In our next installment of Ask the Owners, Stephen and Diann Anderson, formerly of Anderson Funeral & Cremation Services discuss the changes taking place within the funeral and cemetery profession and provide firsthand insights on how to adapt and evolve to meet these changes:
It’s been a month since we last connected, and we’ve been on a reflective journey. We’ve found ourselves pondering the true impact of the Funeral Profession not just for those who have chosen the calling to own a funeral home or to be a Funeral Director, but also for the families and communities we serve. We’ve asked ourselves a question that might resonate with you: Have you ever felt like your “Give a Damn” spirit has broken? If so, let’s embark on a transformative journey together, one that will help us better serve those who seek hope and direction in their time of loss and extend our care to the community we serve.
Fifteen years ago, we became aware that something fundamental was changing in our business. You will quickly calculate our age when we tell you that the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s song “The Times They Are A-Changin’” are very descriptive to how we felt at the time:
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
It was the preverbal “Perfect Storm”; professionally we had worked and strived for many years to serve our staff, and grieving families while also continually reinvesting into and stewarding our business. Just when we felt that we were hitting our stride, it seemed like the wind had totally changed direction and we were facing an uphill battle. We were going through the motions, but we felt as though there was a bigger picture, a bigger mission, a purpose that went beyond the superficial. We needed to change; it wasn’t optional.
“For the times they are a-changin’” Change is part of life and of all professions, we should understand this reality more than any other profession. We understand the cycle of life and death is not a surprise to us. Why is it that our profession is so slow to change? To understand the challenges, it’s good to look back to the path that got us to where we are.
For a hundred years the funeral profession in the United States did not change. It was during the 1970’s that some change started, however, it was far from innovative change. Most of the change during the 1970’s was for the funeral home’s benefit and not the consumer’s benefit. The Profession focused on selling merchandise and Funeral Directors were taught to offer “cookie cutter funerals”, identical ceremonies day in and day out. The consumer didn’t require creativity or customization from the funeral home. Families chose a funeral home based on the church they attended, and ninety five percent of families chose burial.
Change has marched forward, and the Funeral Profession continues to change at a snail’s pace. During the last four decades the changes have been consumer driven. The most dramatic changes came in the 1980’s as families started to step away from church attendance, which ushered in a societal change toward funerals. That was the beginning of de-ritualization and misunderstanding of the importance of ceremony in the grief journey. Consumers became more comfortable with cremation and started to embrace it. Funeral Directors were afraid to embrace the shift from burial to cremation because they were trained to think only in terms of “burial options” and they were not taught that cremation has just as many ritual and ceremonial options as burial. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the role technology has played in the change to our profession. Technology has given the consumer more information and choices than they can comprehend. Technology is a blessing and a curse; it’s a beautiful thing when it works flawlessly and a nightmare when it fails us.
Change is good and it’s normal and yet we tell ourselves it’s not. It’s a common human tendency to reject change and to hold onto things that are familiar, comfortable, or have sentimental value. This behavior can be seen across various aspects of life, and in the history of most businesses that have disappeared.
The definition of change is the process or act of making something different from what it was before or replacing one thing with another. In the context of an organization, change can involve alterations to processes, strategies, structures, policies, or practices. It can be planned and intentional, such as in organizational change initiatives, or it can be unexpected and adaptive, such as in response to external factors. Change can occur at various levels, including individual, team, organizational, or societal.
Failure to embrace change in a business can have several negative consequences, including:
Decreased Competitiveness: Businesses operate in a dynamic environment, and those that fail to adapt to changes in technology, market trends, customer preferences, and industry standards can quickly become less competitive. This can lead to a loss of market share and reduced profitability.
Inefficiency and Obsolescence: If a business is resistant to change, it may continue to use outdated systems, processes, or technologies that are less efficient and effective than newer alternatives. This can lead to increased costs, wasted resources, and reduced productivity.
Loss of Talent: Employees often seek opportunities for growth and development, and they may become frustrated and disengaged if they feel that the business is not moving forward or investing in innovation. This can lead to high turnover rates and a loss of skilled and experienced staff.
Decreased Customer Satisfaction: If a business is not responsive to changing customer needs and expectations, it may struggle to maintain customer satisfaction and loyalty. This can lead to a loss of repeat business and negative reviews, which can further harm the business’s reputation and bottom line.
Inability to Respond to Crises: Change is often driven by external factors, such as economic downturns, technological advancements, or shifts in consumer behavior. If a business is not agile and adaptable, it may struggle to respond effectively to crises or disruptions, which can have serious consequences for its survival and success.
Stagnation: Over time, a failure to embrace change can lead to stagnation, where the business becomes stuck in old ways of thinking and doing things. This can limit the business’s ability to innovate and grow, and it can make it more vulnerable to competition and market changes.
When you read those descriptions above, you may recognize the face of the funeral profession at the present time. However, our profession is in the process of regeneration. It’s an exciting time to be a part of our profession. We are evolving and undergoing a process of regeneration in response to changing consumer preferences, technological advancements, and societal shifts. Some of the key trends and changes in the funeral profession include; Meaningful Ceremonies and Rituals, Transparency and Consumer Education, More Personalized Services, Integration of Technology, Green Burials, Pre-Planning and Pre-Payment of Funerals, Grief Support, Impactful Community Outreach, E-Commerce and Online Arrangements.
Is your business changing and regenerating? We agree with Richard Branson “The brands that will thrive in the coming years are the ones that have a purpose beyond profit.” Have you pondered the big questions like; “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”, “Am I making a difference in people’s lives?”, “How can I increase my funeral home’s impact in my community?”, “How can I increase the relevancy of what I’m providing to a grieving person?”, “Is it possible to point people to hope in the midst of their loss?”
Over the next months, we are going to teach you practical ways to regenerate your business that will give you renewed excitement and energy and hopefully remind you why you chose to devote your life to serving humanity in the funeral profession. You have but one life and you have been placed in this timeline of history for a purpose. What you do each day matters and has the potential to make a positive difference in the lives of those you interact with.
If you have a question or need a boost in moving forward, please call us at 815-601-3247.
With warm regards,
Steve and Diann Anderson
Do you have a question for Stephen and Diann? Email firstname.lastname@example.org today for a chance to have your question spotlighted in their upcoming blogs!