Steve Zittle is the Owner of Select Cremation, Partner at Family Choice Funerals & Cremations, and Marketing Development Manager at The Foresight Companies. I sat down with Steve to talk about how Parting Pro has made him "a hero" to his families. Watch or read our conversation below.
Steve Zittle: We started Select Cremation about 4 or 5 years ago. A couple of funeral director friends and myself started it as an alternative to families who feel like they have to come see a funeral director and spend time in a funeral home, and are either maybe estranged from their loved one, or they’re out of town, and just that traditional model of sitting down with a funeral director, going through arrangements, just wasn’t attractive to them.
We weren’t even sure it would be viable at first. We wondered, would people actually make arrangements with us without ever sitting down with us in person and meeting us? We do this all over the internet. So, we developed this idea and launched it. It was so successful, we kept it as a business and have been doing it ever since.
Parting Pro: That’s awesome. I loved the part where you said, “sometimes people are estranged, sometimes they’re out of town.” It’s so true. A lot of people don’t want to think that about planning a funeral. But not everybody’s families are all together all the time. There’s a lot of dynamics that we have to address as directors. So you’re right on the money there. It’s so great to hear how y’all got started. Tell me a little bit about how you discovered Parting Pro, and how you came into the Parting Pro family?
Steve Zittle: Well, I think it was just a simple phone call from Albert one day. Ever since we’ve started, we’ve been looking for some way to make this as seamless as possible and as easy on ourselves as possible. Obviously, we don’t have a lot of overhead. Meaning, it’s just us, and a website, and of course our in house network and partners of funeral homes that we oversee. But we kind of developed a system where we had fillable PDF’s, we could email to family, they’d have to print it out, sign it, scan it, and fax it back.
For the most part, it worked okay. We got into some situations where people could print it but didn’t have access to a fax machine or a scanner, so they were taking pictures with their cell phones and texting, or emailing those. We could work with it, and technology was available, we could get it all done and above board, legally. All those kind of things. But it was just kind of a hassle. Many steps in the process, and it was just something we were always looking to refine. Albert called me one day and said, “Hey! We’ve got a new thing.” I knew the group, and they were recommended – Ellery Bowker, who I know and trust, a really good guy in the industry.
He recommended them and said, “These guys really know what they’re doing. Go ahead.” I would listen to them and take it seriously. So I sat down with the earth. They did it obviously virtually, which is what I prefer. We sat down and discussed what they had, and the idea of doing electronic signatures is a time way overdue in our industry. But if we could do virtual signatures, that would change the whole game. For us, on our operating side. I didn’t believe them at first. I said, “This can’t be. That’s not right.” I made several calls to the state, I’m trying to verify this. I’m thinking that if this will work, then holy cow, this really changes everything.
Turns out it’s real, it’s viable and it works. I said, let’s do it. This is what we’ve been looking for. The guys from training us how to do it, from onboarding – all along the way if we had questions, I can’t be more satisfied with them. I feel like they treat me like I treat my families. I’m accessible all the time. A question doesn’t go unanswered. I may give a response of, “Hey, I’m not sure. Let me check on that. It always gets followed up. They treat me the way I treat my families, which I think is a real testimony.
Parting Pro: I love hearing that. It’s the way that we do business – it’s not just the way that we do business, it’s the way that we connect to people like you. I think it’s similar to how funeral directors connect with their families. I mean, yes, it’s a business. But you connect with people. And really, where the meaning in that connection is, is where you’ll have those visits over and over again. That’s really what we go for, I’m glad to hear it. I loved what you said too, about really kinda being skeptical.
When I first heard about Parting Pro myself, I was kind like… what is this? I mean just, phew! I had no idea, had never heard of them. I’ve been in the industry for years. I’m a fourth generation director. Nobody I talked to had ever heard of them. I thought, I got to dig deeper into these guys. Really, once I did, and I called my state contacts just like you and I called some legal people and I said, “What about this?” I mean, it was completely on the level.
As soon as I knew that – and I contacted Albert – I just said, “I have to be a part of this. You guys are doing amazing things. You’re really taking our industry to the next step for our families.” Which, ultimately, is the goal. It’s wonderful if it makes our lives as directors easier and more efficient of course, but by doing that to serve more families in that way is just dynamite.
Steve Zittle: It’s great when I can tell family now, “You don’t need a printer. You don’t need a scanner. I’ll send it to you, you can do this whole thing from your smart phone.” And what a difference that makes to a family is unreal. Of course, I take all the credit for it! I make them think that I’ve made this all possible and go easy on them. Parting Pro does make me look really good.
Parting Pro: That’s wonderful to hear. That’s what we want to do, we want to make you look good – we want to make our industry look good. I’ll never forget, one time I was sitting down with a family – this was at a firm in Houston – and I’m writing out the triplicate carbon paper copy contract by long hand, and they’re just looking at me like, “Are you a dinosaur?”
Steve Zittle: No, but our industry is! Our industry is a dinosaur in a lot of ways. I’m all for challenging the status quo, as long as it’s good for families and good for the overall mission that we have. I’m all for not being bound by the tradition in the way we always done things. It makes me kind of a maverick. I understand that I’m a little stodgy, I’m a little traditional – but at the same time, I just really think that we are our own worst enemies a lot of times. I really do.
Parting Pro: Sure, and I think to that point too – what I try to tell people, my colleagues in the industry, is by incorporating technology like you have, you’re not asked to shed your service model. You’re not asked to abandon your morals and your dedication and your ideals at all. You’re asked to multiply them exponentially, and share them exponentially. They’re not mutually exclusive. So tell me – I know you touched on it just a second ago, what has been the feedback from your families? What have people said to you about their experience with Parting Pro?
Steve Zittle: The feedback has been very, very positive. There have been a couple of little hitches along the way, but those were actually on my part by just not knowing exactly how to do things, like turn off notifications and things like that. The guys have really kinda helped me clean up my act a little bit, and have been doing everything right. I had a lady last week, whose sister passed away.
She lived in Dallas, her sister lived in Washington DC. She had to fly halfway across the country to be there. She didn’t have her computer with her, she didn’t have anything with her. She was able to complete this entire transaction on her cellphone. You wouldn’t have been able to do that any other way. There’s just no way – without having to go to the funeral home, and spend 4-5 hours, for just a simple cremation. There was nothing really to it. She didn’t want anything extravagant. It was just a simple process for her that took a lot of the stress out of her life, and didn’t cause her any undue stress, any more than what she was already under. So me, I feel like a real hero when it comes to that.
Parting Pro: Absolutely. And you should, because as a director, we’ve all had those families where you know you can talk to them on the phone, you can hear what they want, you can hear what the need is. Maybe they’re out of town, like how the situation was with your particular family. Who knows what’s going on. I’ve had families say, “I’ll make arrangements after my son’s soccer tournament this weekend.” That’s just the reality we live in, and to be able to cater to that, and really serve to that, I think is an amazing thing. I love hearing that you’re able to do that.
Steve Zittle: And also, just another story – I dealt with an attorney in Florida who managed the affairs for this lady who is now 92 years old. She has since moved to Virginia. He said, “I’m still paying this lady’s bills, when she dies, I’m probably going to have to be the person to handle things. I’m not really even sure how to get started. I don’t really know...” and as I was talking to him, I happened to be sitting in front of my computer as I was talking to him, and I’m filling out the Shopper form, just in a conversational way. He didn’t realize I was getting that information and taking it down in a form, but as a conversation.
Then I hit send, as far as sending that email to him. And so I could tell him, “Listen. As soon as we hang up, just check your inbox. You’re going to have a link from me to go ahead and get started on answering all these questions that you have. If you have any more, then let me know. But this will get you started.” He was amazed at the response. He said, “I can’t believe how quickly you can get this done.” That’s another thing I love doing, when I tell a family that I’m on the phone with, “By the time you get to your inbox, you’ll have the email from me.” That’s amazing to me.
Parting Pro: Yeah. I think we hear that the families kind of go, “It was a thousand pound phone that I had to pick up to call you.” or, opening the door to the funeral home was a thousand pound door. By serving people, you never want to hear that. But being able to put this link in their email, and send it straight to them, you’re taking all of those barriers away from your service, from really your business revenue. You’re just bringing those walls right down, and people kind of take a breath of relief and just go, “Okay, I can do this. I can do this.”
Steve Zittle: I’m at the point too where I’m excited because I tell people, “Listen, our business model says that you don’t have to come to a funeral home and hear a sales pitch.” But really what I’m doing is, I send them this email and then what they’re getting is in fact a sales pitch because they’re seeing all of the options available to them, all of the products I want them to see. But they’re doing it in a format that they’re used to. They’re used to going on Amazon and doing things.
So they’re used to being presented in that way. And as you know, death is just such an unusual event for most people to go through and have to deal with these kind of things. I think it’s nice for them to have that familiarity of the presentation. Something that they’re kind of accustomed to. It takes a lot of anxiety out of the process and allows them to make decisions without feeling pressured by me, because I’m not even there.
Parting Pro: Exactly. And kind of pointing to that, they don’t have a feeling of, “Well maybe I don’t need to do this, because maybe Steve is just trying to talk me into all these bells and whistles.” They’re looking at it themselves, and they’re an empowered consumer that’s deciding for themselves how to use their purchasing power.
Steve Zittle: I know that can be sacrilege in our industry to say that, but I think the more information that they have that’s correct, the better they’re going to do. We kind of think that we want to hold on to all of the knowledge, and we don’t want anybody to get any knowledge unless we give it to them. But the fact is that people have knowledge. The internet has blown this whole thing wide open. I’m more concerned with people having the correct knowledge. They’re going to have knowledge, and so I can’t control that. I can’t stop them from knowing things about our industry. I just want them to know the right things, and the correct things, and the things that I can control. I think that means a world of difference to them.
Parting Pro: Absolutely. I think the other thing too is that the more your firm can work that way, you’re setting yourself apart from your competition because people call the competition, they get the old school run around – come in, sit down, have some coffee, spend all day. Then when they call you, they’re going to say, “Man, I’m sticking with this guy because I don’t have to do all that nonsense! I can just do this on my phone, I can do it on my time in my way.” You’re leaving competition in the dust, a huge trail behind you, I’m sure.
Steve Zittle: I think we’re in an interesting time, because when I started this business, technology was almost the enemy. Technology kind of made you look a little suspicious. And now, I think we’ve kind of flipped that script. I think now when someone answers the phone and says, “Okay, you have an email in your inbox. We can do this, this, this...” It almost makes me look like I really know what I’m doing, and everybody else is kind of slow and behind the times. So I recommend Parting Pro for anybody who is not my competitor. The competitor should stay away from Parting Pro! Don’t do it!
Parting Pro: Absolutely. Steve, do you have a number that you can point to? I know again, it’s kind of sacrilege in our business to talk numbers. But we are a business industry. Do you have kind of an idea of how this is impacted, your bottom line, your revenue, or the number of families that you serve?
Steve Zittle: I’d love to give you a great number on that. Unfortunately, I think it’s too new for us. We’ve only been doing it for a couple of months. I can’t say that the impact to the business has been dramatic. But I can just say the experience that we have has been dramatically better. It’s far easier for me, not only to serve a family, but it’s far easier for me to see what’s going on when my associates, they’re on call, and I can instantly see that dashboard and see where we are in the process according to my checklist, and I can go back and it’s given me a couple opportunities to train on some things I see that weren’t done correctly, or weren’t done the way I wanted them to be done. So as an owner/manager, it’s been dramatic in the way we operate. But I think we’re too new to be able to judge the impact. I know it hasn’t hurt us! But I don’t know that it in itself has made any kind of difference for us as far as financially.
Parting Pro: Well it’s still new, so you may just have to keep us updated. Maybe we can be pen pals. But I love hearing that experience, especially about the checklists. So I don’t know you, but I remember when I was working for a particular firm – we had this massive whiteboard with these color coded markers, and color coded post its, and it was like this grand collage on the wall. You’re really sort of at the mercy of people updating that the way that they’re supposed to, and honestly, just the paper not falling off the board or getting erased or who knows. So when you were talking about the checklist, that’s what it made me think of. Now that’s all in the palm of your hand. It’s all on your smartphone, it’s all on your computers, you don’t have to worry about any of that. It’s with you whenever you have those devices, right?
Steve Zittle: Correct. Absolutely. I check it often. Being able to run an entire business from a smartphone is an amazing thing. I would have never thought about that even 5 years ago.
Parting Pro: Wow, what a change. What a difference it’s made. That’s incredible. Well, I think that pretty much wraps it up. Do you have any questions for me? Or, any kind of last words, I guess? So to speak.
Steve Zittle: Right, right. I’m really glad – far too often, we in this industry are so quick to dismiss real innovation. I think there is a tremendous dearth of real innovation in our industry. If you go to the conventions and things, there’s only so many types of urns that can come out, and casket corners, and this and that. Especially in technology, anyone with a website thinks that they’re the latest and greatest thing, just because of their doodad. But I can honestly say that, what I’ve experienced with Parting Pro just in the last 4-5 months, has been the biggest innovation that I’ve seen in the last decade or two. Since video tributes came out. I think that this is the real deal. I couldn’t be happier with the decision we made to go Parting Pro. I recommend it to anybody, except my competitors!
Parting Pro: I love that. That’s going to be the new tagline, Steve!
Steve Zittle: Exactly.
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