Nice guys finish first

Charles 6 Comments

Celebrants gain all the important insights into funeral directors which are denied to clients. We get to find out what they’re really like, why they do it and whether they really care.

So here’s a tip for all funeral consumers. When your celebrant has been to see you, and you’ve had that nice long chat (tears and laughter, laughter and tears) and planned the funeral ceremony, as you stand on the doorstep, ask: “Are you off to see the undertaker now?”

If the answer’s yes, you picked a good un. (Chances are higher that it’ll be a no.)

As a celebrant you finish your chat with a family with a full, possibly bursting, heart and a need to unpack it. Your partner may not necessarily be the person who’ll welcome the spilled contents. The natural person to splurge to is the person who has already got to know and feel for the family – the undertaker or (dire job title) arranger.

But most aren’t the slightest bit interested in what you have to share. They got what they needed to know in the arrangement meeting; the rest is logistics. And that’s why, as Rupert tartly pointed out a little while ago, they deliberately miss funerals. Simply not interested. In people.

I’m lucky that the client I am working for at the moment has a brilliant funeral director. I leave my client’s house (heart bursting, etc) and drive straight to Judi where we talk, exchange insights and, collaboratively, strive to create a great funeral. We learn from each other and feel good about what we do.

John Hall’s daughter Aimee recently ‘did an arrangement’ with a family. Aimee’s arrangements always last as long as they need – a whole morning is not unusual. They talk about anything and everything and, almost incidentally, Aimee logs what she needs to know. On this occasion she jotted down the very incidental if not totally irrelevant fact that the favourite colour of the woman who had died was green. But it enabled John to kit his crew out in green ties for the big day. The family, having completely forgotten that they had given away this ‘secret’, were astounded and, of course, overjoyed.

Down at Exeter and District Funeral Services, David Albery gathered that a person who had died loved cows. David, too, loves cows; he’s been milking them since the age of 8. So he brought down his collection of ceramic cows and arranged them in his chapel of rest for the viewing. The family was enchanted – and amazed, of course.

Little touches – such a difference. A good funeral director’s most satisfying moments.

Given that a funeral director can learn so much and do their job so much better by giving clients time and sharing thoughts and information with celebrants, it is extraordinary that more don’t do it. Delighted families are free and voluble advertisers. They make you money.

Yesterday afternoon, over a cup of tea, I conducted a survey of 100,000 people nationwide*. I asked what, for them, is the most important attribute of a funeral director. Here’s the result:

Great body prep: 1 (ex-funeral director)
Lovely premises: 3
Smart Victorianalike attire: 4
Fab fleet: 8
Really, really nice person: 99, 984

The only part of a funeral director’s work that calls for exceptional cleverness is exploring the wants and needs of clients – the human interaction, the empathy thing. And yet this is one task that most, if they’re big enough, pass off, often to partially trained part-timers – with an instruction that it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.

Why on earth would you want to downgrade and delegate that part of your work which is of the greatest mutual value?

*Of course I didn’t. What difference would it have made?


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Louise Carron Harris
13 years ago

ooh Charles, I loved this post thank you for sharing. Reading the post actually gave me that feeling I got when I first set up sentiment nearly 5 years ago. I remember being completely crushed and let down by the lack of humanity in FDs attitudes. I thought it was a simple expectation; customer service, understanding, interest, compassion -I was hugely let down. when I discussed the ideas of funeral and wake planning under the original website they were all, well -‘Blank’! They thought it was a waste of time, too personal, too much fuss and as for the… Read more »

Comfort Blanket
Comfort Blanket
13 years ago

That is indeed a brilliant post Charles. Not just because of its thought-provoking content, but because it gained a response from Louise and I now have the chance (if hopefully she read this) to tell her that I love what she is doing and will happily direct families her way. I am fortunate to have one or two FDs of the ‘massive heart’ variety that I work with, although others who (in the words of my old math’s teacher) ‘could do better’. Much better, in fact, now you come to mention it. Your post Charles has inspired me to look… Read more »

13 years ago

Very thought-provoking Charles, and also interesting that the first 2 comments are from (I assume) Celebrants. I posted on twitter this morning that I felt privileged that complete strangers confide so much in me. We’ve all (and I mean Funeral Directors) got stories like that I’m sure. I love it when ceremony leaders, be they religious, civil or humanists, come to see me after their family visit, but they don’t all. So, as CB says, maybe it is time for us all to re-examine the relationships, for us FDs to make more enquiries of the celebrants, and for the celebrants… Read more »

13 years ago

Hi Charles,

As another celebrant, I usually try to see FD after the family visit, or at least phone and speak to them.

Just one caveat though. I’ve tried going round at 9 o’clock in the evening, when my visit has finished but most of them aren’t there, then. Lightweights!

Great post, as always. Glad to hear happy stories of FDs – it’s easy to forget just how good some of them can be.

13 years ago

My rule of thumb here is; Is he or she (or am I) motivated primarily by love?

Or does he try and appear to be when really he’s not?

Or couldn’t he give a monkey’s whether he appears to be?

Or is the idea so completely foreign to him that he just says, Too much fuss?

Call me an aging hippy if you like (you wouldn’t be the first), but what else do you need from those disposing of your child’s or partner’s or parent’s body, or those manifesting the essential ceremony around the act, besides love?

13 years ago

What a fantastic post, I tend to take as long as is needed when I make arrangements and like to chat about pretty much anything really, we get to the details in the end. If i think there is something that should be shared with the minister or celebrant then i usually get in touch to update them. However there are couple of celebrants who I work closely with who I always tend to speak to when I’ve seen the family and then speak again regularly before the ceremony. The sad part is that some of the ministers are quite… Read more »