Trends in Tech, Featuring Connecting Directors CEO, Ryan Thogmartin
“There’s one word that’s in our name that a lot of my colleagues forget and that’s the word “Director.” People are coming to us for direction and we need to be technologically advanced in our minds in order to give them the direction which they want.” -Mike Feeney, Funeral Data Manager
Whether we like it or not, the technology industry is a fast-paced arena where new developments are constantly coming forward. In just three decades, the evolution of mobile phones has made astounding progress. If you look back at the first mobiles released in the early eighties, it is mind-blowing to see how they have transformed into the lifelines we carry in our pockets today. Think about all of the things many of the mobile phones on the market do for you: they store and organize your contacts, allowing you to keep track of everything from multiple phone numbers per contact to their addresses, emails, birthdays and more; they allow you to store music, photos and videos straight from your computer; they allow you to access the internet and emails and connect instantly with your contacts in a much more convenient way that making phone calls.
Who would have thought thirty years ago that the cumbersome mobile that was introduced to the market would one day fit easily into your pocket and store as much data as a small netbook?
The same rings true across all industries; their technologies are improving and evolving quicker than many of us can even keep up with and the deathcare industry is absolutely no exception. “I think technology is going to play big part in the upcoming years particularly in part because more and more younger people are coming into the business and it’s opening the [funeral director’s] eyes to newer technologies,” said Jeff McCauley of Greene Valley Media. Thirty years ago, did you expect that all of your arrangements could be handled on computer software, eliminating the need for stacks of papers? Or that papers could be stored electronically eliminating the need for physical records? Did you think, thirty years ago, that a relative in China could just as easily participate in a memorial service as a relative living in Texas, just five miles from the funeral home at which the memorial service was taking place through the use of webcasting technologies?
The development of technology is, at times, overwhelming and unpredictable. However, understanding where technology is today and where it might be going tomorrow is one of the best things you could possibly do for your firm. As was already stated, technology is a fast-paced arena and if you don’t do what you can to keep up, you’ll be raced over and left behind as your peers in the deathcare industry race ahead and, eventually, lap you.
In this industry, the question should not be whether or not you will embrace technology into your firm’s daily practice but, rather, which technologies you wish to incorporate and which technologies will work best for you and the end result you are trying to accomplish. Using the resources you’ve got, research what is available and then take the next step to put the technologies that are offered into action. Making your business practices more efficient will not put you at a disadvantage but will actually prove beneficial to your families which, in the end, is always what you should be striving for: serving your families. If you could promise every family that utilizes your services that you have the best available resources to meet all of their wants and needs, how amazing would that be? Wouldn’t that make you feel as though you had accomplished exactly what you set out to accomplish when getting into this industry?
So, what is out there? Where is technology today and where is it heading? In this article, you will receive and overview of some of the new and upcoming technologies of right now and also a few technologies that have been around for years but are no less essential and vital to the success of your firm. While this is not a complete overview, it will get you started if you have not started improving the technology in your funeral home already. From here, it would be advised to continue your own research. Call the companies that offer what you are looking for and have them explain to you what services they can offer you. Implementing a technology into your funeral home will not be effective if it is something that you and your staff cannot feasibly maintain. If it’s something that isn’t easily manageable in-house, find out if the company offers assistance. Find out if they can train you and your staff in using their product in your funeral home. Many products can seem daunting but, nine times out of ten, the company from which you would obtain the product will help you learn how to use the product to be able to get the most out of it.
Now, let’s examine some of the technologies out there today.
As a funeral director, how many times have you been in the middle of driving or in a loud, public area when a first call comes through? You don’t want to ignore it and let it go into your voicemail but you also can’t answer it immediately. When facing that dilemma, what do you do? That’s a hard choice. “Keep in mind that many funeral directors forward their phone lines to their cell phones and they don’t get a break from anything. They feel as though they can answer every single call themselves. However, there are dead zones with cell phone towers and probably even worse than that is the fact that you may be in an area where you just can’t answer the phone because of the background noise, it might be completely inappropriate. That’s where [this kind of] service really comes into play,” said Kevin Czachor of ASD–Answering Service for Directors.
With answering services, however, you don’t have to make that choice. You can ensure that, at any given time, someone is physically speaking with any family that calls and no one gets navigated into a voicemail that can very plausibly be overlooked amidst all of the other voicemails one receives during any given day. If you could make sure and rest easy that every family who needs to speak to someone about the passing of their loved one could, without fail, always have a real person speaking to them on the other end of the phone, wouldn’t that be the best practice? Wouldn’t that better fulfill the role you and your firm plays in your families’ lives?
When you look at the hardware used in your offices, what all do you find being used by you and your staff? You probably all-or at least all of the funeral directors-have mobile phones. There are the computers throughout the office, possibly also laptops that can be taken and used when away from the office. What about tablets such as iPads? You may or may not have those, too. Now, when you are on each of these devices, can you connect to the same databases as the others? For example, with many mobile phones, you can check your email. You can also check your email on the computers, laptops and tablets.
Cloud computing allows you to access applications from any remote location without having to be at the base location where the application originates. “The thing the cloud can do to overcome some of the challenges for the director is they don’t have to go buy a server anymore, which is huge,” said Scott Simons of SRS Computing.
If you have a program on one computer, it would be inconvenient to have to rely on being able to access that machine in order to use the software. What if the machine needs repair or someone else is using it for equally important reasons? Cloud computing eliminates that inconvenience by allowing you to access that date from anywhere. “With the widespread availability of smartphones and tablets, having access to business and customer information wherever I might be has become increasingly important,” said Marty Strohofer of Aurora Casket.
“Through the cloud, the director can keep up to date with his current services.” There are “applications where [the funeral directors] log into a website and they see their current services complete with, for example, the clergy’s name and number, the church’s name and number. They can easily do directions off of that if they get lost on the procession. They would have access to their rolodex,” said Simons.
Interactive Arrangement Software & Product Catalogs
This particular type of technology is something that will make everyone’s lives just a little bit easier. How many times do you take down information from a family during the initial phone call and then take the same information during the arrangement meeting? How many times is the decision-maker of the family touching the same paperwork. And if a paper gets lost, do they have to touch the paper again to refill it out?
With various arrangement softwares, you can cut out the need to go over the same information again and again. Wouldn’t it be more efficient if, any time a piece of information is given-whether over the phone, in the arrangement office or at the family’s home-it all went into the same database and was accessible by both your firm and the family? That’s the great thing about arrangement software; it cuts out the redundancy and allows more time for you to focus on truly servicing the family. “You have this period of time before the arrangement that is just so important and funeral directors, unfortunately, haven’t been participating in that process. They’ve been waiting for families to come in to meet with a funeral director, but a lot of the planning gets done before that. Now there’s a tool where they can participate in that period but also have it integrated so that any of the participation and any of the choices and any of the information that families share never has to be retyped,” said Strohofer.
It is also more efficient to use product catalogs. It’s always good to have your viewing room where families can see a base set of your products that could fit their memorial needs, but now that there are so many options out there for memorialization, how can you possibly keep one of everything on hand? That’s where the catalog comes in. House your catalogs on an interactive database and it’s the next best thing to having the physical product in your funeral home. The decision-maker can see exactly what they are looking for and you can lower your overhead costs by cutting down on the products you wouldn’t necessarily have to keep in inventory anymore.
Online Document Storage
There is software available that, as we have talked about in previous issues, can house all of your documents online, even documents dating back centuries from now. When trying to find records, it can, at times, become cumbersome trying to find what you are looking for. With online document management, your search becomes more efficient, allowing you to find precisely for what you are looking in only a fraction of the time. In the same respect, this can also cut down time spent by a family’s decision maker filling out paperwork on-site and allow for more time to talk about what really matters the most to them and to you.
How much time do you spend per family filling out paperwork? If you average thirty minutes per family and you have, say, ten families per month, you could save, on average sixty hours per year that could be better spent servicing more families.
QR Codes & Barcodes
Coding systems can be unbelievably handy and resourceful. We use them every day for various purposes. We see them at the grocery and when filling out registries at department stores. They’re used for inventory and for organization. The question is, though, how are they applicable to your firm?
One of the major uses of barcodes currently is for identifying decedents’ remains. By being able to accurately identify each person and the type of disposition requested, the margin of error is greatly decreased.
Another trend in this area is the use of QR codes (Quick Response) on headstones. QR codes work by allowing someone to scan the code using their smartphone and automatically, instantly, be directed to further data. For example, in fifty years, a man decides to visit the cemetery to see where his great-grandmother, whom he never met, was buried. On her headstone is a QR code that he can scan and it could automatically take him to a memorial website that tells him more about her history, her life and death. Obviously, we can expect this technology to evolve tremendously in the next fifty years, but the same example also applies to current times. It’s just another way of offering your families something they may need to help themselves and family and friends cope with the loss of a loved one by being able to connect with them each time a visit is paid to their headstone.
While the writers at Funeral Business Advisor have spoken many times on the importance of creating your presence in the community around you, that is not the only presence that is essential to your firm’s success. While we advocate playing an active role in your community in a physical aspect, there is another role that is just as vital to fill. That role is your presence online, and not just through your firm’s professional website. “Funeral service is catching up in technology, especially since more and more technology has become so much more readily available to consumers and consumer-friendly. The area that I see the largest growth in technology is using technology and social media to stay connected and build relationships with families,” said Strohofer.
How many people do you know who utilize Facebook? Do you have a Facebook account? When you log on and view your profile or your child, cousin, neighbor, best friend views their profile, how many people are connected through that single profile? Hundreds and thousands of people can be connected through one simplistic page and, with the click of a button or a few keystrokes, you can send an instant message to each and every one of those people upon whose news feed that message will pop up.
How amazing would it be to be able to send your firm’s message to hundreds or thousands of people in your local community simultaneously? “It’s another great way to get eyeballs. Funeral homes are in the eyeball business, they have to be seen; funeral directors need to be interactive and social media provides a great, free outlet to do that,” said Ryan Thogmartin of ConnectingDirectors.com. You can use social media to market your firm and you can use it to connect others by posting information about public memorial services and obituaries. Keep your community informed by posting about key events, especially the ones you could be hosting.
In this day and age, your website is the face of your company. While there are multiple factors that go into branding your firm in your community, your website is paramount to your success with future clients. “This is the world in which we live. Print sales are declining, you know, and local TV adds are costly and limited by distribution method. So there’s two major marketing medias that are right out the window. If you’re thinking about how or what is the best marketing space available for your funeral home, what is it? It’s the web,” said Brian Smith of Twin Tiers Technologies.
I can tell you from a personal standpoint that, when deciding where I am going to do business, the first thing I will do is log on to Google and search the company utilizing Google’s search engine. While seeing review websites and yellow page listings can be helpful, what I am really looking for is the company’s website. If it’s not there, I move on the the next company. Not having a website isn’t my only deterrent, either. If I find the website and find it to be disorganized, not easily navigable or not up-to-date? I immediately get the impression that that particular company will care for me as much as they do their fallen-by-the-wayside website which, let’s face it, is obviously not at all. “The funeral homes are starting to really understand how important their web presence is. While funeral homes always understood marketing in their business I think they’re starting to understand how the website plays such a key role in marketing their business,” said Troy Brake of Batesville.
“We’re seeing a lot more involvement with upgrading funeral home websites to be more user-friendly. Generally, in the past, the website has been strictly for obituaries. We’re seeing a lot of funeral directors upgrading their sites,” said Thogmartin. If you care about your families, you should care about the message you’re sending them. The more information you put on your website, the more information they can obtain. The easier you make it to navigate your pages, the less trouble you will be putting a family through when their focus is, for good reason, not on trying to find the Contact Us button. “If you don’t have a website then you’re missing out on the most accessible and the most important way to advertise your funeral home, this is the current front door to your company,” said Smith.
“I think websites are a definite necessity for funeral homes. More and more people are eliminating the need to look through the phonebook. Websites are where they go for their first source of information,” said McCauley.
Of course, as we have discussed in previous articles, there are several technologies used not only for your business, but also for the services you conduct: webcasting, memorial websites, tribute DVDs and even projected slideshows and more. “It was really a big hit with everybody that attended the funeral. They thought that was really cool,” said Leroy Bowman of Adaptive Projections regarding incorporating projected slideshows in honor of the passed loved one into the memorial service.
As always, any type of technology is going to constantly evolve and adapt at a quick pace that may seem impossible to keep up with. “I think what you’re going to see over the next few years is that everything that is still offline, getting rid of that is really going to accelerate. There will be fewer and fewer offline solutions. Everything new going forward is going to be online,” said Brake. While that can be cumbersome, there’s no reason to sit back and wait for the next advance. Doing so will leave you behind the rest and that doesn’t help you better serve your families and communities. There is a reason why these technologies are popular and it’s because so many have found them effective. Do your research and find the technologies that will work for you and your objectives.