By Leader Contributor Mark Krause, Funeral Director & President of Krause Funeral Homes & Cremation Service, Inc. in Milwaukee, WI

2020 was the year of drinking out of the fire hose. Like many of you, we experienced a phenomenal surge in call volume.

Was it COVID, possibly the aging of the Baby Boomers, or maybe just the law of large numbers?  Whatever it was, 2020 seemed like a scramble from beginning to end. 

OK, the first two months of the year were pretty normal. We had a good call volume, the staff did well, and the facilities were all looking and operating first class. COVID hit in the second week of March, and all normalcy has been on vacation since.

Here lies my concern: Are we seeing trends that could spell trouble for funeral service in a cultural way?

The Evening Visitation

I have been watching an interesting statistic over the past few years — the diminishing evening visitation. It is my feeling that the evening visitation is a key indicator as to the health of our profession.

Think about it: Where and when is the greatest exposure to what and how were operate? The consumer/funeral service interface is of the utmost importance to keeping our profession viable while holding value and meaning for those who purchase the funeral experience. We understand that much of the therapeutic value of the funeral is in the social interaction with the family and their guests.

Here lies our greatest opportunity: to reinforce the value not only to the at-need family but to the next families that are deciding which funeral home to select — or if they even want an event. As they experience the visitation or funeral, do they perceive value and meaning or just some sort of obligatory ritual that is OK for mom and dad?

Think about when people can attend the funeral. Attendance is maximized in the evening and on weekends. Weekend funeral times are at a premium these days. There are just so many to go around. Combine this with the half-staff issues weekends bring, and our best alternative is the weekday evenings. 

Trends I’ve Noticed

At Krause, I have been tracking these stats since 2012 (see chart below). What they show is a trend away from traditional funeral services.

First, let’s look at the line titled “Evening Visitations.” 2020 was a mulligan year, and it gave arrangers an easy out to say, “Because of COVID, the family has chosen to not do anything or only have immediate family, etc.” In 2012, we were having 37% of our services with an evening visitation.

For argument’s sake, let’s look at pre-COVID in 2019. It had dropped to only 20%. What I find most alarming is what I feel is the reason for this trend — arranger apathy. I see arrangers not wanting to work in the evenings in combination with not knowing how to eloquently explain to the family the importance and reasons for having that evening visitation.

It is also a training issue. Do we spend time training our directors to give them the tools to explain these concepts to the families we serve or are we taking their order and not giving them the many reasons that they should have that visitation? At Krause, we have set into motion the beginnings of a new training module, part of which will be reinforcing the philosophies of the value of the funeral and the reasoning we desire more evening visitations.

We can see some other trends with this data. People that have no services is a sign showing the secularization of our culture, which is a good argument for Celebrant Services

The beauty of using Passare is that we have created two massive reports that allow me to pull data which helps me to drill down into each director and see just much they buy into funeral service, our special Signature Services, and ultimately, the Krause Way. These reports show which directors avoid evening work like the plague and which ones are in there swinging the bat. It gives me the ability to train my staff, not just on sales numbers, but the stuff that is the heart and soul of what we do. 

How are you watching, supporting, and reinforcing the values of funeral service and your funeral home? As a profession, we have to get our staff and our client families back to a pre-COVID mentality, or we could see our businesses slip into something culturally that we might not be able to recover.

Getting arrangers to discuss the sadness and grief COVID brought to families who could not celebrate the life with a visitation would be a way to get funeral service back on track. COVID has been the perfect excuse to, “Do whatever the family wants,” but the time to course-correct is now.

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