Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Give the families you serve peace of mind

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of American Funeral Director

Written by Rich Darby, Chief Operating Officer

As a funeral director and co-owner of a burial vault company, I am always looking for better ways to explain the importance of a burial vault. I am always trying to figure out what I can do to help overwhelmed families understand that a burial vault prevents the grave from collapsing and gives them peace of mind.

Making a loved one’s funeral arrangements can be overwhelming. Technology excites me, and I am always the first to own the newest gadget for business. However, this is one time that technology may not provide the best solution. I have come to the conclusion that the most important thing we can do when meeting with a family is to make them as comfortable as possible, starting with a short conversation about what they can expect before entering the selection room. I describe the room and make it clear that they will need to select two things: a casket and a burial vault. If you don’t set the family’s expectations before you enter the room, the burial vault can feel like an unexpected add-on. By spending just a few minutes outside the selection room, you lay the groundwork for your educational conversations ahead.

Then, it’s your time to shine, and this is where technology can make a difference. When all we had were end-cuts and miniature vault samples, funeral directors felt a lot of pressure to come up with the right words for each family. Now with technology, even a newly licensed funeral director can have all the right words.

For example, as you enter the selection room you are given the perfect opportunity to educate the family on the difference between a concrete box and a lined, sealed burial vault. I’m sure you know that it’s important to point out that a concrete box has holes in the bottom to allow for drainage and only prevents the earth from collapsing. I’ll bet you have a great way to explain that a lined, sealed burial vault provides layers of protection by including a polymer lining that works with the concrete to help prevent breakage. How many times have you talked through layers of protection and explained how a strong seal helps protect against outside elements?

But technology takes the pressure off. You can play a video that uses animation to educate the family. A miniature vault sample can only demonstrate so much, but a video from your supplier can show a vault in the ground, what rising groundwater looks like and how a concrete box can break down over time.

While walking through the selection room, you can put an iPad® in the family’s hands and empower them to explore your vault options. Today’s families are used to shopping online and navigating choices on their own. Complementing your vault presentation with interactive technology brings the family into the process and makes them more comfortable.

Speaking of online shopping, have you ever felt overwhelmed by the number of choices? The same applies in the selection room. If you are looking to increase you burial vault sales, I recommend presenting only three vaults: good, better and best. This allows families to more easily compare the vaults available and feel less overwhelmed. As a funeral director, you may understand the difference between a dozen different vault options, but an emotional and grieving family won’t be able to decipher the differences.

Over and over again, I have seen funeral homes limit their number of burial vault options and watch their average vault sale rise. The majority of families will choose your middle option – which should be your target vault and the one that offers the best value.

I encourage you to not be tempted to make an unsealed, unlined concrete box (or grave liner) your entry level unit, even if it’s painted. A concrete box is not the same as a lined, sealed burial vault. When you choose this as your “good” option, you automatically anchor the family to a lower price point, which will lower your average OBC sale.

I know it can be hard to change your selection room presentation, especially if it’s been working for you for many years. I’m not saying you have to replace everything you have with TVs, monitors and iPads. But modern consumers are challenging us to try new things. I encourage you to do your research, push yourself out of your comfort zone and do what’s best for your funeral home. The families you serve will benefit.

Rich Darby is Chief Operating Officer for Trigard and Trigard Memorials. He earned his funeral directors license from Southern Illinois University in 1987, and is licensed in Illinois, Indiana and Arizona. His family owns and operates Trigard, Trigard Memorials, a memorial park and seven funeral homes across Illinois, Indiana and Arizona. Email him at richd@trigard.com.

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