Who is the Customer?

    The question of who is the customer at a funeral is one which I have been asked and debated a few times.  The reason this is an important question as it is asking who is really important at the funeral, who the funeral is aimed at and thus shapes our understanding of funerals and how they should proceed and where the priorities should be.

    Many debate whether the customer is (or should be) the deceased or mourner.  Basically whether the funeral is really for the dead or for the living or for both.

    So I will briefly outline how I define "the customer" in the funeral industry and why.  Some might not agree with me, but that only goes to prove how debatable this idea is.

    As I briefly stated this is an important question as it is the beginning of how we understand the funeral.  And who we think the funeral is for and where the priority should be.

    In other fields, such as retail, the customer is easy to define and understand.  It is obviously the person buying the product or service.  However it becomes quite tricky with the funeral industry.

    One could easily and happily assume the funeral is for the dead, that they are the customer.  It is the deceased's wishes and desires that is honoured on the funeral.  It is the deceased who is receiving the service and paying for the service.  So many argue that the funeral should be for the dead, that this is who the funeral home should focus on.

    On the other hand it is the mourners (the living) who can change decisions.  It is the mourners who will really experience the funeral as the deceased no longer experience's anything.  The mourner is the one the funeral home will talk to and interact with during the funeral, and it is the mourner who can complain or praise the funeral and the funeral home.

    In other words the deceased might chose, organise and purchase the funeral, but it is the mourner who  will experience and receive it.  Thus we start to form an understanding and realise how complex the issue before us is.

    Now, some might question the significance of this.  It is a nice theoretical concept to play with, who the funeral is really for the living or the dead.  However it does not have a a practical or direct implication.  While many believe this, and have said so to me this is simply wrong.  Often on a funeral compromises have to be made.  Does the funeral home do something the deceased would not appreciate to keep the mourners happy or do they do something that will upset the mourners that would keep the deceased happy?

    An example of this is fitting a body into a coffin, how sometimes the body is a little larger than comfortable for the coffin.  The mourners might want a specific coffin, due to practical or emotional reasons.  Despite this the body will not fit easily, the deceased might not be squashed but they would certainly not be comfortable or happy with their situation if they had a say.

    There are plenty of instances where a funeral home has to make the decision to compromise the deceased's wishes or the mourners wishes.  It is a common issue, perhaps not a big one, but something worth considering all the same.  Something not discussed much that should be explored.

    I personally believe "the customer" is both the mourner and the deceased.  That the two exist then relation to each other to form what is the customer for the funeral home and society.  This relation is not always balanced, sometimes in certain situation one should have more importance than the other.

    Behind the scenes, such as in the mortuary, more emphasis should be on the deceased than the mourners.  The mourners have no view or understanding of behind the scenes and are thus often unaffected by it.  On the other hand the deceased is the one who is there, being handled and dealt with. So the funeral home should think of the deceased as the customer, as the important one, when in the mortuary.  This is the reverse on the funeral itself, during the funeral the mourners need tending to and the undertakers spend more time with mourners than the deceased (as they should).  Here the mourners are the ones who have importance and priority.

    As the poet and funeral director Thomas Lynch once said once said "a good funeral is one that gets the dead where they need to go, and the living where they need to be".  It really summarises the duel nature of the job nicely.  How the funeral director deals with both the mourner and the deceased as the customer.

    This is why I believe that the customer is both the mourner and deceased, and that the two are not always equal.  Nor should they be.  Instead we should say that the customer on a funeral is the mourners, while the customer of a funeral is the deceased.


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