A Brewing Dilemma
May 23, 2017
Originally published in Funeral Business Advisor
I love coffee. I don’t mean it in the way most people who go to Starbucks each morning to get their venti, non-fat, white mocha Frappuccino do.
I’m the guy who will talk to you about the coffee bean’s origin and roast profile. The altitude it was grown at and the processing method utilized. I love to explore different brew methods and play around with extraction times. When I say I love coffee, I mean I LOVE coffee. So when a local non-profit approached me about helping consult them on designing and building their coffee shop, I was thrilled. I immediately put forth a vision of an experience that would offer higher quality drinks than anywhere else in our region. About halfway through our design process, the idea of putting a kid’s indoor play place was brought to the table. I hated the idea the moment I heard it. Coffee shops weren’t supposed to have kids running around them, and it certainly didn’t fit into my vision. I adamantly believed that welcoming kids into the coffee shop would only hurt our business and chase away the business and student clientele we were planning to go after. Nonetheless, there were those on our team who believed there was an opportunity, and they continued to push the idea.
A Paradigm Shift in the Funeral Profession
I think a similar dilemma is brewing in the funeral profession. In my last article (Disruption is Inevitable), I spoke of a shocking study in which 48% of those surveyed said they were dissatisfied with the funeral industry as a whole. Even more telling, 63% said they were dissatisfied with the way funeral homes interact with them (McKee Wallwork & Co). These findings become even more shocking when we analyze the data and find that the Baby Boomer generation and those younger were even more likely to express their dissatisfaction.
So what do we do? Our team has been working to solve this problem from day one. In fact, it’s the reason our company was created. When we began to sift through the data, we came to one simple conclusion. Funeral consumers are largely not happy with the process of planning and arranging funerals because they are only given one option for interaction. Nearly every funeral home in America tells their customers in the nicest possible way that if you want to do business with us, you must walk into our facility and meet with us in person. If you live out of town, you must have a lengthy phone call that is followed by dozens of emails and texts and then locate a scanner or fax machine and figure out how to use it…during a time of grief.
Consumers Want Options
50 years ago, this limited scope of interaction wasn’t a problem because it was how a consumer did business with everyone. But technology has changed, and so has the way we interact with businesses. Let’s take the banking industry, for instance. Once upon a time, the only way I could interact with my bank was by walking inside its doors and speaking with a teller. Then banks introduced drive-thru banking. Now I don’t have to get out of my car! After that came the ATM. Then online banking was introduced. Now I can even scan a photo of a check and have it deposited into my account without ever having to leave the house! With all these advances, however, I still have the option to walk inside my bank and speak directly to a teller if I want to.
It’s time for funeral homes to adopt a similar mindset. We call it Collaboration. Collaboration is a philosophy that says the best way to do business is to provide your customers with options for how they interact with you. The way we do this is by offering customers the ability to interact with us online if they choose to. Yet, when I bring this idea up to most funeral directors, I immediately receive pushback. I hear statements such as, “That’s not how funerals should be planned” or “You’re taking away from our personalized service. That’s what differentiates us.”
My question to those funeral directors is this: If you are simply providing an option to families, and if half of those families are delighted with that option, how is that taking anything away from you or the families you serve? It is only adding to your ability to serve that family the way they want to be served and differentiating you from other, less progressive funeral homes in your market.
Reality vs. Assumptions
The thing is, I get it. It’s hard to adapt when you have a preconceived idea about how things should be. I was facing the same exact problem when starting the coffee shop. In my head, I knew what a “great” coffee shop should look like. Just like funeral home owners who know what a “great” arrangement process should look like. Yet our customers are saying they want something different. Fortunately for the coffee shop, I was overruled, and the play place was added into the plan. It turned out to be the best decision we could have made. Word spread like wildfire about the unique space we were offering, and parents began to flock to the coffee shop. Are there kids running around everywhere? Absolutely. Do we make great coffee? Absolutely. The lesson I learned is that the two are not mutually exclusive. The trick is to not force our personal preferences onto our customers, to see things from their perspective, and try to understand what they want.
I believe the same holds true to interacting with families online. It’s not easy to go through a paradigm shift, believe me, I know. But I love this definition of the term from businessdictionary.com: “a fundamental change in an individual’s or society’s view of how things work in the world.” That’s a good thing. It means we are seeing things for what they really are rather than relying on our assumptions. Not every family is going to want to communicate online. That’s okay. Statistics show, however, that there are many who do, and that their numbers are increasing with every year that goes by. For those of us in the funeral profession, we may have some resistance to the idea of “online arrangements.” But our customers don’t. So, what are we doing to give them a great experience?