By: Kristin Burton On: June 19, 2017 In: News Comments: 0

Original article published June 2017 in American Funeral Director.

It seems that every week someone is offering some new type of technology that will help you do business better, smarter and more efficiently. But are these new technology offerings providing you with the help you need to run your business? Kates-Boylston Publications wants to help you find the solutions to your most pressing technology problems.

With this issue, American Funeral Director is introducing a new feature – Technology Touch Points – to help you find the solutions to your most pressing technology questions.

Each month, some of the industry’s top technology experts will provide the answers to your most common technology questions, concerns and problems.
Visit www.katesboylston.com/technology to submit your technology questions, and look for answers in upcoming issues of American Funeral Director.

Wes Johnson, president/CEO, Continental Computers

After reading the question, I think it is relatively safe to believe the firm does in fact operate with at least some level of technology. The employee simply feels the current level of technology is outdated and insufficient. This all may be true. A better understating of technology adoption and a thorough look at the organization’s current situation is needed to provide an informed answer.

The adoption of technology consists of a specific sociological life cycle depicting the adoption of technology by demographics and individual characteristics.

The life cycle consists of these specific categories:

  • Innovators have larger firms, are more educated, more prosperous and more risk-oriented.
  • Early adaptors are younger, more educated and tend to be community leaders.
  • Early majority are more conservative but open to new ideas, active in community and influence the neighbors.
  • Late majority are older, less educated, fairly conservative and less socially active.
  • Laggards are very conservative, have small firms and capital, are the oldest and least educated.

Without placing either the firm or employee in any specific category, I am offering the possibility each candidate could be functioning at opposite ends of the life cycle – presenting a gap between current technology acceptances. Everyone
moves through this cycle at a different speed or time period. We all do not necessarily move through each category on the same day, month or year.

With our adoption life cycle in hand, let’s now apply some demographics to our question. We have to ask, who is our target
market? Do we operate in a rural area or in an area that has yet to adopt much technology? If so, what negative effect could a late majority adoption have on the business? The answer is probably little, if any.

Turn it around and adopt all of the technology available to the rural firm, and one may have successfully divested themselves of large monetary assets. Invest nothing in an area thriving on technology, and it will soon be publicly recognized as a failed business. Remember the audience and apply accordingly. Do not present a doctoral dissertation
for a sixth grader to read.

In conclusion, if we can accurately determine “yes” we should be presently investing in new technology and perhaps are just operating in a firm that falls in the late majority category, start small. After all, the question comes from an employee, not an owner. Most employees may not be aware of the financial condition of the firm and could jeopardize their position with too much persistence.

Do your homework. Research what others in like demographic areas are doing. What are your competitors doing? Find something inexpensive, research it, study it thoroughly and anticipate resistance and questions with prepared responses and answers.

Request a private meeting be scheduled so interruptions and disturbances can be minimalized. Do not be critical of current technology as it could be taken as a personal criticism. Only present your idea. If given the opportunity, take it. Monitor the opportunity so that if proven successful another opportunity may become available. Prove you capabilities
without demoralizing another. If you can’t even get the first opportunity, it is likely the firm falls into the
laggards category – thus potentially rendering this a short-term relationship, one way or another.

Jeff Stewart, vice president and chief marketing officer, Funeral Directors Life Insurance Co.

This is a situation that is very common in our profession. I believe the key to explaining how necessary new technology is would be to show the funeral home owner the benefits of those technologies. Here are a few of the primary benefits to a business owner looking to invest in new technology:

  • Save time. The right technology can save you an immense amount of time through automating tasks, streamlining processes and increasing efficiency. For example, with a cloudbased administration system, you can access files from anywhere, on any device, at any time. No more trips to the funeral home to access a file on the weekend. Also, if your systems are integrated so that you only have to enter information one time, you have just saved real man hours that were being spent duplicating efforts. An excellent software I recommend is Passare, which does a great job of helping the funeral home gain efficiency and access files from anywhere. (Directors Investment Group, the sole owner of FDLIC, is a substantial investor in Passare.)
  • Save money/grow the business. Using technology to its fullest extent will help your funeral home owner save money in the long run and scale up the business. We all know that if you want to grow your business, you either need to (a) add more staff to keep up with increased demand or (b) reduce the workload of existing employees through automation in order to absorb increased duties. If your boss is at all interested in growing his/her business without hiring additional staff, or is simply interested in saving money, then technology can do the trick.
  • Connect with families more appropriately. I think we can all agree that the internet is here to stay. As a matter of fact, seniors and baby boomers are the single fastest growing group of technology adopters. AARP reported in 2013 that 83 percent of adults age 50 and over own a mobile phone. In a 2014 survey by Pew Research, 71 percent of adults go online every day or almost every day. And in a June 2015 study conducted by DMN3 (a digital and direct marketing agency), 94.8 percent of baby boomers and seniors between the ages of 50 and 82 check email online. Our families are accustomed to communicating via email, social media, smartphones, and tablets. It only makes sense that we in the funeral profession are prepared to interact with families in a way that makes them comfortable. If you are interested in dipping your toe into digital marketing, Funeral Directors Life has a suite of digital services called DIGicare that provides funeral homes with automated technology to engage with and support families before, during and after the funeral.
  • Spend more time with families. Your boss may throw on the brakes when it comes to implementing new technology because he or she thinks that more technology means less personal contact with families. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s face it: There are some things computers are good at – duplicating information without making mistakes, crunching numbers, reporting accurately, etc. – and there are some things computers are not good at, namely, taking care of a family and helping them plan a meaningful and healing memorial service. If you let computers do what they do best, you will have more time to do what you do best, which is take care of families. Use of technology in the funeral profession will continue to grow. I would also point out to your funeral home owner that the biggest competitor to the business is not so much the ‘other guys’ down the street. The biggest competitor is becoming irrelevant and out of touch with the needs of families. Implementing the right technology is absolutely essential if you want to adapt to the changing market while creating more opportunities for serving families at their most difficult moments in life.
Rob Shane, director, technology solutions, Batesville

The best approach for your specific situation will depend on a number of factors – the person you need to convince, his or her personal investment in the current system, other priorities in the business, etc. Before you do anything, there are a couple of important considerations. First you have to ask yourself, is your technology outdated or inadequate? There’s a difference. Does it enable the business or is it hindering your success?

Decisions about technology shouldn’t be based on personal bias about technology. You might camp out to get the latest release, but a more disciplined approach is needed for your business. That is the real litmus test and where your work begins.

Where is the technology falling short? If you don’t already have a list, take a closer look at the following areas and ask if your technology is negatively impacting:

  • Service levels to families – which could impact satisfaction and future business.
  • Revenue opportunities – or adding costs because of rework, omissions and errors.
  • Efficiency and effectiveness – in customer-facing and back office processes.
  • Business management – easy access to business data to make decisions.

It helps if you understand your organization’s goals and challenges and can point to where you are experiencing pain. Do your homework, and be prepared to show how the current system is holding you back. List the gaps and quantify the benefits. In order to get a green light, these will need to be prioritized against the firm’s goals and future direction.

Provide specific examples from your own work, or that of your colleagues. For example, are there direct costs associated with duplicate work, extra time required to do simple tasks or just things that your system won’t allow you to do that would make things easier for staff and families?

If you have a relationship with a technology supplier like Batesville, ask for help. We’ve worked through assessments with thousands of funeral homes and can spot the problem areas pretty quickly. Request demos and ask for references of successful implementations.

You’re not the only firm evaluating its technology, so take advantage of case studies and research to see what others think is important. A recent survey conducted by Batesville showed that funeral directors want technology tools that will:

  • Make it easier to do their job/simplify their life.
  • Help them stay connected with families.
  • Allow them to work away from the office.
  • Increase staff productivity.

How do your needs stack up against this list? How could technology improve each of these, and how does that translate to the bottom line? These are the proof points that will help you make your case.

When you talk with management, keep the discussion at a business level. Focus on the financial gains,
productivity improvements and other benefits you’ll derive. Remember, your goal is to show that the benefits of a new solution will outweigh the cost and pain of the change.

On a purely personal note, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was ‘change doesn’t happen without a champion.’ After all the work you’ve done and the knowledge gained in the process, you’re ready to be the technology champion – with one very critical requirement. You will need an executive sponsor who realizes that this is a long-term investment in the firm’s future and is willing to lead the change in the organization.

Change is difficult in our industry, but the knowledge, expertise and confidence you bring to the discussion will go a long way in mitigating concerns and setting the stage for success.