Business, Products

“Decision Fatigue”. . . do you put your client families through it

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Saturday was going to be a busy day of working in the yard for me.  So, after my morning bike ride I showered up and told Angie I’m going to McDonalds for some breakfast and a chance to sit down and read the newspaper before I got down to doing that work.

As like so many places today they were short on help and there was no one at the order cash register and customers – McDonald’s like to call them “Guests” – were asked to use the ordering kiosks when placing their orders.  Not a problem, I’ve done it before. . . and I’m totally comfortable selecting off a screen.

So, I wanted an Egg/Sausage McMuffin, a hash brown, and a medium cup of coffee. . . . pretty simple you would think at 9 am — breakfast time.  The kiosk prompted me — did I want breakfast or lunch?. . . .Then what did I want?. . . Then asking me if I wanted to make it a meal?. . .Then did I want a cold drink or a hot drink?  What size?. . . .Coffee?. . .Cream and/or sugar included?. . . How do I want to pay for this?. . . What’s my Table Tent number so the waiter can deliver directly to my table?

You get the idea.   My guess is that I clicked at least 15 boxes to get the simple order when if there was a person in charge I would have simply said, “Egg/Sausage McMuffin meal with a medium coffee” and been done with my order.  It just was irritating having to make all of those decisions in order to relay properly what I wanted in a total computerized/technical process.

I actually thought, “What a way to treat a Guest”!!  But, it did bring me back to my days of arranging funerals and how in getting the necessary information for the funeral I so many times believed the client families I was working with at times were overwhelmed with “Decision Fatigue” during the arrangement conferences.

Who were the deceased parents?. . .What was his mother’s maiden name?. . . . Where was he born?. . . What pastor do you prefer?. . . Do you want us to call him or will you be doing that?. . . What day do you want the service?. . .What time?. . . Who do you want for pallbearers?. . Which memorial folder type do you prefer?. . . .You all have been there and know those questions are just the tip of the iceberg in the information needed to properly plan and execute an obituary, death certificate, and funeral services.

Selfishly, being there and getting that information was great for me.  I got to understand the family, know the deceased, and as a funeral director was much better informed to do my job properly.  But, what kind of toll was answering all of these questions taking on the family?  And yes, I understand that for the grief process making these decisions may have had a positive effect because they were being reinforced all the time that they were making these decisions “because a loved one had died” and that painful reinforcement can be good for the grief process.

However, I noticed that “Decision Fatigue” many times was present.  And I also learned about “Decision Fatigue” and that psychologists relate “The more choices we are forced to make, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates”.

I decided to do something and make it easier for these families.  This was in the 1990’s and there were not the apps and computer programs available today.  Here’s what I did however:

  • At the time of the removal of the body I gave the family members present a worksheet and asked them to fill it out as much as they liked before coming in for arrangements.  Doing so, eliminated a lot of the questions that an arranger would be asking.
  • I believe the number one priority, on the consumer side, for prearrangements is to have financial arrangements sewed up.  Secondarily, in that same vein, I also believe the consumer at the time of prearrangements makes a decision on cremation vs. burial and where their remains will be forever memorialized.  My belief is that if the consumer does no more than those three things, prearrangements are a success.   However, the more information we can get at the time of prearrangements the better off both the consumer and funeral director are at the time of the death.  For instance, the funeral director can look in the folder and say something like this at the arrangement conference, “Are you still thinking of having the services at Prince of Peace Church with the burial in Forever Cemetery?  I see that you own lots 18A and 18B.  If that is the case, we can take care of all of that for you at this time.”  Just saying that and having the clients nod or answer in the affirmative saves many questions.  I instructed all prearrangement counselors to get as much information as the client was willing to provide. . . try not to stop with just the financial arrangements.
  • Package Pricing.  Having a certain amount of services included in a package price can save a lot of questions.  For instance, we included a minimum priced vase style urn and a certain cremation container in each Direct Cremation price.  It eliminated asking about what type of urn, if any, or what type of cremation container the client family would like – when we showed them the urn they had the opportunity to make a different selection if they so chose.  In the same way, we offered only about three combustion-able caskets or a rental casket with cardboard insert in our package price for what we termed “Traditional Cremation”.
Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

In today’s world there are arrangement apps and arrangement computer programs that can help get some of these answers that otherwise could lead to “Decision Fatigue” during the arrangement conference.  I would suggest you use them.  You could even prompt families to go to your website to select caskets and vaults prior to coming in that would eliminate the march into the selection room.  People are very used to picking things out on screens at this time.  . .As a matter of fact, in our new funeral home built in 2006 we eliminated a selection room and went to “screen only” casket and vault selection.  It was a scary process when I did it, but even back 15 years ago our client families appreciated the ability to select in this fashion. . . I’m guessing that today’s world is even more comfortable with that modus operandi.

In any regard you have to be comfortable with what you are doing.  My experience, however, is that the consumer already is very comfortable in filling out a questionnaire with death certificate information, potential service information and the like.  Giving them the ability to do so prior to coming in for arrangements may make arrangements easier on them.

And, the next time I go to McDonald’s .  . I just hope they are better staffed!!

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One Comment

  1. I know a lot of funeral directors love package pricing and it works well for them. But I have never understood why the easiest thing isn’t this: we want a graveside service 11 am Thursday, we want this casket, we want this vault, we need 3 death certificates… Instead I have seen package pricing that puts a certain casket with a certain service, suddenly you are limited to what it says on the package. Although, I know I am probably in the minority with that thought.

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