Keys to Service

Avoidable Problems

Posted by Todd Van Beck on July 1, 2017

  Throughout my career I have worked hard to eliminate problems. Sounds utterly ridiculous doesn’t it?

  In my early years in funeral service I was brain-washed, and I was admonished over and over again that the worse crime which lay upon the face of the earth was making a mistake on a funeral. If a problem arose it was grounds for severe consequences.

  There was only one problem with this attitude: in reality, problems abounded on funerals. In fact, looking back at my career I don’t know if I ever conducted a funeral where everything went the way I planned it out. If it were just myself and the decedent, then possibly everything would be to my liking – but I usually had to open the doors of the funeral home, cemetery, church, or temple and let people in. When people showed up the problems began.

  Here is an example of problems people create: the family’s personal car rear ending the funeral coach. I had this happen. The family had decided to drive their own car, which was following the hearse. I put the brake on, and I looked into the side mirror and had that horrible feeling of knowing I was going to be hit, and there was nothing I could do to avoid the collision. This is another instance of an unavoidable problem.

  The family member driving the car hit the hearse so hard that the back door was smashed in and we couldn’t get the decedent out to complete the burial service. We had to go to the auto body shop to get the back door taken off. You can just imagine how thrilled the chaps that worked in the auto body shop were when first they saw me roll in, and second when they discovered that yes indeed there was a dead person in the back! That door came off in record time!

  With all this said I would like to suggest that there are also AVOIDABLE PROBLEMS which with a little awareness and attention can be within the control of the funeral professional to insure that they will not happen.

  External conditions in the funeral home that can and should be avoided include interruptions and interferences.

  About these two I feel rather strongly. The funeral conference interview is a basically demanding experience of all the participants and so focus, privacy, and protection of this experience are very critical.

  Here is an example. I worked in the management of a funeral home where a particular funeral arranger was employed who was just weak in their skills. Their weaknesses were primarily centered in their annoying addiction to creating interruptions on their own and tolerating interferences from others.

  I sat in on several conferences that this funeral director was responsible for and in one three hour session this person jumped up, left the room, returned, and then jumped up again – 20 times!

  Not surprisingly this funeral director received so many negative family surveys that in time the employment was terminated.

  The funeral/cemetery interview demands, among other things, that the serving person concentrate as completely as possible on the present situation, thus establishing rapport and building trust. Jumping up and down, leaving the room and accepting messages that have nothing to do with the needs of the clients never will create an atmosphere of rapport and trust.

  Outside interruptions, no matter their perceived legitimacy can only hinder the important goals of building trust and establishing rapport. I have long thought that the typical funeral/cemetery professional has a window of time of about 10 minutes to establish trust and respect.

  In my humble opinion I believe one of the key substances of the funeral interview is that it is simply sacred. The funeral interview is also extremely personal and deserves and needs respect for both confidentiality and privacy.

  I have actually seen some gutsy and creative funeral professionals make a practice of putting on the door a sign reading “Do Not Disturb” or something similar. Although this practice might be helpful, I feel it could also possibly have the opposite affect and frighten and/or intimidate the client family waiting outside or, at least, make them feel more anxious than they already are.

  When you have an incompetent, licensed or not, behaving this way when they are confronted with their counterproductive approach endless excuses usually are provided. To be sure there are times in which we must leave the room, but 20 times in one funeral/cemetery interview is pressing the limits of the common sense approach to this sacred experience.

  Funeral/cemetery professionals who are well prepared, highly interested in their performance, who have their client families absolute best interests at heart, who are secure and grounded in who they are as human beings, and who have successfully established trust and respect with the client family do not behave in such a manner.

  Disorganized, rattled and frazzled funeral/cemetery interviews are never the fault of the client family. This is always the fault of the funeral professional interviewing the client family and the good news is, the situation is totally avoidable.


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