SCI Manipulates Cremation Customers
The following arrived in the FAMSA mail:
Enclosed are educational tools for a new program which Service Corporation International (SCI) is imposing on their funeral homes and members of memorial societies who use their facilities. This program appears to be in conflict with memorial society philosophies and purposes. I apologize for sending this information anonymously.
A Memorial Society Friend
Even though the following is attributed to SCI, it is very likely that other firms are using similar or identical sales tactics, as such stratagies have been described in industry forums.
Studies show that repetition is the key to convincing consumers to “buy” a particular idea (as in the many TV ads for diarrhea and heartburn remedies). You’ll quickly note the repetition throughout the following, including large-print visual displays to make sure the hard- of-hearing or the visually-impaired aren’t missed in the process. (Sorry about the poor quality reproductions for some pages, but the copies we got weren’t great either.)
Although the entire text is not reproduced here, what is striking about the “script” is the parts that should have been included but are missing. No where is a counsellor guided to ask: “Do you know what the deceased wanted for his/her funeral arrangements?” Or, “What kind of funeral rituals are important to your family?” Bold in the script appears in the original text.
Initial call: Set appointments on the quarter hour. It has been determined that families with quarter hour appointments are more likely to be “on-time” than families with hour or half-hour appointments. Inform the family that the conference will take approximately an hour and a half. This time will be spent designing/creating the service plans, planning the cremation, and signing necessary documents. [In one instance, the exhausted widow begged to go home after two-and-a- half hours. She had expected to make all arrangements in 30 minutes or so.]
Inform the family that they will be assisted by two funeral home professionals: 1) The Funeral Director (yourself), 2) Family Service Counselor. This is so we can better serve the family. [And gives a second one the chance to “sell” the family if the first one doesn’t succeed?]
Inform the family of the variety of available service options. . . . Offer meaningful services by includingto accompany the remains through the cremation process. [All this during the first phone call you’ve made to say that Mom has finally passed away?] balloon releases and refreshments-catering. Offer family flowers
Mention clothing to all families, including those who select cremation. Offer funeral home clothing to every family. This enables us to handle the cremation in a dignified manner. Whether a family chooses to bury or cremate, respect for the deceased is no different [but this really plays into the next item].
Inform the family of the need to identify the remains in the cremation container they have selected. This satisfies/comforts the family that the process is being managed properly and assures peace of mind for all concerned. The identification should occur at a later scheduled time to permit proper reparation [sic] center handling of the remains. Please remind the family they may have a private family viewing for the immediate family only. [Isn’t it the responsibility of the funeral home to know which body is which? Would the mortician risk traumatizing the family by showing the wrong body? Further reading will reveal the ulterior motive.]
If asked, inform the family of the variety of cremation containers available. Most are designed in the European style. [Toe-pinchers reminiscent of civil war caskets?]
Tell the family that you will need a list of pallbearers, including phone numbers for us to contact. If you are given the names over the phone, be careful to ask for correct spelling. This serves to ensure the correct spelling of the names for newspaper notices and pallbearers’ letters. [Pallbearers for a cremation? Or is this more likely a preneed selling contact, as one family found out. A week after the funeral, a preneed counselor arrived with a “gift” from Mrs. M., a laminated copy of the obituary notice. The cemetery rep then tried to sell a preneed arrangement to the family friend who’d served as a pallbearer.]
Mention flowers [Again?].
From the script for the arrangements conference:
First to meet the family is the Family Service Counselor. The counselor greets the family and assists them with coffee, etc.
STATEMENT (to be made at the time of the first objection [to what?] by the family or if no objection is made, this statement must be made to every family at the beginning of every arrangement.)
Today you are going to make some decisions that will affect you and your family for the rest of your lifetimes. It is important that we make the right decisions today as many of these decisions are final and cannot be reversed tomorrow or next week. [Suddenly it’s we?]
As your funeral professional, I have two obligations to your family. The first is a legal obligation. In accordance with FTC law I must provide you with a general price list. [But are you going to give me any time to look at it? Or are you going to distract me with your sales pitch?] Also, in accordance with State and Federal Laws we maintain and offer the best funeral facilities available.
The second obligation to you is a moral obligation. There is a lot of information that your family is entitled to. I am not here to sell you anything [Oh, yeah? I bet that’s not what headquarters thinks.] but rather provide you with that information. This information is necessary [for your monthly quota?] and will assist your family in making the arrangements appropriate to suit your family needs. In today’s legal environment, (and I personally would feel awful if you did), you should not leave here without all of the information you are entitled to. Please allow our staff at [Blankety-blank] funeral home to do our job thoroughly and serve your family to your expectations. [Or yours?]
Let me explain to you what we will need to accomplish in our arrangement process today . . .
Open the “Family Cremation Guide” and begin . . . .)
My name is [Blankety-blank] and I am a family service counselor here at [Blankety-blank]. I will be one of two professionals assisting your family throughout the entire funeral arrangement process. The other will be [Blankety-blank]. He/she is a funeral director here. We believe by having two professionals assist your family, we will be able to pay double attention to your families (sic) specific needs at this difficult time. Before we begin, do you have any questions? [But I probably shouldn’t ask too many or you might lose your place in the script. ] Let me explain to you what we will need to accomplish in our arrangement process today. We will be using this simple eight page presentation (point to the “Family Cremation Guide”) to assure that we do not neglect to explain all arrangement details to you. Please follow along with me if you desire.
There are basically only four things we need to accomplish during this arrangement conference. You[r] funeral director will be assisting you with the first three. He/she will be gathering some very important information necessary for processing the paperwork for the death certificate and other important documentation. Secondly, your funeral director will be discussing ceremony/service options. It is important that no-matter how simple or how elaborate, that your family consider some kind of celebration to allow for closure and healing. The third item the funeral director will need your help with will be the selection of a cremation container. This container will be used for the cremation process itself, as well as your positive visual identification. The final topic to be discussed is what your family intends to do with the cremated human body of your (Mother/Father/Husband, etc.). After your funeral director has cover[ed] the first three items, I will rejoin you to discuss final disposition and MEMORIALIZATION. This will occur in about 30/40 minutes. Do you have any questions?
[Some funeral homes are now charging for “identification viewing.” The enforcement lawyer at the Federal Trade Commission says that this is a declinable fee, one you DO NOT have to pay. Only if you wish to choose a private viewing by the family would there be a legitimate charge.]
The Family Service Counselor now exits the room and returns to introduce the Funeral Director. The Funeral Director greets the family and begins the arrangement. The Funeral Director then reviews the “Arrangement Process” again with the family. [Again? Let’s get on with it, folks. . . .] The Funeral Director then proceeds to gather information and fill in the paperwork. Upon its conclusion the funeral director then turns to the next page in the “Family Cremation Guide” titled “Ceremony and Celebration Options.”
It is now time to discuss the various service and ceremony options available to your family. It is important to remember that regardless of how simple or elaborate, your family must consider doing something to celebrate this wonderful life that was lived. [Preferably something you can charge for?] It is a vital part of the healing process. There is no boundary or limit on what we can assist you with. [I’m sure there isn’t. More discussion of options is given . . . .]
As previously mentioned you will need to choose a cremation container. This container is a requirement and will meet three specific needs. One, it will be used for the cremation process itself. Second it will be used for the positive visual identification of your loved one. Lastly, it will be the container which will protect your loved one while in our care here at the funeral home.
There are three basic types of cremation containers. There are hardwood caskets, both of a more traditional design as the one depicted here as well a[s] others that are more cremation specific. There are also cremation containers. They are simple in design for those families wanting a dignified unique container to protect their loved one. We also have a minimum cardboard box. This container is quite simply a cardboard box with no pillow and no mattress. Please follow me as we have these containers displayed in a separate room. [Did someone forget that a casket price list must be offered first?] It is necessary that you accompany me to the room and choose a container as we will not sell anything sight-unseen. [Certainly not a cardboard box with no pillow or mattress for Mom. When forced to look at the cardboard box, are you hoping someone in the family will choose “something a little nicer.” And if we don’t pick something a little nicer now, are you expecting us to be shocked into doing so once we see Mom in the cardboard box during the “identification viewing”?]
After the container is selected the funeral director tells the family that the next thing to be discussed (memorialization) will be addressed by the family service counselor. He/she informs the family that there is paperwork that must be finalized and that while they are attending to those details, the family service counselor will review final disposition and memorialization. The family service counselor returns to the arrangements conference.
Let me introduce you to memorialization. Statistics tell us that over 90% of families that choose cremation want to memorialize the life of their loved one. The wonderful thing about memorialization is that it can be anything you want it to be. [Are you going to bother to ask me?] Memorialization creates an opportunity for family and friends to say good-bye in a dignified manner. It provides a link to the past, future and present by allowing generations of loved ones a permanent place to go to reflect and remember. And most importantly, it provides a time and place for you and your[s] to go to heal and provide closure [and, no doubt, adds to the company profits if I pick something you’re selling.].
There are specific laws and guidelines that pertain to what can be done with the cremated human body. [This is a blatant lie in every state except California. In California, cremated remains may not be scattered over land. They may be interred anywhere, and the family may even keep them at home. Without cremains police, a family may effectively do anything it wishes—even in California.]
[Discussion of what the funeral home has to offer, such as a memorial garden, ensues.]
If the family does not choose memorialization at this time, the family service counselor then refers the family back to the funeral director. Away from the family, the family service counselor tells the funeral director about the families [sic] decision not to choose memorialization. The funeral director then talks to the family about urn selection.
At the completion of the cremation process the cremated human body of your loved one will be returned to your family. At this time, I need you to choose a container or urn to hold the cremated human body. [Because if I don’t, your sales quota will be down?] Urns come in a wide range of styles and prices. The urn should be a permanent protective container. [Because that will cost me more than the free container that comes from the crematory?] Also, there are various urns with many different functions. Let me explain them to you.
Almost all urns can be buried. [Which ones can’t?] Burial can take place in a family plot or urn garden. There are specific laws on where you can bury cremated remains. [Are you going to lie to me again so I’ll be sure to purchase a niche or space in your facility?]
Many families choose to scatter the cremated remains. Scattering should be given special consideration as it is an irreversible act and once performed cannot be undone. There are special urns designed for the family that chooses the scattering option. [What does one do with it afterward?]
Explain to the family the process of the family service counselor and what the role will be upon completion of services and the cremation. [This page is strangely empty. Are they really going to warn me that every new name they can get out of this transaction will be considered a “referral”?]
Another set of pages mailed to us reveals that—while service to customers is mentioned in passing—sell, sell, sell is the ultimate goal:
SUCCESSFUL FAMILY SERVICE COUNSELORS ARE ABLE TO DISPLAY:
1. An understanding of the rules and regulations pertaining to their cemetery and the policies of SCI.
2. An ability to explain in a positive and supportive manner those rules and regulations which are designed for the common good.
3. A familiarity with the legal guidelines applicable to their cemeteries.
4. A sensitivity to the family’s emotional needs while obtaining proper legal documents and applicable paperwork.
5. Assertiveness in field follow-up on prearrangement developed from the families they serve.
6. An ability to prioritize, with skills in time management.
7. A faculty for remembering names and faces.
8. A willingness to recruit new people.
9. Encouragement and motivation to employees.
10. Leadership qualities.
11. A high energy level and strong work ethic.
There are two (2) main functions of a Family Service Counselor. Under each are a series of duties and responsibilities that require a high standard of performance:
1. To counsel, advise and guide at-need families in the purchase of cemetery property, merchandise and services, while maintaining a constant attitude of service toward them.
2. To generate preneed sales through the at-need families using a detailed field follow-up program.
These two (2) main functions incorporate the four (4) “S’s”.
1. SERVE THE FAMILY.
2. SELL THE FAMILY.
3. SOLICIT REFERRALS.
4. SELL REFERRALS.