The year is 2019, and the mass-appeal of connectivity and convenience within our society is at an all-time high. Smart phones and smart watches exist in real life, not just in episodes of Dick Tracy or Inspector Gadget. Internet accessibility and the integration of wireless technology now enables us to take everything on the go in a new space referred to as the “cloud.” The emergence of social media and the idea of a universal marketplace a la Amazon/Alibaba, are connecting humans on a global scale never imagined. All the while, in the midst of this dramatic newness, artificial intelligence continues to develop and mature, defying expectations and challenging limits of possibility.
As we continue to evolve in this new, highly connected, convenience culture and economy, our desires and buying behaviors are changing. The appetite for customized, digitized and personalized experiences is only growing, creating boundless opportunities for businesses to establish, affirm, and create new avenues of communication and accessibility with our consumer. With these new channels and spaces to interact with our consumers, now is the time to connect with them effectively and genuinely regardless of wherever, however, whenever and whyever they wish to do so.
The funeral profession is no different in this way. Phone calls, Email, text messages, and –the stalwart of our profession–in person meetings—make up the many spaces (or as we call them, “stages”) where we interact and provide an experience for the client families in our care, or more accurately, our audience members. Since we are in front of, or on stage, with our consumers now more than ever before, the time has come to evaluate and audit the way we communicate with our consumers in every space in which we interact. The topic being discussed at large, versatile artful communication, is a skill that can be learned and mastered. It is something you can work on and practice. There are many exercises, techniques, and texts dedicated to help improve communication on the new digital frontier. But before you set your sights on this new journey of uncovering, learning and implementing a new strategy, make sure your internal operation, including your team and processes, are solid.
A precursor to accomplishing goals, achieving excellence, affecting change and future-proofing any business is building and maintaining a strong foundation of people, processes, and ethics. Whenever considering a directional change in the flow of your business, remember to look at who is around you and realize whether or not they will be a good fit in your new vision. Look at yourself and your team’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. How nimble are they when adapting to change? Are they flexible, willing to improve and learn new skills? After you’ve assessed and inspected your foundation for any cracks or weak spots, done the necessary reconstruction, and your company culture is one that “feels good”, only then should you start investing your time toward introducing new practices and standards to your team.
When you are ready to begin, start small and delineate the tasks strategically. Create a list of specific, identifiable action items for employees to work on. Simply commanding an employee to improve the way they communicate with a client family is ineffective; it’s too broad and wrongly places blame on your employee. Instead, zoom in and identify specific tactics to focus on. What follows is an example of a multi-faceted, tried, tested and tactical exercise we use internally at our company. The thoughtful provocation and exercise shared here is ideal for anyone who interacts with client families over the phone, during an in-person meeting, and is also applicable for written correspondence.
Gilbert Gottfried or Julie Andrews, How does your voice actually sound?
Consider a favorite actor’s voice. What do you like about it? Is it their tone, their pitch, their word choice? What is it that makes listening to them speak a pleasurable experience? When I first did this exercise, I immediately imagined the unmistakable voice of Morgan Freeman. His captivating and iconic voice has even been used in movies to portray the voice of God. (Bruce Almighty, 2003)
If we’re being practical, most of us were not born gifted with his velvety low pitch and his lulling graceful tone; but thankfully, there are vocal exercises and techniques to help improve how we sound. One quick tip from the master himself, Morgan Freeman: yawning. Freeman, for his part, has his own theories about the power of voices like his. “If you’re looking to improve the sound of your voice, yawn a lot, it relaxes your throat muscles. It relaxes your vocal chords. And as soon as they relax, the tone drops. The lower your voice is, the better you sound.” With the chaotic hours of the funeral profession, we shouldn’t have to do much practicing with this technique!
Next thing to try out, when you aren’t busy yawning of course, is to turn on the TV, watch a movie, or go see a play. Yes, we’re recommending a steady diet of yawning and watching television in order to begin transforming our communication skills; pretty easy right? All kidding aside, what we recommend is to consciously study scenes from film and theatre. Listen and watch the actors’ delivery, their pace, and their tone. Emulate them; actually try it and practice it aloud.
Imagine if “Sara” whose otherwise healthy 60-year-old mother has just died in an unexpected manner calls your funeral home and the funeral professional who answers sounds as steady, calm, warm, and smooth as Morgan Freeman? Most likely, Sara is going to notice and be more willing to connect, listen, and want to hear more from you.
One purpose of this exercise is to illustrate the power of studying acting, drama, and the many other elements of theatre.
As a Certified Experience Economy Expert, I’m a disciple of the best-selling business book The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage. The authors of the book, published by Harvard Business Review, Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore explain that only after you begin to realize and embrace that work truly is theatre, our business the stage, and ourselves the actors in the play, do we effectively create transformations within our customers, all stemming from the first remarkable experience they have with us. When we begin injecting all pathways of our businesses with an anabolic steroid I’ll call ‘Experience Economy Juice’, we will be capable of serving and communicating with our consumers in a meaningful way.
Get ready, because it is Showtime! We must be prepared to put on our best, Oscar-worthy experience for our audience. In our profession, the audience is the client families and their guests attending the play of their loved one’s life. Whether the play takes place at our funeral homes, in the local church or other gathering places within our Communities, it’s up to us, as funeral professionals to direct, produce, and sometimes star in these final productions. FBA
Shannon Cummings is the Creative Thinking Writer and Storyteller for Life Celebration, Inc, a company that specializes in experience staging, training, and custom print design and production. Shannon can be reached at 888.887.3782 or [email protected] or visit www.lifecelebrationinc.com.