Kelsi Palmer is Rising to the Occasion as the Death Care Industry EvolvesThis quote hangs on the wall in Kelsi Palmer’s office. For 100 years, Speers Funeral and Cremation Services in Regina, Saskatchewan had been led by male funeral directors. That changed 13 years ago when Kelsi became their first female funeral director. This is an industry trend as the face of the funeral director is changing. Close to 75% of students enrolled in funeral director programs in Ontario colleges are female. While the profession still predominantly sees men in ownership and leadership positions, a new wave of females are ready to share those roles.
We are grateful to work with and learn from Kelsi. Here are just some of the insights from our conversation with her.
How did you first connect with MyBabbo?
I first met Tracy and MyBabbo at an FSAC (Funeral Services Association of Canada) conference in Regina. I was a new director and when I saw MyBabbo, it grabbed my attention as they offered something that I would want to buy and was relevant to me.
Then, in November 2011, my brother passed away and MyBaboo put together the stationery for the service. Afterwards, Tracy gifted me a photo book filled with memories of my brother Lyndon’s life. This past November, was the 10 year anniversary of his passing and I decided to commemorate the anniversary by purchasing books for all my family members. At first, this caught my family off guard as we hadn’t been a family that did a lot of talking and mourning together so it was emotional. For me, the photo book helped me connect more with Lyndon’s life and was helping me on my grief journey. I wanted this for my family too. I have found that the book opens up conversations and allows people to talk about their feelings. Some of my friends would see the book on my coffee table and it was a gateway to them asking me how I was doing or as a way to talk about him.
In what ways are women making a difference in the profession?
I believe in the future you will continue to see more women entering the profession and growing into leadership positions. What women have to offer is a unique set of soft skills that are part of the care, compassion and creativity needed in funeral service. We seem to have a more natural need to nurture and take care of people. Women also tend to be more creative and are very good at listening and executing on the family's wishes.
How is the profession changing?
The Role of the Funeral Director
The core of what we do hasn’t changed - we are still the experts who walk families through one of the hardest times of their life when they lose a loved one.
We need to listen more to what our families want versus guiding them through how we think the service should look or has traditionally looked in the past. We need to take on more of a problem solving role and that of creative director and help the families create what they want.
Family’s Requests are Increasing and More Personalized
The next generation of our families are making more and different decisions than in the past. They are asking for services that are less traditional and more personalized, that reflect the life of their loved one.
There is more of an emphasis on personalized items like keepsakes, items that tell or share their story versus the more cookie cutter items from the past. For example, we offer and sell a lot more cremation or fingerprint jewellery, video tributes and photo books and we do a lot more webcasting of our services.
Families are more educated about after death care, usually from what they have seen on the internet. They come in with more of an idea of what they want versus just accepting services as they have been in the past.
Families are price savvy and are comparing costs and services to Amazon and other online offerings.
Families want more creativity in honouring their loved one and as such, they want personalized services. These requests place even more demands on the director as they investigate ways to be more creative for their families.
The timing of services has also changed. Families used to come right from the hospital to see us and get the funeral organized. Now, many times they go home for a few days, talk amongst the family, and then come in to share and discuss their vision.
6 Ways Kelsi and Speers Funeral Home are Innovating to Meet the Needs of their Families
Innovative Ways we Connect with Families
Art With Heart.
We recently hosted our first art therapy workshop for children ages 6-12 and it was a huge success! We had a local art therapist facilitate it, along with a few of our staff members assisting. It was so powerful to see these kids connect to one another in their shared experiences and connect with their loved ones through art.
This was another successful community event that we will be hosting again. The evening includes the viewing of the documentary Speaking Grief, expert panel discussion and community resources. The event aims to create a conversation about grief and move away from the idea that it’s a problem that needs to be fixed
Innovating ways we Leverage Technology
Virtual pre-planning seminars
We hold monthly in-person pre-planning seminars and we have begun hosting virtual seminars so that people can attend from the comfort and safety of their own home.
We did a significant audio visual upgrade in 2021 to both our chapel and family centre. My favourite part of the whole project was the framed TV we put in our foyer. On this TV we either rotate art pieces, promote events or have personalized photos for funerals and visitations. This is one of the first things families see when they enter our building and to see their loved one on the screen brings them much comfort. We get so many nice comments on this feature. Plus our staff love going through the art gallery option to pick different pieces to display.
This is something we have put a lot of focus on over the last year. I feel like social media allows us to connect with our community online. We actually don’t post any obituaries or inspirational quote images. Instead, we try to keep it light, but informative. We show the public that we are just regular people that shovel snow and take their kids to the rink like everybody else. I spoke on the social media panel during last year’s FSAC convention and my advice to funeral homes hesitant to be on social media was to jump in and just have fun with it.
Something I really want to focus on this year is to increase our 5 star Google reviews. Anytime we receive a nice thank you letter, or positive client family survey, I reach out to them and thank them for their kind words. I then ask if I could share their praise online (our website, Facebook, etc.) and also ask if they would be willing to leave us a Google review. If they agree I will either email or text the direct link to leave the review. I know there are a lot of automated programs that do this, but this is more of a personal touch and another chance to connect with families.
Kelsi truly understands the evolving nature of the death care industry. She is responsive to the changing needs of families and innovates in creative and impactful ways.
What are you doing to innovate? Leave us a comment!
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(Stats were provided from Funeral and Memorial Information Council)