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How To Become A 5%'er
 By Mike Bjerum CFSP, Senior Technical Advisor - Kelco Supply Company

Nothing can replace experience as we learn our trade and hone our skills.  However, by observing and learning from others successes, failures, corrections, and innovations we can simplify our own learning curve.  This is why Kelco Supply supports the organizations and learning events that serve funeral and death care providers.  As a part of this I was recently given the opportunity to make a presentation at the Kates Boylston Business Symposium in New Orleans.

Anyone who has lasted in funeral service for more than a few years has learned and applied the skills to get 95% correct, and they are recognized, liked, and even recommended by their communities & the families they serve.  What is the 5% left to be accomplished, and how do we rise to the top?  The 5% is not as much about what we offer or what we do, as it is about how we do it.  The 5%’er is the professional that has raised their personal bar high enough to be the best.

Conquering the 5% takes place mostly behind the scenes.  This is the area where we prepare to serve the community and facilitate the services that families pay us for.  If we are not properly prepared to act we will fall short in the eyes of a hurting person, and we will not only harm our business but also the entire profession.

Steps toward becoming a 5%’er:

Create a Mission Statement
Define the purpose of your business, put it in writing, and weigh every business decision by this simple and clear one or two sentence statement.

Goals and Objectives
Why do you do what you do?  What do you hope to achieve?  Maybe your goal is to grow your business to a level that it will provide for your retirement and world travel, and that this will be achieved in 15 years. Now, what are the objectives or steps you will take to reach this goal?  
Put your goal in writing, weigh it against your mission statement, and identify  your objectives that will take you step by step to your goal.  Don’t be afraid to revisit and adjust your goal and your objectives as you move forward.

Put Your Financial House in Order
Every business decision, every action taken in serving the public & every piece of merchandise has a price tag and financial consequences for the bottom line. It is not possible to provide top notch service to a hurting public if with each step we are calculating the cost and returns.
Spend time to analyze your business operations, put your charges in place, and serve without worrying about the finances.  Review these figures at regular points, but don’t concern yourself with them while serving people.

Inventory is high on the priority list.  However, merchandise is not the only inventory of concern.  As suppliers we are available to assist with decisions concerning physical merchandise and how it fits in your operation.  However, the inventories that break you through into the top 5% include:

  • Staff: Choose and assign your staff based on their ability to serve diversity of age, gender, religious or civic organizations, military, etc.  We cannot be all things to all people, and neither can our staff members.  However, by hiring a diverse and sincere caring staff, top notch service will be communicated and completed.
  • Community Resources: Identify and review the resources available in your area.  Religious and non-religious organizations & facilities, service organizations, military organizations, musicians, specialty vehicles, and unique catering and lodging providers.  When we are called to serve, our customers’ lives are full of turmoil and uncertainty.  We need to identify our resources in advance, so that when a family asks for something, we know rapidly and with certainty what we can provide.  

Facilities Appearance
Comfort, and usability are the areas of concern when it comes to our facilities, and I recommend the same technique to evaluate both:  Walk through your facility backwards to gain a new perspective.  

  • Appearance: Sometimes through familiarity we miss simple things like dust in a corner, bugs in a light fixture, or mismatched bulbs in globes.

  • Comfort: Are your public areas open and inviting, easy to navigate, uncluttered, well lit but not glaring, and are the furnishings comfortable and convenient?

  • Usability: Our customers (we have long referred to those we serve as “our families”, but we need to remember they are customers who shop and choose their provider) are no longer looking for cookie cutter events.  How easy can your facility be rearranged to allow those gathering to welcome their guests and conduct their events in a manner that matches the life of the decedent?

  • Equipment: Pull out all of your service equipment where you can get a good look at it.  Some items will need cleaning, painting, repair, and some will need to go to the landfill. From time to time we need to be reminded that items can be used in different ways.  I like to get input from those we work with and knowledgable outside individuals, and ask them how they can see this equipment being used.  Too often we only see chairs lined up in straight rows and flowers flanking the casket.  A community member who facilitates gatherings may envision small clusters of groups with each group having a small display area.  Remember those worn out items you sent to the landfill or recycler earlier?  Now would be a good time to evaluate how you are going to replace them.  May I suggest listening to those we serve and the flexibility they are wanting?  We are seeing more portable items available all the time.  Consider items that not only work well within your own facility, but that can also be easily transported and set up in neutral locations.

The Final Step is Interpersonal Skills
To provide service and events that exceed all expectations, we must commit the time and effort to educate ourselves to what the public is looking for, and we must educate the public as to what is available.  Every time we speak with the public, we have the chance to educate the consumer in what is available and the value of what we do.  It is important to have your short responsessecured in your mind, so you can reply in a clear and non threatening manor to questions and comments.  When it comes to planning services it is important to conduct interviews in a comfortable way.  We need to get to know the person who lived, and those who are arranging for the services.  Our job is to blend an event that reflects the life that was lived, in a manner that the survivors are comfortablewith, and that will provide the foundation of healing within the community.

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