The human side of assessments

words: Roisin McGroarty

When inspectors come knocking it can put the fear into many businesses.

Everyone working at independent and family-owned funeral companies knows that employees work incredibly hard to give the bereaved a dedicated, personal and high-quality service.

And with that volume of work, SAIF’s Quality and Standards Assessors are on hand to ensure every business is operating at the best standard possible.

Stan Kemp has spent a remarkable 52 years in the funeral trade. The last eight of those have been as a SAIF assessor.

Stan is keen for SAIF members to realise that the Quality and Standards Assessors are not there to punish, but rather to act as a helping hand.

Stan said: “We really are here to help people and if we can’t, then who will?

“SAIF is very, very good at giving everyone support and I think that is why SAIF membership is going up. You see a complete professionalism with everybody.”

Stan worked his way up in the funeral trade, beginning as a coffin maker, before climbing the ladder to become relief manager, and then general manager.

But it has been working as an assessor that has really opened Stan’s eyes.

He said: “Every area has their localised traditions. Having worked for the combines, it is a pity people can’t do it the way of Independents. That is what the public want and what the public expect, a fully personalised service. For example, in the East End of London there are a lot of flowers at funerals but in the Midlands there are not that many floral tributes at all. There are variations like this all over and even I am learning all the time.

“But Independents must keep educating themselves for all the changes that are coming, not only on the legal side but also with the variations in religions and beliefs.”

With SAIF membership increasing rapidly, the work of the assessors is always growing.

And to cut down on the paperwork, Independents are being encouraged to take a proactive approach, including being aware of health and safety issues to safeguard their staff.

Stan said: “Most of the time you just have to be sensible with health and safety. There is the example of carrying coffins, how many people can carry what size and weight of coffin? Common sense tells you how many people you need to carry it.

“I am supportive of a lot of health and safety regulations because of the hygiene and working conditions for staff. When I arrive at premises I check all fridges. I will open the doors and look at the cleanliness of the trays. I also look at the sinks to see if there is any hair lodged in the drain as that can carry bacteria. It is only for good of ourselves that we have to check that.”

The traditional six-page paper reports have been thrown out and replaced with electronic tablets, with the reports immediately sent in to SAIF Business Centre. If issues are discovered then businesses have 28 days to rectify the problem and must provide proof of the work to the assessors.

“There are basic issues, such as visibility of ownership. You have to display the owners’ names for all your clients,” he added, “but if there is a problem, then I like to resolve it while I’m there. It underlines to people that you are here to help them. One of the most common of the health and safety fails is the certificates for all the chemicals. If there is a file missing just go online to the maker’s website and print out and file the contents. That solves a situation on the spot rather than waiting 28 days.

“When assessors leave the premises it is as friends to the members.”

With independent funeral directors the wishes of families always come first.

When clients visit a funeral director’s office they are often suffering immense grief from the death of a loved one, and the quality of service offered at that time has never been more essential.

SAIF members know that professionalism and compassion in a time of distress ensures the bereaved feel safe and secure in the knowledge that their funeral director has their best interests at heart.

More families than ever are now planning ahead, arranging pre-planned funerals to protect their final wishes.

“In the past the one thing I was very suspicious of was pre-paid funerals, but now I champion it. At the end of the day, you see so many splits in families over final wishes, and that’s why I recommend to anybody to arrange prepayment on that,” said Stan.

“It’s an amazing area whereby you have to be softly, softly with the public. Two sides of a family can have different ideas about how the funeral should be run. Funeral directors have to be like social workers dealing with any fallout but if we can find ways of approaching this subject before the day, with pre-planned funerals, we can calm these situations down immediately.”

Another area that Stan champions is being honest and open with the clients.

Rather than shying away from telling families why certain charges exist, Stan thinks the industry should strive to be clear and believes it’s another way of boosting the quality and standards that funeral directors offer.

He explained: “We should be providing little bits of information on why the doctors charge for a cremation certification. Give people a full breakdown for everything, explaining that death certificate is a private medical form.

“Funeral directors should include the minister’s fee for the church; that is a business and we should be telling families why this cost exists. If we can help in any way, by taking the mystique off for the families, by answering one or two little questions, I think it will increase prepayment.

“We are dealing with such a personal situation that people don’t always want to talk about it, so best to drop in bits here and there to encourage them to ask questions.”

And while SAIF quality assessors have to deal with several negative issues while assessing more than 300 Independents annually, there are usually happy endings, with just one SAIF member expelled and two suspended for breaches of the Code in 2014.

And Stan is keen to offer his experience to SAIF members: “The word of advice to anyone running a business in our profession would be to run premises that you would like to go into, and treat people the way you would like to be treated. That way it doesn’t matter who walks in the door, then you are ready. It could be me walking in the door unannounced or a client.

“We are a one-off profession. Let’s keep our standards up and let’s be there to help people.”

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