Fobbed off and let down

Charles Cowling

There’s no rule of thumb that will help us find a good funeral director.

The soulless efficiency of the firm that sells us car insurance suits us very well so long as it’s the cheapest. But when someone has died, what we look for is an intensely personal service, and it naturally seems most likely that we’ll get that from a little independent family business rather than from a branch of one of the conglomerates (Dignity and the Co-ops) or a chain of funeral directors. The big boys know this, they know that the perception is that big equals impersonal and soulless, and that is why, when they acquire a family business, they like to go on trading misleadingly under the old family name.

If they believed that they were doing the best possible job they’d have the confidence to proclaim UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT! The fact that they don’t tells us something, doesn’t it?

And yet, as a great sage of the industry observed to me recently, there are good big ‘uns and bad little ‘uns — and the other way about. Yes, there are some nasty little tykes out there, and some really top-notch branches of the big ‘uns.

We get very few scandals in the UK funeral industry but we do get muddles and screw-ups. It is famous in the industry that these are normally committed by the Co-ops. Here’s an example:

On 1 September this year the funeral for a Leeds woman, a stickler, in life, for punctuality, was arranged by Co-op Funeralcare for 2.20 at Lawnswood crematorium. The hearse and 2 limousines didn’t get to her daughter Kathleen Gamble’s house until 2.40. Fortunately, the crem was able to accommodate the delay. On a busy day, it wouldn’t. Mrs Gamble was furious: “Somebody should be held accountable for making a really sad day for us even more traumatic, emotional and stressful. My mother was never late for anything and then she turned up late to her own funeral.”

There’s Greenwich Mean Time and there’s Funeral Directors’ Time. FDT makes GMT look sloppy and inexact. Funeral directors, you’ll be interested to know, obsess about time. When, on a recent Holby, the cortege for a 12 o’clock funeral pulled up at a quarter to, all the watching undertakers dived behind their sofas, heads in hands. A well run cortege arrives bang on the dot, no earlier, no later. The Co-op’s crime in Leeds was, in funeralworld, well, horrible.

Funeralcare has a multitude of administrative systems designed to make its operation (literally) idiot-proof. In this case, they blamed their howler on a “communication breakdown”. We can only speculate on what really happened. It looks as if the idiots won.

Could the little independent family firm for whose clients I lead funerals have committed such a howler? Absolutely not. How do I know? Because, simply, I know how much they care. Every funeral is, for them, an event, not just another job.

Even a moron-proof admin system will not be proof against an employee who doesn’t care enough or is too busy.

When Funeralcare finally got around to explaining their cock up to Mrs Gamble more than three weeks later, this was her response: “Apparently plans are in place to prevent it from happening again but I just don’t believe them. We feel completely fobbed off and let down.”

We know how she feels. This blog has invited Funeralcare on three occasions to write and tell us about its ethos and, despite promising to do so, it has failed. It is incredible that, given a free opportunity to target consumers, talk about itself and get us all to love it, Funeralcare goes on passing up the chance, falling into contempt and letting down its best employees into the bargain.

To what do we ascribe this? Arrogance? Complacency? Stupidity?

Let’s be kind. Let’s put it down to a “communications breakdown” and hope that “plans are in place to prevent it from happening again”. The only reason why this blog presents a one-sided view of Funeralcare is because they won’t rise to their defence. I believe that there are two sides to this story. Readers will form their own judgement.

For the fourth time I shall now write to Funeralcare, asking them to respond, refute — and advertise for free.

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