Friday, October 31, 2014

Three customer service strategies for 2015

As the holidays approach and the end of the year draws near, now is the perfect time to plan your customer service goals for 2015. At Trigard, customer service is our number one priority. We care about you and the families you serve.

Having a successful Customer Service team isn't easy. We follow a few strategies that might help your team as well.
  1. Deliver on your promises. Every order that arrives on time or service that goes smoothly reinforces your customers’ trust in you. Customers don’t want you to promise them the moon as much as they want you to deliver it on time and with a smile.
  2. Pay attention to the details. Sometimes the little things make the biggest impact. Figure out the details that your customers notice and make them a routine part of doing business with you.
  3. Analyze when things go right. When you hear a complaint, you usually have discussions to find out what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again. Next time you get a compliment, find out what went right and how to repeat it. 
Remember, keeping loyal customers happy is a great measure of success.

This article originally appeared in Trigard Tuesdays, our weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at

Friday, October 24, 2014

Steps to help embrace change in your business

Brodie Krause,
IT Manager
In June of this year, Microsoft released the Surface™ Pro 3 tablet computer. Earlier this week, I read a headline that mentioned Microsoft releasing the details of the Surface Pro 4 – less than 6 months after the release of their previous version. Every month there’s a new cell phone released, soon to be replaced by the next one. We live in a culture of change, and our society thrives on the new and the improved. So, why is it that the one place we are reluctant to embrace change is in our business practices? We still rely on the way it has always been done instead of looking for ways to do it better.

Did you know that the fax machine was first patented in 1843? That’s not a typo. Before the Civil War, fax technology became the next big thing. And today, 30 years shy of 2 centuries later, so many of us still rely heavily on the technology. I’ve recently begun converting our company from traditional faxing to electronic, and it is amazing to see people embrace the change.  Before we began, the question was “What’s wrong with our existing fax machine?” But as I show people how to use the new system, that question has changed to “I can really send a fax from my cell phone?” or “I don’t have to physically be in the office to see the incoming faxes?”  It seems so minor, but in the end, it’s going to save time and money, and enable us to respond to our customers’ needs with flexibility and agility. This is just one example of the ways we can innovate and update, not just for the sake of change, but to break certain habits, in this case a 200-year-old habit!

So how do you move forward?
  • Step one, identify the problems or shortfalls with the way things are currently done. 
  • Step two, research the alternatives. Find out what new technologies exist, and how they can improve upon what you found in Step one. 
  • Step three, put it in to action. Step three is tough because it is that pivotal point where you move from talk to action. Expect some hiccups, but carry it through. 
  • And finally, Step four, evaluate the impact the change has made. There’s no denying that change can be scary, but to refuse to innovate is to remain static in a dynamic world, which only limits your growth opportunities.
This article originally appeared in Trigard Tuesdays, our weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at

Friday, October 17, 2014

The helpful view of the grounds crew - Part 2

Patrick Lewis,
Grounds Manager
After getting great feedback on my last article in Trigard Tuesday about the difference between concrete boxes and lined, sealed burial vaults, I thought it would be beneficial to continue the conversation. When a family chooses a concrete box for the protection of their loved one after burial, they not only run the risk of ground water rising up through the drainage holes in the bottom. But, they also run the risk of the flat lid disintegrating and breaking down, which causes many other problems.

The lid of a concrete box is completely flat, which doesn’t allow the ground to distribute its weight proportionally across the surface. Over time, the grounds weight, as well as the weight of cemetery equipment, puts too much pressure causing the lid to crack and cave into the concrete box. This movement of the lid causes the ground to sink and move – making the cemetery grounds uneven.

In order to fix the cemetery grounds, we have to repair it by tamping or refilling the sunken area with more dirt – causing the lid to break even more. It is an endless cycle that can be prevented by encouraging the families you serve to bury their family member in a lined, sealed burial vault.

As you may know, a burial vault has an arched lid which allows it to shift the weight of the ground more proportionally than a concrete box. I understand that some families have financial limits when purchasing an outer burial container for their loved one. But for families who have the luxury of choice, they deserve to really understand the difference between a concrete box and a lined, sealed burial vault.

If you need help with the conversation, we have some helpful materials, such as a poster and a sales sheet, that do all the talking for you.

This article originally appeared in Trigard Tuesdays, our weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at

Pet memorialization doesn't have to be all or nothing

This article originally appeared in the September/October issue of Funeral Business Advisor.

As members of the funeral profession, we understand the importance of memorializing our loved ones. This includes our family members, our friends and even our furry and feathered animal companions. For many of us, our pet is a dinner date, a snuggle buddy, a “wing man,” a friend to exercise and play with, and so much more. They love us and depend on us. They are a part of our family.

In 2013, the Animal Pet Products Association (APPA) conducted a survey to find out how much money is being spent on pets each year. The results were astounding. Pet parents in the United States spent roughly $55 million on pet products in 2013, including food, toys and pet care products. Pet owners are willing to spend their hard-earned dollars on their adorable pets. With this information in mind, it would come as no surprise that when a family loses a pet, a number of them are willing to spend the money to create a memorial in their honor.

As funeral professionals, when we decide to offer pet memorialization, how much do we want to invest? Will this part of our business be bigger than burial vaults, caskets or memorials? It is worth our time to create a dedicated space in our selection rooms or buildings for the pet families that we serve.

I don’t believe that a construction project or building addition is required to begin offering pet services – and to do it right. Do you have an additional prearrangement room that doesn’t get much use anymore? Is there an office that is slowly turning into a storage room and has gone unused for years? You can transform an unused area into a special place for pet services.

As with any new venture, it’s easy to get wrapped up in making sure that you have a comprehensive selection of products for families. But when you’re converting a space, instead of focusing on the “what,” I think you need to focus on the “how.” Create service packages for your families and gather educational resources for them about grieving and pets. Yes, products are part of the equation, but what can make you stand out is demonstrating that you understand the process of losing a pet.

As an animal lover, I understand the grief pet families suffer when they lose a furry friend. It is heartbreaking. And, in their time of loss, they want someone who will understand what they are experiencing. They want someone who knows that their animal’s life mattered. That is why it is important to provide a special, dedicated space to educate families about pet memorialization services and products. Just like anywhere else in your facility, the space should be comfortable, inviting and created with care. But is just as important to have the right people working with the pet families you serve.

Having the right people helping the families you serve makes all the difference. Some people are just not animal lovers. It takes a special person to work in the funeral industry, and it takes an equally special person to work in pet memorialization. You wouldn’t want someone who didn’t like dogs to be helping you say goodbye to your German shepherd.

Saying goodbye to a family member, whether it is a person or a pet, is never easy. Families need to feel like their loved one mattered and they want to go to a place that provides the right resources. How do you educate the community about your resources? There are many ways to get people talking about memorializing their pets. Build partnerships around the community with veterinarians and animal shelters. Your funeral home can even host a community event to invite pet families to see your facility and your new pet selection room.

Offering pet memorialization in your facility is not an all or nothing proposition. As long as you provide the pet families you serve with a warm and welcoming space to let them know you are committed to helping them memorialize their furry friend and that their life mattered, you will make a difference.

Linda Darby is Chief Executive Officer for Trigard, Trigard Memorials, a memorial park and seven funeral homes across Illinois, Indiana and Arizona.  Her family has been in the funeral industry for four generations, helping families remember, celebrate and heal. Learn more at

Find new uses for your miniature samples

This article originally appeared in the August issue of NCBVA's The Bulletin.

It might be difficult, but it’s time to step away from miniature vault samples. I have talked to many experienced funeral professionals who insist that miniatures work for them; it’s what they’ve always used to help families make arrangements. But the families that make funeral arrangements today are not the same as the people who made arrangements twenty, ten or even five years ago.

Using outdated selection room tools, like miniatures, puts your funeral home customers at a major disadvantage. While they may be used to miniatures, familiarity doesn’t make them the best tools for the job. My old flip phone worked just fine when I traded it in, but I still let it go. It did everything I needed it to, but I wanted to be able to do even more with my phone. It was time to get a current model. The same goes for these selection room tools.

If your customers are still arranging with an outdated display, it’s as if they’re using an old flip phone. Technically it might work, but it would be so much easier if they used the current model.
I know you might be thinking about the money you’ve already spent? I understand that you likely made a significant financial investment in miniatures for your customers. Or maybe you asked them to have some “skin in the game” and share costs. Either way, it’s easy to look at a wall of miniatures and see a big check for $3,000—or more—that you’re not willing to throw away.

Instead of replacing an existing customer’s miniatures, start upgrading when you acquire a new funeral home customer. Don’t offer a new customer old solutions. Give them something new to set them apart from their competitors. Bringing them new sales tools for the selection room is part of the value that you can bring to them as a supplier. No new customers on the horizon for you? Maybe one of your existing customers is planning to renovate. Instead of moving the old miniature samples, design a new display specifically for the new layout of their selection room.

But remember, the upgrade doesn’t end once you have new materials in place (and the miniatures are out). Continual training is required to make any change stick. Imagine if you got your new phone, you spent a few minutes with the guy at the store, and that was it. No access to tips, manuals or someone to ask for help. You’d instinctively look for the same buttons that were on your flip phone, but when they’re not on your new device, you’d likely get frustrated very quickly. It wouldn’t take long for you to start hating the new phone, and you’d wonder why you upgraded in the first place.

The same goes for new displays. Whether the new selection room tools are videos, wall displays, interactive software, touch screens or digital catalogs, if you aren’t providing continual training for your customers, they’re going to start getting frustrated and longing for their old miniatures.
What if you aren’t ready to provide that kind of selection room and arranger training? What if you feel like you’re too busy in the vault plant pouring to spend time answering questions about the selection room? Ask your supplier for help. Just like your customers depend on you, you must be able to depend on your supplier for support and solutions.

Now how will you know if the transition is successful? You’ll know when you start seeing your customer’s average vault sale increase, and your customer should see it too. Reach out to congratulate them, and then ask if you can share their story with your other customers. Once one customer experiences success with new display systems, it easily begins to snowball. Then you can start working to upgrade your existing customers, sharing concrete data about the benefits of modern selection room tools. And that’s when you can start moving out the miniatures.

We are on a campaign to find new uses for miniatures. I’ve joked about turning them into flower boxes or donating them to dog parks as water bowls. But could they be used for something else? I’d love to hear your ideas. Because once we all start moving the miniatures out of selection rooms, we’re going to have a surplus of them.

Julia Sullivan is Creative Director for Trigard and Trigard Memorials. She has more than thirteen years of marketing and public relations experience. Email her at

Monday, October 13, 2014

Are you a "next gen?" You're not alone.

Ethan Darby,
Director of Business
Before coming into the funeral industry, I had no idea how many companies were family ran. I think there is something special about a family run funeral home, vault dealer or cemetery.

The traditional evolution of a family business is the succession of the next generation. As part of this next generation in the funeral industry, I can tell you that our voices are often muffled, and rightfully so. We are lacking the experience and industry knowledge that our family members have earned over many years of hard work. The problem with this is, without a voice, we cannot properly learn to run a company on our own. This can cause a halt in the evolution of the family business. Here are a few things you need to know about your next generation coming up:
  1. We do have good ideas. An outsider’s perspective can be invaluable. If you are a next-gen, speak up. If you are an owner, listen. You may be surprised at what we have to say.
  2. Being heard means the world to us. Even if you don’t use our ideas, it means a lot just to know  you listened.
  3. Most of us don’t want anything handed to us. We know working hard and earning our way into the business gains respect. Respect is vitally important to us.
  4. We want responsibility. We want to know exactly what is expected of us, so we can prove ourselves.
  5. We want to be involved in the big picture. As family business owners, you have a huge advantage. You know exactly who will be running your business when you’re gone. Let us start learning how things work NOW. The more we learn now, the better off we’ll be when you hand over the reins.
Are you a member of the next generation trying to find your way into your family’s business? You’re not alone. Are you a family business owner trying to usher the next generation into your business? You’re not alone either. I cannot express the importance of understanding that there are others out there having very similar issues. I encourage you to reach out and have conversations with others in our industry. They may not have all answers for your issues, but I think we can all take some comfort in knowing we are not alone on this roller coaster we call the family business.

This article originally appeared in Trigard Tuesdays, our weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at

Friday, October 3, 2014

Importance of staying current

Jason Murphy,
Director of Family Services,
Sunset Memorial Park
When your company makes a change, how do you tell your customers? At Sunset Memorial Park, we recently updated nearly all of our brochures, disclosure forms and regulation forms to ensure we are handing out the most current information to our customers. Why is it important to do this on a regular basis?

Our industry is constantly changing and evolving. With the cremation rate on the rise, new products are frequently being introduced to the market. With current product information, we are able to show families that we offer the best products they can find. Today’s consumer has so many resources at their fingertips that you must make sure your resources appeal to them. Otherwise, they will look elsewhere.

It may seem obvious, but do your customers have all of your current procedures, rules and regulations? Whether you are a vault dealer, funeral home or cemetery, this can save your company many headaches in the future. When you make your customers aware of your rules, it helps everyone. If a problem does occur, it will give you a leg to stand on and will make it much easier for you to correct the issue.

As a cemetery or funeral home, are you staying up to date on new products? If you see something in a newsletter, magazine or online that you would like to offer, reach out to your dealer.

As a vault dealer, are you telling your customers what’s new? If you need help getting this information to your funeral home and cemetery customers, let us know. We’ll gladly help you.

Staying current on new trends in the funeral industry not only helps your bottom line, but it also helps the families you serve.

This article originally appeared in Trigard Tuesdays, our weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at