David vs Goliath

Charles Cowling

This blog gets as tired of the sound of its own voice as, probably, you do. So it welcomes guest posts from whoever wishes to sound off, air a view, explore an idea — whatever. If you would like to make use of this platform, please feel free. Just send me what you want to say at charles@goodfuneralguide.co.uk and I shall be delighted to post it — subject to the obvious provisos: it mustn’t be libellous, gratuitously offensive, etc.

Today we welcome back David Barrington. The YouTube video above was not David’s idea — I chose it for its tenuous relationship with David’s last incident (below).

Over to you, David:

For a while now I have been amazed by the lack of compassion shown by some of my fellow professionals to prospective clients. In fact, some of the comments just had to be turned into a posting for Charles and all his readers.

First of all there is the funeral arranger who when the family would not accept the coffin he was trying to sell them said:

“Oh okay so you just want a bulk standard one then?”

Maybe that was the only one they could afford. Did he know them personally? Also, surely all of the coffins are of good quality so what difference does it make to him? Or maybe it’s because he has a target to meet? Should funerals be subject to sales targets?

Next there was another person who when the family called for an estimate said before anything else:-

“We’ll need a deposit, you know.”

Again, what bearing does this have on the family’s question at this point? They are asking for an estimate and the funeral company’s representative is assuming they have money problems because they are shopping around.

While visiting a family with a terminally ill relative (who was present at the meeting) I was told about another funeral director who had visited them to discuss funeral costs. The other funeral service representative worked for one of the larger funeral businesses.

Now obviously visiting somebody in this situation is uncomfortable at first, both for them and you and the first thing to do is put them at ease. Show you care, ask about their background, how long they’ve been ill etc.

The guy from the big company turned up dressed as a pallbearer (the family’s words).  When he came into the room where they were, he sat down, didn’t pass the time of day with them, plonked a copy of their brochure down on the table and said:

“Have a look through that and tell me what you want and I’ll let you know how much it is.”

That was pretty much it! For that service, for which the family would pay a premium of around £750 – £1000 more than me.

How can a funeral professional show such a lack of humanity and compassion? Did he think he was selling them a fridge or a washing machine? The lady going in the coffin was sitting there in front of him and he didn’t ask her how she would like to be remembered; what music she wants at her service; how she would like to be dressed; who she would want as the minister and whether she would want to meet him.

The person whose funeral it was to be told her family to tear up the brochure when he left.

One last incident that you should hear. Recently we had a funeral going to our local crematorium. We turned into the driveway and I got out of the hearse to walk the last 100 yards in front of the hearse. As I was walking slowly along, another funeral turned into the driveway and proceeded to go in the out lane, overtake us and pull into the crematorium chapel.  It transpired that they were late for their slot and wanted to get in first. I was absolutely speechless, however the funeral director had only been working for them for 6 months and had been let loose on the public so, I suppose, what do you expect? Again, a large company who charge about £1000 more than me.

These large companies say that they have the best training and development of their staff. Well, where is the evidence of this?

What can I say about these other guys except HOW DARE YOU treat our profession so shoddily and these families so thoughtlessly.

Going the extra mile feels so much better.

10 thoughts on “David vs Goliath

  1. The Good Funeral Guide – Cads’ ads

    […] follower Simon Irons, whose last comment on a post was very bracing, is keeping watch over the ASA site to see what happens in the case of […]

  2. Charles Cowling
    David Barrington

    Hello again all,

    Good to see some spark from the blog, I’m glad to see some extra input.

    Simon, my experience with the larger companies is mixed and when I say experience, I used to be a carriagemaster so I have worked with virtually every funeral director in Liverpool. Some of the funeral directors who work for the big boys are excellent, some are awful, some are as Charles says just doing it for wages.

    One of the examples I mentioned in my post was made by a local independent and I totally agree, some independents are complacent and lazy, they want to do “just another funeral.”

    What I really want is the families to shop around rather than go straight back to the firm that did the last funeral for them. As I said in one of my previous posts for the GFG. If you get along with the funeral director and they understand what you want and are willing to provide it, they empathise and care then they are the right person to carry out the arrangements.

    However so many people don’t. It is such an important decision. I have been interviewed a few times before being asked to act on behalf of a family and I love that they did that.

    I want families to have continuity of service from the firm they contact. Not see someone different every time and then meet the funeral director on the doorstep on the day of the funeral.

    Complacency is the worst thing for funeral businesses big and small, well established firms, the funerals just keep on coming no matter how the FD and his staff behave.

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling

    Oh, meant to say, there’s a nice naughty vicar story over at Final Duties: http://www.finalduties.co.uk/probate-news/

    Tsk tsk.

    (Good blog, though)

    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling

    I think that God may have been a bit cross. Or not, as the case may be. The Supreme Being must have a ripe if not rotten sense of humour; He calls unto Himself some mirthmaking and not-so-mirthmaking representatives here on Earth. Flip-flops, pshaw.

    I think I follow Simon’s logic, if not in quite the same spirit. He objects to the generalisation: all big undertakers bad, all little ones good. He’s right, of course. I am sure David would be the first to agree: there are some awful minnows and, yes, some quite good big’uns.

    Where a generalisation is helpful, though, is in the observation that those who work for themselves tend to work a darn sight harder than those who work for wages. They have a lot more at stake: they have everything to lose. Family businesses three or more generations in may be lazy and complacent and, if there are too many of them, they overpay themselves and underinvest and, in he end, lose the lot (to one of the big’uns). But a new start-up is often as good as it gets: the combination of passion and insecurity inspirits them and keeps their prices keen.

    For all that, it may well be that we are overly critical of the big’uns in this blog. Simon, would you like to restore the balance by writing a guest post? I very much hope you will. A problem we have had is that the big’uns don’t like to talk about themselves and have turned deaf ears to all requests to proclaim their virtues.

    Speak for them!

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling

    Quite a crop for three minutes, you have my respect, Simon. A vicar accused of wearing flip-flops? What was God thinking, ordaining such a sartorial philistine?

    And of course, it MUST mean we’re all at it, I follow your logic perfectly as a dog follows a bitch’s bum.

    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling

    Ah-ha! A dash of controversy at last! Thank you very much for disturbing the consensus, Simon. Come again!

    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    Simon Irons

    I just love it when people have a go at the “big companies”, as if poor service does not exist in the small private firms.

    3 mins on Google turned this little lot up – No big companies here, so no big bosses to take the blame – in these cases its the owner of the business who has failed or cheated.

    So to all you smug independent “small” funeral businesses, if some of you are at it (which is evident from the items reported on the following links) then it stands to reason that all of you are?





    Now lets move on to members of the clergy –




    so are we to assume that all vicars are______________ and all catholic priest are ______________ come on Charles you fill in the blanks and let’s have some fun.

    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling

    Many are the arseholes in this world and unfortunately a few of them work for undertakers. (Excuse my language, what David and Angelarranger tell us is thoroughly infuriating.)

    We need an Offunerals to whom such crapheads can be reported, and so can ministers/celebrants who get the names wrong, clearly have no empathy for the bereaved, are late and then over-run horribly, etc etc.

    Odd that in such a heavily-regulated environment (I leave aside the greedy fools who impoverished us all over the last two or three years- they seem to be able to do as they please), odd that funerals seem to be essentially unregulated and not monitored.

    I’ve been fairly lucky so far, and I have no real horror stories to report from the big companies, but mostly I only see FDs at funerals. No idea how they speak to families beforehand. But I do, as a generalisation, prefer working with small independents.

    Though in one town with two small independents, so bitter is their rivalry that when they found out I was working with both of them (only a matter of time, of course)they both stopped using me! I now have a good relationship again with one of them, the other – nothing.

    Good way of serving your clients, isn’t it? Not “I’m not using her, I think she’s useless” but “I’m not using her because he does.”

    Charles – what’s all this nonsense about us being tired of the sound of your blog’s voice? Pour yourself a glass of Chateau Neuf and give yourself a talking-to. Your blog is revitalising my practice, man!

    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling
    Nick Gandon

    Agree with everything you say David. It just emphasises the core fact that you cannot just “train” people into this job.

    There has to be an empathy, and a solid understanding of sometimes what NOT to say and do, and why.

    It’s not just an exercise of “box ticking”, (no pun intended) and never will be.

    There are some fantastic people in this job – but we can never expect employees of a firm to have the same absolute dedication and drive as the actual owner!

    Charles Cowling
  10. Charles Cowling

    I can add to that…
    The worse comment I have hard of late, was a funeral arranger who told a famil who had to arrnage a second funeral in two months…. her comment “Thats a bit of bad luck ain’t it”
    or she told a family they wouldn’t want the body buried in a cheap coffin better to have a good solid one, not let the worm get at it… not name a if the person who had died was an object, not a person… and Yes they did work for a large comapny and sadly still do..

    Charles Cowling

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