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Virtual Funeral Arrangements, Funeral Industry Coming of Age

imageI am really excited to see funeral homes adopting this kind of arrangement software. It is especially surprising to see it coming from one of the corporations. Allowing families to make pre-arrangements and at need arrangements in the comfort of their own home has many advantages.

This software being deployed by Stewart Enterprises allows the family to supply all of the information collected during the arrangement process, it also allows them to select the different merchandise and service packages that best fit them. This could be a very good thing for some funeral director because it is relieving them from the duties of “selling”. All information collected online through the arrangement process is complied and emailed to the funeral to review before the family comes in for the arrangement conference at the funeral home.

I also see a few negatives that could come from this.

Please read my comments after this article snippet:

Making funeral arrangements after the death of a loved one isn?t something that most would describe as easy, but a few North Texas funeral homes are incorporating a new tool to make it a bit simpler.

The funeral homes, part of the network of Stewart Enterprises Inc., are using an online tool called the virtual arrangement conference to allow families to gather information about their loved one for the death certificate and funeral service on their own time and at home.

The information is the same information usually gathered at the first meeting with a funeral arranger, and the data is then sent to the funeral home, where an arranger can go over it before a family comes in for the meeting.

?We?re never completely prepared for that moment, so anything that can help people to get through a time like this, I?m all for it,? said Martin Thompson, manager and director of J.E. Foust Funeral Home in Grapevine.

Foust Funeral Home is part of Stewart Enterprises, based in Jefferson, La., and the second largest provider of products and services in the funeral industry in the United States and owns and operates 218 funeral homes and 140 cemeteries.

The virtual arrangement conference was developed in-house by Stewart Enterprises and debuted at local company funeral homes a few months ago.

The online tool gathers information on the deceased, including biographical background and items to create an obituary. The tool also lets a family select what kind of casket or urn is best and what kind of service is most appropriate. When a family comes in and already has used the conference, arrangers have more time to spend personalizing their services, said Jenny Barnett, manager of Laurel Land Funeral Home in Fort Worth and Burleson.

?When they come in, we don?t have to spend all the time going through the vital statistics and all those things,? she said.

While the funeral industry may not be thought of as particularly tech-savvy, there is an increasing reliance on technology ? and particularly online tools ? to create services, said Willie Meyer, funeral home manager at Bluebonnet Hills in Memorial Park.

The Colleyville funeral home offers online memorial websites for families to upload photos, videos and receive messages of sympathy from friends and family around the world. Those online tributes, as well as slideshow presentations at services accompanied by family-chosen soundtracks, are common.

Additionally, some Stewart Enterprises homes have web cameras set up in chapels and can livestream video of a service on Internet pages with protected passwords, so those who can?t make it to the service can still be a part of it, Meyer said. The addition of these new services reflects a growing incorporation of technology into every facet of life.

?How many of them have their iPods with them, how many of them have their e-mail on their own cell phones?? he said.

While the tool is not intended for pre-planning, Thompson said it does let families work their way through the planning process a little more on their time. After a phone call to the funeral home to set up a meeting time, they can use the virtual arrangement conference at their own pace before the meeting and save and revisit information over several days. Sometimes learning to plan a funeral is better done in one?s own home, he said.

?It?s not something anybody?s ever taught in school, and everything that people know is what they see in movies,? he said.

Source: FWbusinesspress.com

There are two big negatives that I could see coming from this. First would be the personal connection with the family. During a face to face arrangement a good funeral director gets the vital information he needs from the family as well as listening to stories about the deceased that really aid in the funeral director working with the family to plan a very personal service that is as unique as the life lived by their loved one. If the family is doing the planning and merchandise selecting online before they ever meet with the funeral director, I think a lot of the personal connection and personalization is going to be lost.

I also think there could be a big drop off in the quality of product that is chosen by the family. You may find yourself selling lower end product because the consumer is very price driven and they also have no knowledge about the product they are choosing. Without a funeral director being present to explain the merchandise the family may miss out on different personalization options as well selecting the right product that satisfies the amount of protection they want for their loved one. Even though the family is not paying for the funeral online, they still are building an expectation of what they want and how much it is going to cost.

I would love to hear how you feel about online arrangement/virtual funerals, please leave your comments below.

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