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There is a Better Way

June 16, 2017

Originally published in Funeral Business Advisor

Technology has changed the way we communicate, the way we shop, and the way we do business. Recently, during a business trip to Houston, Texas, I noticed that technology such as FaceTime, text messages, and SnapChat helped me feel close to my wife and children, even though we were 1,300 miles apart. Because users, like me, have started integrating these technologies into their personal lives, businesses have started doing the same. And over the course of my tenure as an active funeral director, I witnessed businesses in all other industries change, but funeral homes remained stagnant and struggled to adapt and embrace technology.

One of the primary reasons for this reluctance to employ new technology in funeral service is because our profession relies heavily on face-to-face interaction with the families we serve. For many of us, face-to-face interaction is at the heart of what we do. When asked “Why funeral service?” by a student who was in a death and dying course, a mentor of mine responded by asking the following question: “Upon your visit with a doctor, a dentist, or a lawyer, do you walk out the door giving them a hug?” The student gently smiled and said, “No.”

Of the several hundred families I had the privilege of serving, more families than not would give me a hug before walking out the door, when just hours before, we were often strangers. Although these personal interactions solidify the relationship between family and funeral director, we need to start perceiving technology as a way to enhance these very important interactions that build trust instead of viewing technology as a hindrance.

Let me share with you a real life story on why you must embrace collaborative communication.

The morning of July 4th I awoke to a text that quickly changed the trajectory of my morning. The text message I received said, “My mom passed away yesterday…I just don’t know what to do.” Immediately, the funeral director in me shifted into overdrive.

My friend’s mom died at a local hospital, but the place of death was two hours away from her community where the services would be held. I assisted in making a couple of phone calls to get a funeral director involved and chose a funeral home owned by a friend of mine whom I know does an incredible job serving families. As the day progressed, I continued to correspond with my friend via text messages, answering questions and offering guidance.

Later, after my friend received an email from the funeral director with an eight-page attachment, she texted me, saying, “There are so many, many details. I had no idea. This is hard.” She was overwhelmed. The information sent wasn’t user-friendly and required printing, writing, scanning, and emailing back.

Friends, let me tell you, there is a better way!

More today than ever, I believe in the power of collaborative communication. The entire conversation I had with my friend was via text messages, which was her preferred means of communication. Was it less impersonal than a phone call? I think not. Was she satisfied? Yes. Did she feel valued? Yes.

Like my friend, today’s families use collaborative communication technology, such as group text messages, Facebook Pages or Messenger, or even Google Groups, to communicate with their family and friends in one convenient location. What great tools for the family, right? But the problem with this scenario is that the funeral director is not in the middle of the conversation.

What if you were to give that family the same collaborative communication tools as an additional service you provide, and you were able to be in the middle of the conversation to guide them into the perfect personalized memorialization for their loved one?

Because I have had the great privilege of talking with funeral directors all over the United States about the use of technology to assist in serving families at a higher level, I understand how helpful these tools would be in our profession.

Not only would these technologies help the many Americans who live in a different location from their loved ones, but these online interactions can help funeral professionals serve the immediate needs of families, without worrying about scheduling, printing, scanning, and faxing paperwork, and slower forms of communication. Instead of prohibiting personal interactions with families, these collaborative technologies offer tools that create spaces for families to ask questions, no matter how far apart or what time of day, which everyone, including the funeral director, can access and chime in on.

I have often heard funeral professionals say that using this kind of technology is cold. But technology is becoming a part of everything we do, and instead of being thought of as cold, using technology should be seen as a sign that you care about the families you serve. And how can that be cold? You are simply meeting families’ needs in ways that we haven’t been meeting them before.

There is a better way to serve your families. There are better tools to be used. There are easier ways to communicate. When telling my friend about the technology that some funeral homes have embraced, her response was, “They have something like that? That would have been a life-saver!”

Funeral service must embrace a paradigm shift in order to remain relevant. Today’s consumers have come to expect immediate accessibility, control, absolute transparency, communication in context, and new and unique ideas. There is no better time than now to embrace technology and collaborative communication!

The pressure of time, grief, and distance all create the gap that families are experiencing. If we want to keep up with families and remain in the center of their conversation, we have to leverage the technology we have available and be flexible enough to meet families where they are—technologically speaking.