeral home owner/leader to conduct is similar to the beforementioned revenue per director, however focused on accounts receivable. The examination of the firm’s overall accounts receivable should be a routine report, however further digging into individual arranger performance is necessary. The results of the accounts receivable deep dive will reveal gaps of performance in the arrangement room such as a failure to enforce the funeral home payment policy. I’ve literally trained thousands of funeral arrangers in my career and when I ask the how/when in the arrangement conference is the payment policy addressed, the vast majority arrangers’ answer: “At the end of the conference when we give the goods and services statement.” The typical statement from the arranger to the family: “Our charges are $X,XXX, how are you going to take care of the bill today?” Continuing the line of identifying the errant arrangement room performance, my next questions is what do you do if the family has a problem with paying for the funeral bill? My favorite answer from funeral directors: “We tell them payment is due before services are rendered.” I literally laugh and respond: have you ever stopped a service because payment has not been secured” followed by: “if you require payment in full before services rendered, why does your firm have accounts receivable?” Funeral home owners should be asking the same questions of their staff and more importantly, observing the arranger’s presentation in the arrangement room with families. Accounts receivable problems can be corrected with training; however, training cannot be provided when leadership in the funeral home either does not exist or ignores the problem.
Practically every funeral home owner I breach the question about their training program, provides me the answer (or excuse) exactly the same: “We don’t have time to conduct training.” Translation: “I don’t care about taking time to improve my staff’s skills, performance, morale, and increase our family’s positive funeral experience at our firm.” Unquestionably, every funeral home is busy and more so since COVID-19 attacked our lives. However, taking fifteen minutes two or three times a week to sharpen skills, address problems with solutions, and basically practicing what seems to be already refined is considered a waste of time? Why do baseball players take batting practice before every game? Baseball players are professional athletes and the best of the best, why should they train right before a game? Because intentional and consistent training provides an expected outcome of better results. After addressing the “we don’t have time” with owners the next excuse is “I/we don’t have anyone on staff that is qualified to train us.” Again, my response to yet another excuse: “if that’s the case, why don’t you utilize outside resources to improve your team and allow those resources to help train your staff train each other?” Once again, do not bring logic into a conversation.
The bottom line about funeral profession training within an operating funeral home? If leadership does not exist, neither will training. The hubris and comfortability of continuing the status quo will continue until a disastrous event takes place and only then will focus shift to behavior modification. Afterall, what could go wrong? Driving mishaps with funeral home owned vehicles, mis-identifying a body, forgetting to present something important to a family in arrangements, conducting services without payment, incorrect death certificate information, sexual harassment, and a social media post by an employee. Oh wait, those are headlines in the news about funeral homes. Each of these problems can be corrected with training. What you allow will continue. FBA
Jeff “The Funeral Commander” Harbeson is an accounts receivable reduction and cash flow increase expert with C&J Financial. Jeff’s expertise was garnered at his funeral homes by training staff to secure payment for goods and services rendered prior to contract agreement. Armed with his experience, he trains funeral professionals across the country to improving cash flow and reducing accounts receivable at their funeral home. Jeff is also a co-host of the popular Funeral Nation online show with funeral industry superlative Ryan Thogmartin. Jeff can be reached by email at [email protected] and let’s chat about me providing your team training at no cost to reduce your accounts receivable and increase your cash flow.