Chasing Ambulances

Chasing Ambulances

“The world is so unpredictable. Things happen suddenly, unexpectedly. We want to feel we are in control of our own existence. In some ways we are, in some ways we’re not. We are ruled by the forces of chance and coincidence.” -Paul Auster (actor and director)

 

THE WORST FEELING

Our pre-need person came into the office about in tears. She had made a phone call to a woman she met last year at a seminar. However, she did not dial the right phone number and reached a woman who gave her a piece of her mind.

This woman was screaming into the phone how she was an ambulance chaser and her son was barely out the door on his way to the hospital. How could she possibly be so heartless to call while he was still breathing?!

It was one of those fluke situations that could not have happened at a worse time. My coworker sincerely apologized, she briefly explained it was a wrong number and she was trying to reach someone else, and then she offered the most genuine words to the mother who was meeting her son at the hospital.

Afterwards, we consoled the poor pre-need gal and assured her that there was nothing she could do about it. She was rattled for the rest of the day and there was nothing we could do about it.

*69 REDIAL

The next morning, our office gal came downstairs to an important staff meeting. She interrupted and grabbed our pre-need woman to tell her that she had a phone call. It was the woman from the day before. We knew it was urgent since she seldom interrupted the meetings.

My heart dropped, I just knew she was about to yell at her a second time. Watching her carefully through the doorway, I was shocked to see her smile and nod in agreement. After a long conversation and many notes, she got off the phone.

She took a first call. The woman’s son had passed away in the night after getting taken to the hospital. When the mother told the story of how rude it was that we had called so quickly, her family told her how absolutely far fetched it was that we would have even known he was taken by ambulance. The more they talked, the more they realized it was purely an accident.

WHEN THE SIGNS POINT TO YOU

Once he passed away, they started thinking about funeral homes. Being a very spiritual family, someone pointed out that maybe it was a sign from God and he was pointing out the funeral home to use.

We were located over 25 miles away from them, yet the decided to come by to meet us. They ended up staying and having his services at our facility. They were an amazing family.

DON’T REACT… RESPOND

As a pre-need person, there are going to be times when a cold call goes badly or an appointment takes a bad turn. It is so difficult to take the high road and tell the person what they want to hear. A sincere apology, an understanding agreement, or just silence is usually the best response.

A reaction is what is natural to most people. Tensing up, becoming defensive, or just blurting out something inappropriate are all things that are likely to occur. A response is a trained skill, it takes much practice. There is a distinct difference between the two and every pre-need specialist should learn more about the difference between responding and reacting.

Just take a breath and remember to respond, not react. That person will think more highly of you, and who knows, maybe they will use your services down the road because they were impressed by your class.

 

No Skirt, No Shoes, No Funeral Service

No Skirt, No Shoes, No Funeral Service

“Sometimes we let life guide us, and other times we take life by the horns. But one thing is for sure: no matter how organized we are, or how well we plan, we can always expect the unexpected.” -Brandon Jenner (actor and composer)

 

THAT’LL WAKE YOU UP

It was an early Saturday morning for our hearse driver, the funeral assistant, and myself. We were headed to a church across town and the service we were already running a bit late.

As we loaded the casket into our coach, I felt a tug on my skirt and asked the hearse driver to stop for a moment and hold the casket. My skirt had gotten caught in the rollers of the hearse. No big deal, right?

We quickly decided we would just reverse and unload the casket. Then, my skirt should unroll with it. Well, even the best thought out plans can fall through. We ended up tangling my skirt even worse and the hearse driver was stuck holding the casket end by himself.

ARE YOU HITTING ON ME?

As any retired man would say to a woman half his age, “Our only choice is for you to take your skirt off.” As funny as it sounded, he was right and it was the only option for us. The icing on the cake was that we were loading outside in the parking lot instead of the garage like usual.

After assuring that his eyes were closed and no one was driving by, I unzipped my skirt and ran inside with just my underwear and pantyhose on. I grabbed the first thing I could, which was a high traffic rug, and wrapped it around me.

With much effort, the driver was able to get my skirt out with just a three inch tear. It was discreet enough that I was able to staple it, throw it back on, and then continue with our day. The two other staff busted their butts to help make up for lost time.

The situation could have ruined our day, our mood, and ultimately the service; however, the three of us decided 20 minutes of running around was worth the humor of the morning.

LET’S MEET IN… THE BROOM CLOSET?

Funeral directors are used to the rollercoaster that is every day in funeral service. But, more often than not, this is where pre-need specialists get frazzled.

It happens all the time. The pre-need specialist arrives at the funeral home to find out all the arrangement rooms are taken and there is a private view in the chapel. The available options are to meet in the lobby or the broom closet.

The natural response is an increased heart rate and panic. They run around the building frantically trying to make a meeting area for their appointment and work to line up the right catalogues and binders.

By the time the family arrives, they still have not calmed down. Usually they are unnecessarily apologizing for the circumstances and honestly, the family does not even realize the situation needs apologizing for.

The pace in these appointments is much quicker than it should be, and there is stress in the air. The family can always sense that something is wrong.

JUST TAKE A BREATH

First of all, just take a deep breath. Your appointment relies on you calming down. They say that animals can sense fear, well the same is true about humans, they can sense anxiety.

Second of all, do not get upset with the funeral directors. Realize that every moment of their lives is hopping from moment to moment and they are used to putting out little fires throughout the day. They are constantly on adrenaline rush because they never know what the next hour will bring. This is not how the pre-need departments usually operate but the funeral directors cannot seem to comprehend that.

Lastly, remember that you personally decide your mood and your mood sets the atmosphere. Learn different techniques on how to calm down when things are going wrong. Do not let the little things affect the big picture. As long as you are not running through a parking lot with just pantyhose on, I would say your day cannot be that bad.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

“You can talk with someone for years, every day, and still, it won’t mean as much as what you can have when you sit in front of someone, not saying a word, yet you feel that person with your heart, you feel like you have known the person for forever…. connections are made with the heart, not the tongue.” -C. Joybell C. (author)

 

MY AHA MOMENT

Before we were ever engaged, Andrew and I went to his sister’s gorgeous wedding in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. It was right on the river, the decorations were phenomenal, the food was delicious, and the music was perfect. As you know, there is always a “but”…

But… there were hundreds of people everywhere. Hundreds of people for the couple to talk with and say hello to. It was at that moment in which I knew we could never get married in the Midwest because his family is absolutely gigantic.

YOU’VE GOT MAIL

Fast forward two years to when we become engaged and we happily agree to have a destination wedding for close friends and family. We researched locations and decided on a resort in Tulum, Mexico. After sending out our save the dates, we began working with the resort and coordinators.

Since our coordinator was in Mexico and we were in the United States, we worked solely via email. Every question we had was answered with “Do not worry, it will be taken care of” or “We will discuss that when you come down here.” When something of substance was sent to us, it made absolutely no sense. It was a mash up of information and numbers.

The whole planning process was very stressful because we did not know anything about this type of wedding and we were not receiving valuable answers. We truly were second guessing the resort and second guessing going forward with a destination wedding.

BIENVENIDO A MEXICO

Before getting on our airplane, we did not have answers and our friends and family did not have answers. We were just trusting the email correspondence.

Upon arrival at the resort, we were greeted with attention and love. I cannot describe the moment we met our coordinator, Estefania. It was a huge relief getting that first hug from her and hearing that everything was going to be perfect.

We sat across from her in the boutique and she went through everything, every detail. She talked about the route my father would walk me to the ceremony, she talked about the garnish on the chicken, and she talked about who would give the champagne toast on the beach. When I had questions, she could see on my face that she needed to explain further. When I was happy with details, she could see how important it was to me.

FACE TO FACE, MAN TO MAN

Absolutely nothing can replace the experience of meeting face to face. The interaction during this time is the most effective type of communication.

When working with a family who is pre-planning, you need to remember the impact of your presence to them. Do whatever possible to get them right in front of you.

If someone wants information only, volunteer to bring it right to their door instead of mailing or emailing it. Better yet, get them in the door by seeing if they will come pick it up in person. More often than not, they will sit down at a table as you clarify the information.

If someone submits their information online or by email, pick up the phone to call them. By hearing your voice, it makes you a real person. It makes you more trustworthy and it makes them more likely to come to the facility.

Without a doubt, it is very hard to make a stranger feel welcome simply through written correspondence. Meet in person whenever possible, and settle on talking by phone when needed.

NATIONWIDE INSURANCE

My favorite commercial about customer service is from Nationwide Car Insurance. They are spot on with their commercial about the impersonal nature of today’s world. When referring to customer service today, the commercial voice over says “It happens so often, you almost get used to it” as a drone haphazardly drops a package in front of someone’s house.

The commercial ends with a man hugging the insurance representative who is looking at his car in an accident because it is so uncommon to have face to face service anymore.

Be that stranger that person that someone hugs because they were not expecting an interpersonal interaction.

STAND APART FROM THE REST

You can never replace human interaction with written correspondence. Let your face to face meetings be a core element to your job and strive each day to improve yourself within those face to face meetings. There are so many resources on how to become a superior service provider, utilize these resources daily.

Our wedding day would not have been the same without Estefania’s guidance and kindness when we got that first hug in person. However, you will never understand exactly how I felt in that moment so make sure to find your own in person example of when someone made you feel special. Use your own happy moment to drive you as you move forward in your career.

It’s Not a Sprint, It’s a Marathon

It’s Not a Sprint, It’s a Marathon

“Concentrate on small segments of your race at a time. For example, rather than obsessing about the distance that remains, simply complete the next mile in good form…try another, then another, until the race is done.” -Jerry Lynch (baseball player)

 

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

It was one of those moments when I was a bit late to the conversation between my friends. Everyone was super pumped and they were getting excited about a group activity, I got caught up in the excitement, and BOOM, I agreed to something ridiculous.

That’s right… I agreed to something I absolutely have very little chance of completing: a Tough Mudder race. Usually several states have the chance to host this intense race so we were excited that Minnesota was hosting one this year.

The kicker, however, is that the town I live in was hosting the race. Good old Hugo, Minnesota. So, I was easily convinced with peer pressure, “It is a sign, we HAVE to do it.”

One truly does not know what one of these races entail until they watch a video. The general idea is about a 10-12 mile run with some intense obstacles involved. By intense obstacles, I mean LIVE wires hanging inches above water or creating a chain of people to get over a 20 foot wall or jumping off a cliff into a giant pond of iced water.

DUST OFF THE RUNNING SHOES

My husband is a very routine and seasoned runner. Very seldom will an evening go by that he does not squeeze in a few miles of running, so this event is not going to affect him much.

On the other hand, I may have gotten a reputation for being a routine relaxer. I have always attributed this to his desk job versus my running around job, but the reality is that I am out of shape and have become lazy.

For Christmas, Andrew got me some amazing running shoes. It was the first time in my life that I actually owned a pair of shoes that were designed for running. However, winter was pretty cold this year and I barely set foot in those shoes.

Luckily, it was 60 degrees today, so for the first after a long, cold few months I knew it was time to dust off my running shoes.

MIND OVER BODY? YEAH RIGHT…

Leaving for my first run, I was ecstatic. I used to run 10k’s and 5k’s without any issue. Just last year I ran the 7 mile stretch of a marathon relay. Turning on my music, I started my run with a little of P!nk’s “Get the Party Started” because it is the best pump up music I can think of. It was not long before I started struggling, P!nk wasn’t even to “I’m your operator, you can call anytime…” I was completely out of breath. My mind was so ready to run far but my body was not.

As I looked down, struggling for motivation, I realized I had been doing all the basics wrong. My shoulders were slumped over, I was staring at the ground a few feet in front of me, my breathing was not calm. I ultimately was setting myself up for failure.

THE TOOLS TO SUCCEED

As I stood there, I realized I needed to start my run over in my head, I looked up into the horizon and saw the beautiful trail I was missing. I took a deep breath, put my shoulders back, then took off towards home.

The last part of my run was much better, it was not up to the caliber that I had envisioned in my mind, but it was significantly better than how I started. The tools were there the whole time, I just accessed them too late.

The same lesson can be relevant when working with families pre-planning. Think of them as your body and you as your mind. Although you would love to be able to control them and have them finish the race right off the bat, sometimes they are not in a position to run the whole race in one time.

Like I could not control my body on that first run, you cannot control every client on that first appointment. They may need several consultations and they may need to be given the right tools over a period of time.

Remember, you can be a mediocre professional and let them control the pace without guidance, or you can be a wonderful professional and give them the tools to get their arrangements in shape and plan appropriately.

You will get them to the end of the race, it just takes the right training. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Talking the Talk

Talking the Talk

“There is only one kind of shock worse than the totally unexpected: the expected for which one has refused to prepare.” – Mary Renault (writer)


WHEN WORK COMES HOME WITH YOU

Being a funeral director, one would assume that discussion about funerals would not shock my family. That was certainly not true the day I brought home a copy of a new project about pre-planning and my husband had a minor freak out.

You see, I was in the middle of designing a packet featuring the details of a service when I decided to use myself for the hard copy example. Using my own photos and my own choices was ultimately the best way for me to decide what details were important to include and what the layout could look like.

I had never realized that until this project, I had never made any attempt to share with him how I pictured my funeral.

THE TALENTLESS PIANO TEACHER

My thought process regarding this mini project was that people would never trust a piano teacher who does not play the piano themselves. People would never trust a wedding planner if they have never attended a wedding before. So, why would people trust a pre-planning specialist if that person has not pre-planned their own arrangements.

To be good at what you do, you have to believe in your service or product before you can sell the benefits it.

“YOU WANT WHAT…?”

Back to my mini project. On the cover of the packet, I had my favorite photo of myself and my name were splashed across it. Inside were details about the foods and drinks I want served at my gathering, the photos I want in my DVD tribute, my rental casket choice and urn choice, and the color of flowers I prefer.

My husband immediately started asking “Do you really want a gourmet coffee bar set up at your visitation?” and “Really, you want THAT photograph to be shown in your video?”

As thrown back as he was by this packet, I was equally surprised by his reaction to my choices. This was clearly a conversation that the two of us should have had a long time ago.

YOU HAVE TO START SOMEWHERE

It’s ironic that those of us in the funeral industry are usually the last to plan our funerals. We will casually mention small things such as, “If I die, I want Chipotle to cater” or “At my funeral, make sure they play ‘Staying Alive’ as we leave the service” but we are the last ones to actually make our own pre-arrangements and write these wishes down.

The biggest battle for any person (whether they work in the industry or not) is to start talking about details. Just start the discussion with your family or friends. This is the first step and ultimately the most important because it will get the ball rolling for future discussion and decisions.

WHY SO SERIOUS?

At the beginning of the week, my husband and I talk about everything we have going on to ensure we do not double book any evenings.

The day after he saw my funeral plans, he looked at me very seriously and said, “Make sure you write down March 23rd in the calendar.” I opened the calendar and was perplexed, I could not think of what would be happening that day. “You are in the wrong year, you need to write down March 23, 2054, the day you are going to die.”

I had completely forgotten that our software to design printing needed a birth AND death date to create a template. He had memorized the random date that had appeared in the hard copy packet for my plans.

Although thinking about your funeral is a serious topic, have fun with it and put yourself at ease. Our conversation did not end the night my husband saw my funeral requests, he still brings it up in random conversations.

TAKE THE FIRST STEP

There is a saying that goes something like, “You can’t just talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk.” Well, when it comes to discussing future funeral arrangements, remember that talking the talk is good enough for now.

If someone comes to you with questions and nothing more, do not be disheartened. Be excited that they started that conversation and they will continue that conversation. They may not come back to you, but maybe they mention your conversation to a friend or neighbor and that person comes to talk to you.

Try to encourage every person who asks you questions to start the conversation with their loved ones, to make their most important preferences known, and to take that first step.

Most importantly, don’t be that talentless piano teacher, put your own arrangements down on paper.