Jun 07, 2012
Raising the Bar:
How to Choose the Right Vendors For Your Funeral Home
Originally published in the May/June issue of the Funeral Business Advisor.
Appearances can be deceiving. Take this photo of a snowman outside of our building for example. Some people saw the picture and believed someone built a child-sized snowman from a minor snowfall of only 2 inches. But take a closer look…the snow man in this picture is only six inches tall, sitting on top of a picnic bench outside the building. Did it fool you too?
In life, there are many examples of illusions like the this snowman that appear to be one thing, but end up looking completely different from another angle. How many times have you purchased a product or service only to find it lacking after closer inspection? Some companies focus on building and maintaining a facade to distract from inadequacies like unreliable technology, high staff turnover and poor leadership.
For funeral professionals, there is much more at stake when selecting a vendor because a family may suffer as a result of a poor decision. However, choosing what companies to work with in today’s digital age can be a challenge: anyone with Photoshop® and a web domain can easily project a false image. It is essential for funeral directors to do their homework and fully research vendors to avoid being fooled by this type of artful deception. Fortunately, there are several indicators that can help business owners see clearly in a marketplace filled with smoke and mirrors. Here are some ways to separate the authentic from the duplicitous:
In Part One of this 3-part series, I will identify how to fully evaluate a funeral home vendor’s experience, transparency and reputation.
Part Two will provide information on how to compare the technical capabilities of different companies and discuss the benefits of making a personal connection with a vendor.
Part Three will examine some final considerations that should be made before entering into a long-term contract and discuss how to monitor the vendor’s service after you become a customer.
Research Their Experience
Just as employers typically hire job candidates with the longest record of exemplary work, business owners should place a high value on the length of time a vendor has worked in the funeral industry. The company with the most experience will have better knowledge of issues that affect you and will have had time to develop solutions and products specifically for your line of business. Assessing how a company has grown and evolved over a longer period of time will help you to judge how equipped the vendor is to manage your unique needs.
Key Questions to Consider:
► When was the company founded?
► How many years have they worked with funeral professionals?
► Do they work exclusively with funeral homes?
►Has the company remained under the same ownership?
►Is the company privately controlled or publicly owned?
►How has the company changed since it was founded?
Many companies intentionally misrepresent their background to appear more competent. A vendor that lacks experience will rarely advertise the year they were founded: a telltale sign that you should steer clear. You should also be wary of companies that use the phrase “combined experience” in their bios. “Combined Experience” could include everything from two employees with 50 years of experience to 50 employees with two years experience. Inquire about the length of employment of management personnel to weed out companies that lack consistent leadership. Don’t be afraid to consider a vendor you used years ago. The company may have grown exponentially since you last worked with them and may be better equipped now to handle your specific needs.
Before entering into any business arrangement, you should have a complete understanding of how the company has evolved over a long period of time. Look at the products and services added over the years to see how successful the vendor has been in expanding its reach. Even if the company is well established, they may have handled the specialized needs of the funeral profession for a short while. If there are large gaps in the company’s timeline after conducting your research, it is often because the vendor has a spotty performance record, lacks transparency, or is projecting a false image.
Evaluate Their Transparency
Sharing information is one of the simplest ways a company can earn your trust. Many vendors deliberately keep their business practices as close to the vest as possible to conceal inadequacies. A company that stands by its mission and has nothing to hide encourages customers to assess their performance and welcomes feedback. This open line of dialogue demonstrates a proven commitment to the best interests of funeral professionals.
You may not have the ability to monitor every aspect of your business, but for things that are absolutely critical, transparency is a necessity. Foot traffic at your funeral home can be measured with a receptionist and a register book, but what about your after hour phone calls and website visitors? You know that your facilities are well maintained, but how can you be sure your suppliers are following the same code of ethics? Think about every vendor you work with and rate their level of transparency.
Key Questions to Consider:
► Does your crematory allow you to check in and oversee cremations?
►Does your coach company provide you with a detailed history report for every vehicle?
►Does your answering service allow you to listen to your calls and disclose the number of times the phone rang before it was answered?
►Does your website provider give you accurate, daily statistics about your webpage activity?
Companies that don’t make the grade will rarely provide the data that reveals their shortcomings. Before selecting a vendor, inquire about the level of oversight you will have. If company policy is to not disclose the pertinent information you want, seek out a vendor with a more open policy. In today’s digital age, funeral homes require a vendor that can substantiate their business claims with transparent business practices.
Check Their Reviews
For funeral professionals, there is no source more reliable than opinions and endorsements from their peers. No one else better understands the profession or the specific pressures you face. Ask vendors for references from funeral homes who recommend their service or product. While testimonials are certainly a positive sign of a company’s performance record, even substandard businesses can easily produce a few recommendations. To narrow your search, request that the vendor send you testimonials from longtime clients in your local area.
Any occasion that you have to network with other funeral professionals can be an opportunity for evaluating funeral home vendors. When you are attending conventions or continuing education classes, ask other directors what companies they use. The internet can also be a fantastic tool for connecting with funeral directors from across the country. An inquiry on a Linked In discussion board or a Google Business review may tell you more about a company’s reputation than the owner wants you to know.
Research the company’s standing with other major players within the funeral profession. If the vendor is embraced by the rest of the industry, it demonstrates that the company is highly respected and has cultivated business relationships with funeral professionals. When funeral home vendors partner together, directors often profit from attractive promotions, discounts and opportunities. A vendor that has not connected with other industry leaders will not be able to offer these same benefits.
Key questions to ask:
►Have you asked other funeral professionals about the vendor?
►Have you asked the vendor to send you specific testimonials from other directors?
►Have you thoroughly researched the company on the Web?
►Have you checked the vendors social sites to rate the level of client engagement?
►Does the company support funeral home associations?
►Is the vendor connected with other industry leading organizations?
As a funeral director, protecting your reputation for excellence is a crucial necessity. You should expect no less from the companies with whom you conduct business. If a vendor offers a better price, consider the quality you might be sacrificing if you choose a second-rate company. There is no better standard to hold vendors to than the standards you follow as a funeral director.
Read next month’s issue of the Funeral Business Advisor for Part 2 of this 3-part Series on how to compare the technical capabilities of different companies and the benefits of making a personal connection with vendors.
About The Author
Jess Farren (Fowler)
Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess@myASD.com