Over the last four days, I spent my time on a father-daughter vacation with my father, CJ Thacker, and sister, Sara Thacker. But of course we “happened” to be in New Orleans the same time as the annual ICCFA’s (International Cemetery and Cremation Funeral Association) annual conference. Oh, okay fine. It wasn’t a vacation; we went to a work conference. But isn’t that what we do in the funeral industry? We use our conferences as an excuse to get out of town for a couple of days (that is, if we aren’t too busy).
If you didn’t attend the convention, there was great food, good drinks, one of the keynote speakers was Ken Blanchard of the famous book “One Minute Manager” and plenty of time for vendor exhibits. Here is a breakdown day by day of the parts that I attended.
Day #1 – Wednesday
Storms were moving through New Orleans in the morning, so after circling New Orleans for a while, flying back to Birmingham, Alabama to get more gas, then flying back to New Orleans… we finally made it to “The Big Easy”.
Exhibits were from 4pm to 7pm the first night and cocktails were flowing, which got a fair amount of people to attend the first night. We did not display at this convention, but it was nice to actually walk the floor for once. You could see all the vendors primed and ready to display new product designs and showcase new services.
Walking the floor really gives a person perspective on all the ‘moving parts’ that encompass a funeral home. From old staples such as pre-need insurance programs to new ideas such as saving tattoos, it really makes you realize that our industry serves the public and each individual person has very individual needs. As an industry, we need to continue to cater to each family individually and not ‘cookie cutter’ the funeral and memorialization process.
Day #2 – Thursday
After Sara and I spent the morning in the gym getting “pumped” for day #2, we attended the keynote presentation by Ken Blanchard. Ken Blanchard has written many books including the One Minute Manager and has been inducted into the Amazon Hall of Fame as one of the top 25 best-selling authors of all time. He spoke on many topics, but the one that resonated with me was empowering employees.
In his keynote address, Ken drew parallels from what he knew about the funeral industry to several well-known corporate company philosophies, including Southwest. He said, “Southwest is in the business of customer service, they just happen to fly airplanes”. This couldn’t be more true.
Think of the times when you go to fly an airline that is not Southwest. If you need to check an additional bag, that will be an additional fee – quack, quack. If you need help changing a flight and not lose your money, you will need to buy insurance next time – quack, quack. Oh, your boarding pass does not work? You will need to go to the end of the line over there and speak with that other agent – quack, quack.
No, I am not losing it by sounding like a duck. I am quacking because Ken used that as a metaphorical reference for those who are not empowered to solve a problem and cannot adequately address a question, problem or need of a customer on their own. Good customer service does not revolve around leaving voicemails, being on hold forever and/or any delays in getting information right away. Good customer service revolves around immediate action – something that Southwest empowers and very much encourages their employees to take. In the funeral industry this is critically important. When a family has a unique request, and you think to yourself “We don’t do that”, I challenge you to question yourself two questions, “Why can’t we do that?” and “What is preventing us from doing that?”
Keeping to traditions and norms of the past will lead your funeral home to become a dinosaur. Dig deep, step outside the box and empower your employees to challenge old traditions and fulfill those seemingly unique and crazy customer requests. If a family wants to bring in the deceased fish tank and decorate the casket with streamers – heck, why not?!?
After the address by Mr. Blanchard, the exhibits were open and we spent a lot of time talking to vendors. There seemed to be a lot of buzz around the FuneralOne Instagram booth (who doesn’t want to get their picture with a human flower?!?), the Disrupt Media booth, and Trey Ganem Designs. Trey Ganem designs features custom made caskets in various themes such as a rock band design where the drums, guitar and more were protruding from the casket – eye catching if you ask me. He also recently designed the casket for Raven’s player Tray Walker.
Day #3 – Friday
I actually did not attend any of the formal ICCFA events on Friday, as I attended a meeting with several other family-owned casket companies throughout the United States. Owners from casket companies that serve Wisconsin, Arizona, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Kansas, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, New York and more gathered together to talk about the changing industry.
This group of companies started in 1994, and have been meeting for the last 22 years to share strategic tactics and ideas in facing the larger competition. This meeting, the conversation largely revolved around how each individual casket company is combating the increase in cremation, the after effects of the Matthews-Aurora merger in everyone’s individual region and more!
Each of these owners are very strategic and have survived a major consolidation in the supply chain. They are some of the strongest independently owned companies in the industry. Individually they offer a unique business proposition that the “Big 2” cannot, thus they thrive in their regional markets. If you are reading this, you are likely an independent, family owned funeral home and this is something that you likely use as a value add benefit in “selling” your funeral home in your local community. So I challenge you to simply think twice… your family owned casket or funeral supplier can typically provide a lot of the same, and often times better, value add services as compared to the “Big 2”. The one missing piece to the puzzle that they will provide over the “Big 2” is that they will know your funeral home on a personal basis, and bring hustle and motivation in keeping your staff not only happy, but successful.
Well, that’s a wrap for the ICCFA 2016 convention – from my perspective at least. Hopefully for those of you who did not attend, you got a good glimpse into the conference! I lastly want to thank each person who offered me words of encouragement during the convention on this blog. I really do appreciate it!