Remote is the New In-Person. Are You Ready for a Post-COVID World?
Many of us imagine what life will be like when “stay-home” restrictions are lifted. People will run out of their homes with arms wide, hug one another, dine in restaurants, and flock to clothing stores and hairstylists. However, there will be those who become accustomed to a remote lifestyle, working, shopping, dining, and worshipping from home. They may even prefer the convenience of not having to leave the couch to conduct most types of business.
The question is, will your funeral home or cemetery be ready to interact with a post-COVID customer?
Today’s challenges, tomorrow’s opportunities
When COVID-19 hit, challenges hit death care workers from every direction. Uncertainty about safely handling COVID bodies, a lack of personal protective equipment, and mounting storage concerns were just the beginning.
Many in the death care profession were caught off-guard when shelter-in-place and public assembly restrictions began. In this very personal and personalized profession, they were set up for one-on-one interactions and high-touch gatherings. Some had added webcasting options for families who couldn’t attend in-person, but most hadn’t put much thought into live streaming.
Funeral homes, cemeteries, and their suppliers scrambled to find answers to the questions and problems these restrictions created. How do we show families our product selection? Can families sign paperwork online? How can we sell pre-needs? What can we do to show families our open cemetery plots? How can we hold a proper service so friends and families can say goodbye?
One thing’s for sure — the folks in this profession are nothing if not responsive. Some allowed viewings via a drive-through window. Others had drive-in memorial services in the parking lot. You used mobile phones and tablets to livestream services to Facebook or YouTube. And you discovered the pseudo-face-to-face option of Zoom meetings and video chats.
Some of these are stop-gap measures and not long-term solutions. However, we can’t assume that when COVID “ends” (if there is such a time) that families won’t expect these same services and conveniences from you. And despite the many other demands on your team, now may be the best time to implement options for a post-COVID world.
Webcasting or live streaming
Even though webcasting has been an option for funeral homes since the early 2000s, as of 2019 it had not been widely adopted. In fact, last fall NFDA President R. Bryant Hightower estimated that only 20% of funeral homes offered live-streaming to the families they served. That percentage has changed significantly since the advent of COVID.
In March, Connecting Directors spoke with Bruce Likly, President of TribuCast, a remote attendance system for funeral services. He reported that although interest in and use of his service had been growing steadily over the past year, both spiked in mid-March.
“We have seen a substantial increase in requests for demonstrations, training and utilization as homes that were planning on offering the TribuCast™ Remote Attendance System™ as an option are now including it with each service they perform,” Likly shared.
Live streaming may have been outside the comfort zone of many traditional directors who have had to embrace it. Even so, Likly reports that the feedback from those who have added his service has been “amazing.”
“They appreciate having a private, personalized, portable and pay-per-use system purpose-built for funerals they can quickly learn and start using that same day or shortly thereafter,” he said. “The feedback we’ve heard from families has been equally positive. They like having a remote attendance option that makes loved ones feel included and connected when they can’t be there in person.”
Setting up a new webcasting system is usually a simple process that doesn’t necessarily require technical expertise. With TribuCast, Likly explains, purchasers can download and configure their software on a tablet or mobile phone in less than 45 minutes. Training on the system is also available online.
The NFDA has added live streaming and webcasting guidelines and recommendations to its COVID-19 webpage. They also address important concerns about music licensing and potential copyright issues with sharing services on Facebook Live and YouTube.
Selling interment sites remotely
There are a lot of circumstances that could keep an at-need family or preneed customer from visiting a cemetery to pick out a plot or niche. Inclement weather, geographic distance, and now stay-at-home and social distancing are just a few potential reasons. These situations shouldn’t keep you from cemetery sales, though.That idea led Jimmy Pinocchio to create an online experience that turns roadblocks like these into opportunities.
“Cemetery360 provides the platform to completely visually map and display all available inventory at any time,” explained Pinocchio, the firm’s president and CEO. “We believe that families deserve to be served one-on-one, while also being provided with online resources for this modern age. One of our company’s core missions has always been to better serve families online while empowering cemetery sales staff to showcase their properties with technology.”
Pinocchio’s platform gives viewers a 360-degree view of cemetery properties for an immersive remote experience. The Cemetery360 team can add up to 1,000 images to a database each day and link them to GPS locations, so installation time varies based on each property. The system can also integrate with cemeteries’ existing record-keeping software.
A virtual walk through a cemetery is a boon for agents who can’t meet one-on-one with clients due to the pandemic. However, like webcasting, this remote option doesn’t have to replace traditional in-person sales. Instead, it can complement it.
“Cemetery360 […] can stand alone as a ‘tool in your sales toolbox’ to show your property to clients (e.g., in a family planning room on-site, or remote via email through a direct link to view the property),” Pinocchio explains. “We as an industry need to evaluate how to best serve families before, during, and after this crisis.”
Solving screen-sharing issues
You probably don’t have to imagine the difficulties in explaining documents or describing products to a family by phone. Chances are you’ve had to do this in some form or fashion during the COVID-19 pandemic. Online meeting places like Google Meet or Zoom or computer screen-sharing software can help, but these aren’t always user-friendly.
Mike Regina, a third-generation cemeterian, has a better — and so much easier — idea for sharing your products and paperwork remotely. He and his Funeral Decisions team recently introduced NowDeck, a platform that allows document co-browsing by phone or email.
Originally created for use with phone shoppers, NowDeck co-browser technology lets you and the person you’re speaking with look at the same PDF document or presentation in real-time. You simply send a link to the person via text or email and they see on their phone, tablet, or laptop screen what you see. Unlike screen-sharing technology, NowDeck doesn’t require you or your customer to install any new software or download an app.
Regina explained that in addition to sharing images of products in inventory, some directors are using NowDeck to explain their forms to families.
“They can upload a standard form to NowDeck then send a link,” explained Regina. “They can go over each line item with the family and complete the form as they talk. When they hang up, they can send the actual completed document to the family to be signed.”
During the coronavirus crisis, Regina is offering NowDeck to death care professionals at no cost. To create a free account, visit nowdeck.com/signup.
Signing documents remotely isn’t a new phenomenon. Financial institutions and mortgage lenders have used electronic signature technology for years to legally execute paperwork. However, a remote signature solution probably hasn’t been high on most funeral homes’ priority lists — until now. Social distancing has made directors consider remote options for every part of the preneed and at-need processes, including signing forms.
In addition, many funeral homes have seen an uptick in preneed inquiries. COVID-19 has made more people consider their mortality. Seniors are actively searching the web for end-of-life answers, and you want to be ready to serve them if they decide to complete arrangements from home.
In response to this need, preneed brokerage Golden Considerations recently rolled out a completely remote solution that includes electronic signature capabilities. Josh Rae, the firm’s Director of Special Projects, recently told Connecting Directors that Golden Considerations leveraged its existing relationship with DocuSign to enable secure online signing. They’ve also created a suite of customized templates for various preneed carriers and funeral homes’ goods and services. The tool can be used for both preneed and at-need contracts and agreements.
“We want to help you keep your business flowing,” Rae says. “This technology allows agents to get paperwork in front of a family remotely. We do all of the customization for you. And we’re offering it all for free to our preneed partners during this crisis.”