The Hawthorne effect occurs when individuals modify or improve an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed. The concept is more simple than it sounds. People change their behavior when they are being observed. Where this applies to casket merchandising is subtle but important.
The profession has come to rely on a system of passive selling. Rather than assuming the role of professional expert and consultant we prefer to create physical systems to “sell” our customers. Our faith in these systems (called showrooms) is so strong that we have become ultra sensitive to any changes. So, if we make changes the results actually occur in us and not in the customer.
Whether the result is positive or negative depends on our belief in the system. So, if you spend $50,000 to build a retail style room with special lighting AND YOU ARE EXCITED ABOUT IT your customers will respond in kind to your enthusiasm. and when you eventually get bored with it they follow your lead.
One funeral director prefers a Batesville style show room, another likes the Aurora electronic showroom. The results are the same because they are dependent on the attitude and belief system of the funeral director.
But none of that is my point
Physical merchandise is a distraction. None of us have ever heard of a family choosing a funeral home because of its caskets. Moreover, funeral directors frequently tell me that families often have no recollection of the casket they purchased months later.
Our preoccupation with caskets blinds us to the real value people are seeking.
At the time of a death humans naturally enter a state of “disequilibrium”. We call this state grief. When people are in a state of disequilibrium their natural response is to want to resolve it. A large part of our role and the role of their social circle is to give them a safe and reassuring place to begin that process. Our ability to create that place is entirely dependent on our own skills…not the merchandise.
We have come to believe the merchandise is the primary value we offer. And, so, we downplay our service charges, link our fortunes to an item that is purchased by only 1 out of 2 people in North America and see no hope of ever recovering the lost revenue.
What is the solution? Realize that resolving the disequilibrium, providing a safe place and guiding people to a positive future is our highest calling and deserves the same effort and investment that merchandising has consumed over our history.
My friend Tom Parmalee once said:
Money is only an issue when value is in doubt
Our value lies in the people of this profession and their ability to help people restore their equilibrium.