Lessons Every Funeral Home Can Learn From Walt Disney (Part 1)

Posted August 3, 2016

6 min read

If The Walt Disney Company entered the funeral profession, what would a family’s experience look like?

We asked this question to former Disney executive Brad Rex, who is now President and CEO of Foundation Partners Group. Foundation Partners Group is a national owner of funeral homes and cemeteries with more than 50 locations in 14 states. At Disney, Rex held various positions, but most notably ran Epcot theme park. His corporate experience also includes senior roles with Hilton Hotels Corporation and the British Petroleum Company.

His former roles greatly helped shape his approach to helping directors serve families through unique funeral experiences combined with great service. In part one of this two-part series, Rex shares how directors can support and embrace outstanding service for families.

World-Class Service for Families

Rex says that one of the key lessons he learned at Disney was why great service is so critical. “Building a world-class service organization and then sustaining it takes great effort,” says Rex.

It may take a great deal of effort, but it’s worth it for funeral homes willing to invest in their processes and people. Rex shares a framework that can be applied by directors in order to analyze parts of their business to see where corrective action can be taken. This model, called the Virtuous Customer Service Cycle, is built on the underlying idea that growing firms thrive on world-class service. As Walt Disney said, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.”

The foundation of the cycle is outstanding leadership—the kind of leadership that supports and rewards “team member-centric environments.” These are leaders that create a team oriented, positive environment that engages all team members. “These same leaders look to remove any obstacles in the path to great service for the family,” adds Rex. “Note that I did not say customer-centered environment,” he says. “Rather, focus on taking great care of your team members. As you treat your employees, so they will treat your customers.”

The idea is that this level of service isn’t just good—but outstanding. In today’s world, where this can be so uncommon, this is how to build loyalty with families and the local community.

Compare this with negative family experiences, which can greatly damage a funeral home’s reputation for months and years to follow. That’s where the idea of a customer service cycle comes into play: funeral homes are always somewhere within the cycle: a firm can be improving on the experience and earning loyalty and referrals in the process, or they can have poor team member service and lose referrals and repeat business as a result.

When you combine leadership excellence, outstanding team members and a highly unique experience, you can reap the benefits of this cycle at your funeral home, he says. “The benefits include high loyalty and many referrals, increased market share, premium pricing, lower marketing and sales costs and more profit,” says Rex. “But, most importantly, the virtuous cycle creates a positive work environment where team members look forward to serving families and guests with excellence.”

Where is Your Firm on the Virtuous Customer Service Cycle?

Here are 3 initial steps to take to learn more about where a funeral home is at on the virtuous cycle.

1. Discover if your team members trust you as a leader.

It is important for the owner of a funeral home to assess the perception of their leadership, and to see how that perception changes with time. You can ask staff to confidentially answer whether they trust you, whether they would work for you again, and if they would recommend family and friends to work for you. If you get “yes” answers to questions like these, you are effectively leading your team, says Rex.

2. Uncover data that shows customer satisfaction.

Are you able to quickly and efficiently ask families about their experience with your funeral home? Can you do it in a way that doesn’t hinder your ability to serve the next family? And, if you are collecting feedback from families, are you able to quickly utilize that data—or correct anything that might have gone wrong? And are you taking action based on what you’ve learned?

If possible, don’t just focus on the family you served. “You should focus on the family, but also realize that you’ve got a hundred to two hundred guests who are there, too, so think about how can you improve the experience for them as well.”

3. Assess if you are attracting high quality people to join your firm.

While the growth of your firm is an indicator of success, you can also look at your ability to attract the right kind of talent. If you find out that you are struggling to grow or attract this kind of team member, you can put energy toward working on and improving your culture. “You can ask for honest feedback about your firm’s reputation and then take corrective action to improve it,” explains Rex.

Return next week for part two, where Rex shares what he learned about the power of sharing stories, and how he’s applied that lesson to the funeral profession.

Make Your Team Members’ Jobs Easier with CRäKN

Having to track down information from multiple sources and keep track of all of the activities needed to provide a great experience is a source of stress and frustration for your employees. This may be getting in the way of them providing that great experience for your families. CRäKN can make that easier and better: As a tool that provides everything you need to centralize your information and manage day-to-day activities, you will be able to streamline your operations, prevent errors, and save time. Find out more about how CRäKN can save you substantial time and help optimize your resources: request a demo today.

About Brad Rex

Brad Rex is President and CEO of Foundation Partners Group, a national owner of funeral homes and cemeteries with more than 50 locations in 14 states. He has over 20 years of corporate experience, with various senior roles at The Walt Disney Company, Hilton Hotels Corporation and the British Petroleum Company. He led Disney’s Epcot theme park for five years and was the EVP, Chief Customer Officer for Hilton Grand Vacations. Rex is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and Harvard Business School, and was a nuclear submarine officer. He is a public speaker on leadership and customer service and an author (www.bradrex.com).

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