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Pandemic Paradigm: How COVID is Prompting a Tech Revolution

How the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a technology revolution and forced the death care industry to change how they deliver services.
October 22, 2020
Tony Lorge
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Months ago, pre-pandemic, when crowds were still gathering, I was invited to be a keynote speaker at a funeral service conference. I taped my speech ahead of time, and when I stepped up to the stage, I ran the video instead of speaking in person. WHY would he do that? many attendees, perhaps rightfully, wondered.

My point was that the digital world is HERE—and it should be embraced and used to its fullest capacity. But puzzled attendees didn’t quite understand…until the next day, when the scheduled speaker missed her flight, leaving a gaping hole in the program. Quite simply, no one had prepared with a digital back-up plan.

I think my delivery proved a prime example of what practitioners in the death care industry needed to see. While you may not see the need for digital transformation now, if you don’t make the shift soon, the effects could prove too little, too late.

When the pandemic hit, for most in the early first quarter of 2020, everybody—from teachers and students to libraries to restaurants—was forced to deliver goods and/or services in the digital world. Zoom became a permanent adjective, noun, and verb in our lexicon.

But while some funeral directors played catch-up, others were better positioned to jump in headfirst and, hopefully, make solid gains for their funeral homes. Who are these prescient funeral directors? They’re the early adopters, perhaps those who were using digital register books when they first came out. Or those who began offering and broadcasting online services when families could no longer safely gather during the pandemic.

Those changes didn’t always come easy or without some hesitation. Whatever digital experience funeral directors offered families in the past, the traditionalists were not necessarily encouraging or didn’t have the technology to meet the digital divide.

But, as we now know, a digital/virtual paradigm is no longer a “nice to have” option. It’s a “need to have” for funeral homes hoping to come out of COVID conundrums at the top of their game.

Digital with a Purpose

Before the global pandemic, the goal of most funeral directors was to engage directly. A family would come in, sit with the funeral director, share stories of their loved one, and, of course, then have to make grief-heavy decisions about purchasing caskets, urns, flowers, and other “value-added” items. And even though death care professionals don’t like to think of it as “selling,” clearly, the best way to offer alternatives to the families has been in person.

That model is changing. And not just due to the global pandemic, although that has speeded things up.

It may seem challenging to get the same feeling of empathy virtually, but consider death care’s changing audience. Today’s consumers don’t always need, want, or welcome that level of engagement.

Quote "If the death care industry has learned anything through all of the trials of 2020, it’s that business will likely not go back to the way it was."

Millennials and other younger generations don’t use outmoded means to find your services—they use mobile devices and social networks. So, in addition to having an engaging and useful website—full of active links and pertinent, updated information, that makes having a social media presence (one that is updated often) essential.

Today’s customers are comfortable, and used to, buying important and big-ticket items like mattresses, cars, life insurance, and vacations with the click of the mouse, so, too, are they more willing to plan funerals, buy products and services and engage more virtually. For example, in my informal talks with younger consumers (many digital natives), more than 90 percent of the people I spoke with said they didn’t enjoy visiting a funeral home at their time of need.

Aside from the new consumers’ shift toward more digital engagement, they are also a more mobile generation and perhaps less tied to religious or cultural traditions. That, too, influences their purchasing needs and wants.

So, is it possible to create a seamless, effective digital engagement model for funeral directors? Of course, but there will, understandably, be a learning curve, as well as securing corporate/staff buy-in and choosing the right products. Integrated operational software like byondpro incorporates many functions to make the transition easier.

Workflows and records management functions will help funeral homes get their behind-the-scenes data in more usable forms. Sales and booking functions provide everything for the entire customer journey—planning a service, preparing quotes, booking services, managing suppliers, generating invoices, and taking payments. It couldn’t be simpler. Or more necessary.

Even if you haven’t been an early adopter, it’s not too late, but it is too necessary.

If the death care industry has learned anything through all of the trials of 2020, it’s that business will likely not go back to the way it was. Just like TV didn’t kill radio, funeral directors will just have more means of communication at their disposal.

Recognize this: a digital transformation would have happened over time anyway. Maybe it took a pandemic—tragic as it is—to get the industry to change its point of view…and its way of doing business.

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