It’s Time for a Digital Transformation in the Death Care Industry
The world has changed. We work from home, attend school from home, shop from home, and stream movies at home. Online activities have increased in quantity and popularity. "For all of us everywhere, what we did and the way we did it just twelve months ago is going to look… significantly different today," says John Haley, Customer Success & Acquisition Manager for OpusXenta.
The pandemic has changed the way people live. Pew research asked 915 innovators, developers, business, and policy leaders what they thought life would be like in 2025, considering how COVID-19 affected us in 2020. The survey revealed that the "broad and nearly universal view is that people's relationship with technology will deepen as larger segments of the population come to rely more on digital connections for work, education, health care, daily commercial transactions, and essential social interactions."
The pandemic has created a new normal, which has not only affected us as individuals but has affected the way companies do business. In order to keep up with this massive switch to online everything, businesses must first recognize the change in consumer behavior and then respond to it.
People are becoming increasingly comfortable online thanks to the pandemic, but even before the coronavirus started, people were using online services reasonably frequently. For instance, pre-2020:
- 73% of consumers wanted to review and compare services online
- 86% of people between 50-64 researched products online before purchasing
- 64% of travelers booked services, like hotel rooms, online
And these figures applied to the death care industry, as well. Twenty percent of consumers searched online for information about planning a funeral service, and 46% said they would virtually handle funeral arrangements. Haley states that a recent industry survey revealed "that 46% of guests who've attended a service online felt that they were meaningfully present... and able to show support for the family even though they weren't physically at the funeral."
These stats show that even before Covid, consumers wanted online accessibility and a technical presence from businesses they frequented. The pandemic has only sped up this new consumer behavior pattern, which has created a need for an online presence from businesses and a digital transformation from those companies that do not have websites or social media accounts.
"The digital transformation of society is here. It's come. And it's only going to get more significant," says Haley.
The death care industry is making adjustments to meet the new normal and to address changing consumer behaviors. Industry trends are driving a need for change, as well.
According to the 2020 NFDA Cremation & Burial Report, the projected burial rate is 37.5%, down 7.7% from 2015, while the projected cremation rate is 56.0%, up 8.1% from 2015. Other trends that are drivers for change include consumer preferences, alternatives to traditional services, and new types of services.
Consumer preferences and behaviors are driving the need for a change in the funeral industry. People are increasingly more comfortable with tech, and this is a driver for their expectations of death care services. Therefore, funeral homes, cemeteries, and crematoria need to embrace technology and new service options in the face of current economic realities.
Increasing costs are another driving factor for change in the death care industry. Funeral businesses must keep costs in control and maintain margins in the face of consumers who are more apt to price shop.
Consumers are becoming more aware of pre-need sales, especially in light of the pandemic. Funeral homes and cemeteries push pre-need as a way to control income; however, they probably don't increase profit. A $500 pre-need sale from twenty years ago needs to cover $15,000 worth of services today. So while pre-need sales may improve immediate cash flow, they bring on the burden of managing the funds.
Alternatives to Traditional Services
Another recent driver for change in the death care industry is the appearance of new alternatives to traditional burial services. Online engagement has become increasingly popular. Oftentimes, the first contact a funeral home has with a family is through its website. People want to make and modify bookings online, and there is increasing competition from online apps. Consumers desire a DIY, build-your-own end-of-life experience, which many funeral and memorial planning apps offer.
More funeral homes are offering streaming services, especially in the face of the pandemic. People are content with online attendance of funerals and feel that it is similar to being there in person with a sense of community, engagement, and support. "One short year ago, people traveled for leisure, but certainly for funerals. Now, travel is, if not impossible, certainly restricted," states Haley.
Another new service that is driving change is online memorialization, which gives family and friends a digitally native way to share in the funeral experience. Members of death care organizations are adapting and responding to restrictions brought about by COVID and creating new and innovative services to meet the needs of their families.
New Types of Services
New types of services are appearing, creating a need for additional change in the death care industry. We are seeing a fundamental shift in the way we relate to death. Death doulas, for instance, are a new role in death care. They are often hired to help with the process of dying while helping the family cope with the death.
Hospice and living funerals now offer someone the ability to participate in their own funeral, giving closure to their loved ones. This concept may be a driver that will influence change in the death care sector.
The growing trend for green burials affects how cemeteries work, the space within them, and how they must optimize and run themselves. Green burials are a driver that may push cemeteries to offer more sustainable options as well as changing their processes, operations, and materials used.
The new normal is changing how the death care industry responds and grows to meet the needs of families. What worked in the past may not work in the present or the future. "As a sector, we need to accept that people have changed," says Haley.
For your business to survive and grow during this new normal, changes must be made. A digital transformation can help you meet the needs of consumers by providing efficient, cost-effective services. A digital transformation is a fundamental change that makes the old look cumbersome and slow compared to the new. "It's a change that doesn't need to throw the old away. It can work alongside it," adds Haley.
While many funeral homes, cemeteries, and crematoria have successfully used manual processes and have relied extensively on paper records, the times are changing. To attract new clients, keep in touch with the families you serve, gain efficiency, and position your business for the future, adopting digital technologies is crucial. If you are not delivering a digital experience, then at the very most, you're delivering second best.
To make a digital transformation, the key, according to Haley, is to "just start and never stop." Choose one area of progress and make that change. It is not an all-or-nothing proposition.
Begin by deciding what going digital means to you. Is it updating your website to offer bookings digitally? Is it using new technology to handle your paperwork? Is it both of these and more?
Next, take an inventory of your current practices and processes and then establish objectives for going digital. Prioritize where you want to change and in which order you'll progress as you make the transformation. Evaluate the available tools that will address your needs and then implement your chosen solution.
Once you begin to go digital with your business, don't stop. Each step continues to move you towards the expectations of the public and ensures that you can meet the needs of your customers today and tomorrow. Why not get started?