What do you call a “call”?

My first mentor was Jack Krasula. He owned a software consulting company that hired me straight out of college. My desk was down the hall from his corner office, and he often stopped by to see how his new rookie was doing.

During one of our conversations, I told Jack I was working on a project for Customer A. He immediately corrected me and said, “John, we don’t have Customers. We have Clients.”

I was puzzled and asked what was the difference. He just smiled and told me to look it up.

That night I went home and looked it up in my tattered Merriam-Webster dictionary. (Yes, this was before you could pull out your phone and “Google it”)

Customer – one that purchases a commodity or service.

Client – one that is under the protection of another.

Jack and I discussed this topic the next day as my rookie mind tried to grasp the distinction.

Jack believed the term Customer is for a short-term relationship, and the term Client was better suited for a long-term relationship. Plus, the best way to foster a long-term relationship is for the Client to know that we have their back and will always protect their business.

Jack started his business out of a spare bedroom and built it into a 1,000-employee company with offices in half a dozen major cities. He gave every new employee a sign to hang in their office that said, “We do not have Customers; we have Clients. Protect Them!”

That philosophy has had a major impact on my consulting career. In fact, in my more than 30 years as a consultant, I’ve never had a customer; I’ve only had clients. My job is to protect your business, and I take that responsibility very seriously.

How you refer to your customer reflects how you see the relationship. This is why the term “call” in the funeral industry has never made sense to me.

One of my first funeral home clients told me that years ago, the town crier would announce, or call, the death of a community member, and that is the origin of the term “call”. I don’t know if that’s accurate, but it seems plausible. 

Either way, it’s a term that doesn’t have a lot of contemporary meaning. But what else can you call a “call”?

I recently watched a webinar by a company that provides funeral home management software. In their system, they refer to each death call as a case and assign a unique case number. I almost spit out my coffee when I heard the presenter use that term.

Imagine walking into an arrangement meeting and stating they are “Case #1234 – The Jones Family”. That feels like you walked into a courtroom, and the bailiff just announced your case.

Another management software vendor I know of uses the term “Customer” throughout their system. That’s better than the term “Case,” but still implies a short-term relationship.

As you might guess from the above story, I recommend referring to your families as Clients. 

You want a long-term relationship with them, don’t you? You want to protect them, don’t you? That means they are your Clients, not your Customers, and certainly not just a death call.

In many of my articles, I have discussed how the role of a Funeral Director has fundamentally changed over the past few decades. Gone are the days when families needed you to prep a body, manage the visitation, and get them to the church on time. 

Today’s families need someone to help them make decisions without selling them something they don’t need or want. 

Today’s families will say things like “How do we do this?” because when faced with the loss of a loved one, they don’t know what to do.

Baby Boomers hate being told what to do, so the term Director does not sit well with them. Instead, they need someone to help them make decisions and show them the way without taking control.

In other words, they need a Consultant they can trust to protect them when they are vulnerable.

To be relevant to today’s families, Funeral Directors need to evolve to become Funeral Consultants, and “calls” need to become “Clients”.

In my new Consultative Arrangement Process course, I make the case that Funeral Directors should use a consulting-based process to guide families through funeral arrangements rather than becoming a salesperson or an order-taker. 

This is what the leading funeral providers already do. Rather than focusing on a quick sale, they treat families like clients, protect them, and forge long-term relationships. The goal of my new course is to teach everyone else how to accomplish the same.

The bottom line is that if you want long-term relationships with families, you must see them as clients. If you do that, they will see you as a trusted consultant who can guide them when they are lost.

Until next time



PS:  The Consultative Arrangement Process course has now been released to my early reviewers. I’ll give them a few weeks to provide feedback, make any final edits, and release it to everyone else afterward.


PPS: Jack eventually sold his Client-focused consulting business for $250 Million. Not bad for a guy who started out in a spare bedroom!


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