The traditional image of a funeral is one of a solemn occasion, mourning the loss of a loved one. But it’s an image that’s changing, says Martin Earp, CEO and Managing Director of funeral service provider InvoCare. Driven by customer attitudes, funerals and similar memorial services are becoming more about a celebration of a life well lived.
Martin says it’s one of the biggest changes to come to the industry in recent years, and the company is well prepared to adjust.“We’re in the business of helping people at what is quite a pivotal time in their lives,” he says.
“They’ve lost a loved one and they’re looking for somebody to guide them through the planning and delivery of a funeral. That’s not something that people do every day. So InvoCare is about providing excellent advice on planning a funeral and then organising it in a short period of time, to deliver an event that allows people to celebrate the life of a loved one.”
Previously, Martin explains, funerals were organised with a cookie-cutter approach, but as customer demographics shift towards baby boomers, there’s a demand for a more personalised, involved experience. InvoCare’s Protect & Grow Plan is oriented around these changes, fulfilling customer demands and modernising the business.
This includes infrastructural transformation – modern, bright, uplifting facilities that accommodate memorial services, ‘celebration lounges’, and investment into high-quality AV solutions.
That said, as much as funerals have modernised, evolving from mourning to celebration, Martin acknowledges it’s still a challenging time for customers. To accommodate this, InvoCare needs a very specific kind of team.
“It’s important that we have the right staff with the right degree of empathy to make sure they’re able to educate a customer on what might be right for them and what the options are. The customer will be under-informed and there’s no second chance. It’s important that we help people to take a breath, think through what it is they want to do, and then help them organise it.”
“It’s important that we have the right staff with the right degree of empathy.”
InvoCare is made up of three national funeral home brands and 30 local brands across Australia, with more in New Zealand and Singapore. As such, the company operates in a somewhat decentralised structure, depending on its “local leaders” to provide an excellent service. InvoCare has thus prioritised not just training but also culture and behaviour.
At the same time, InvoCare’s size and control over one third of the market gives it access to specialists. This includes those who can handle grieving relatives and event management specialists in IT, music and flower arrangement, striking a balance between the capabilities of a national brand and of small local brands.
InvoCare has also implemented a series of masterclasses around delivering an excellent service, and effective management and leadership. “InvoCare stands for innovation, vocation and care, and I think it’s probably the last two that are embedded within our staff,” says Martin.
InvoCare is made up of three national funeral home brands and 30 local brands, with more in New Zealand and Singapore. White Lady Funerals is a national brand in Australia.
“We have almost 2,000 people. Most of them are out there in the field dealing with customers, day in, day out. It’s absolutely critical that they have the right level of compassion. For many of them, it’s a calling. It’s rewarding for them to help people at a difficult time.”
He references InvoCare staff members who have worked as nurses, for example, and want to continue helping people. Given an NPS of plus-80, the passion and compassion displayed by the team clearly pays off for InvoCare’s customers. Most critically, Martin and the other members of the executive team need to display the very same values that define the way customer-facing staff act.
To demonstrate this, the entire leadership team operates in an open office environment, with leadership behaviour on full display to the InvoCare team. “That’s something you can’t fake,” Martin explains.
“It means that you have to have a good fit with the business. We spend a lot of time working on that in recruitment and training our teams in what is acceptable behaviour in the workplace in 2019. A key element of that is being visible not only in the head office but also throughout the field. We try, as a group executive team, to regularly get out there and let them know that we are human beings, and we appreciate everything that they do for us.”
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