In the past several years, we have all been forced to adapt quickly and make rapid changes to the way we serve families and run our organizations. Some of the technology changes implemented during the pandemic have provided considerable improvements to the service we offer to our families. Now that the immediate crisis has passed, this is an excellent time to evaluate what changes can be made permanent, as well as which changes need to be adjusted. With the benefit of knowing now what technology is available and how your team needs to utilize it, some technology implemented as a stop-gap can be reevaluated and be implemented in a more comprehensive way. Here we will reflect on five technology initiatives that can be considered for a cemetery operation.

1 – Unique online engagement opportunities

A modern website is critical and serves as the first impression that many people have of your cemetery. What may not be as readily apparent is that beyond impactful photos, search engine optimization and the mobile readiness of your website, there are a number of unique things that cemeteries can offer for online engagement. Even if your website is fresh and up to date, consider the following options that are uniquely available to cemeteries.

Driving by your cemetery most visitors probably have no idea of the history and beauty that you curate and make available to the public. Hidden within your gates are beautiful memorials, rare or specimen trees, and historical figures. You can make this history and beauty come to life by providing virtual tours on your website. Publishing a list of features and landmarks–or even better, a map that shows these locations and includes photos, videos and directions–provides visitors with easy access to the best of what your cemetery has to offer.

Your cemetery is the custodian of history, not only for the famous, but also for every family that you have ever served. When it is offered, the top visited page on a cemetery’s website is a portal for locating their loved ones. Allowing families to find their loved ones on your website generates an incredible amount of traffic, and provides you with a platform to showcase the services that you offer and engage your online visitors at a much deeper level. This is the perfect place for showing your available property, selling flowers and allowing families to submit memories and stories of their loved ones. Rather than serving as a way for people to bypass your office when they are looking for a loved one, this invites people who would never come to your office to engage with you through your website and create an initial point of contact.

2 – Digital sales maps

After connecting with your online visitors, the goal is to show them your property and service options. Many cemetery operations, even some using a record management system, still rely on paper sales maps for identifying or showing property to families. The process of verifying property availability can require cross-referencing multiple record systems and often adds significant time to the sales process. This is not the experience any of us want to provide to a family, and there is a better way.

Providing truly digital sales maps to a family service team can be a daunting task, but it can be broken down into achievable steps or phased in overtime. For instance, have you considered starting with just your most active sales areas? Creating a digital map of these sections and then entering in the owners and burials for just those areas will give you a visual of what is for sale.

The true power of digital maps comes in the automation of workflow and the forced accountability that they can provide. With one system serving as the source of record, you know that your staff is always seeing a real time reflection of what is for sale, and you can eliminate the chance of double selling a property. You can also automate the reservation of property and the followup during the sales process, ensuring that families are reminded before their property hold expires and that the property actually goes back into inventory if the sale is not finalized.

3 – Truly digital sales contracts

Many organizations have recently introduced electronic signatures for sales agreements. That is an excellent step forward, and there is also more that can be done to streamline the process and provide a better experience for families.

A truly digital sales contract allows the user to write the contract from anywhere on any device, selecting property off of a sales map, and then adding in service and merchandise items out of a catalog. In this context, the pricing, taxes and payment schedules are automatically calculated and the contract is automatically populated for signature. This transforms the buying process for the family, providing a seamless experience. Math errors are eliminated, all property and product options are shown, and the entire process is faster.

Within our profession, there are a number of cemetery specific platforms that are available to achieve this type of truly digital sales contract that is tied to inventory, owner and CRM records. From outside of our profession, certain generic proposal platforms like PandaDoc and Proposable can be adapted to achieve a partial result of building templated and well-formatted sales agreements.

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4 – Automated payment processing

Once the contract is signed, there are many ways to collect payment. One traditional option is the coupon book, where the family can tear off the next month’s payment slip and mail in their check. There are many options today that can provide further flexibility and automation for the family and the cemetery.

Most payment processors offer recurring payment options via credit card or via ACH where funds can be automatically drawn from a checking account on each payment date. Beyond that, some processors support automatically sending payment links by text or email, or even support text-to-pay where the family is texted a reminder of their monthly payment and authorize the charge to their account or credit card with a simple “Yes” response via text.

Customer expectations will span a wide range, but that is exactly the point. While some families may still prefer the traditional coupon book and dropping a check in the mail, a growing number of families will expect and appreciate the automation that is available today. Selecting the right processor and even integrating it with your sales and contract system will also save your sales and accounting team considerable amounts of time.

5 – Automated work orders

Once the family has bought, they are a customer forever and at some point may be served through your cemetery’s work order process. The process and supporting tooling that is used to track and fulfill your work orders sets the parameters for the experience that will be delivered to your families. While work orders can be tracked on paper or logged after the fact into the computer, these traditional processes build in lags to your internal communication and the communication with the family.

Systems within our profession as well as certain generic platforms (like Evernote)can transform the work order process. Operations staff can receive work orders to their mobile device where they can see the attached map location and relevant data such as owners, burials, and trees. As staff update their work orders from the field with notes and photos, other members of the team are automatically notified, allowing them to follow up with the family in real time as their work is being completed.

Beyond the real time exchange of information, tracking work orders digitally also allows your team to work more efficiently and with better recognition and more accountability. Staff can group work orders of similar job type or close physical proximity to be more efficient when they go to the field to work. Through simple reporting, management can also recognize high performing team members and provide help to those who are overloaded or need help.

Prioritize and Improve

Technology is always changing and there is a seemingly never ending supply of new ideas and options to implement. Prioritizing technology initiatives that will have a high impact on family service and the efficiency of your operation are key – but in evaluating which to prioritize, consider that it is important to first have the right process in place before automation or technology is applied. Automating the wrong process, or continuing to do something a certain way only because it has always been done that way, may miss opportunities to provide a completely new level of service to the families in our care. Allowing yourself to imagine what could be may be what takes your family service to the next level!

This article was first published in the American Cemetery Magazine in May 2022.

Meet our Chief Executive Officer

Nick Timpe is the CEO of webCemeteries where since 2006 he has built exceptional teams and processes for helping cemeteries computerize records and leverage technology. Nick is the Dean of the ICCFA University College of Technology, a member of the Catholic Cemetery Conference Committee of Information and Technology, and is a frequent industry speaker and article contributor. Nick is a Certified Crematory Operator, has a degree in Government, and is an elder at his local church.

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What are cemeterians saying about webCemeteries?

This [website] project was quite an odyssey with plenty of twists and turns. The webCemeteries website design team weathered the storm. I think it’s more than fair to say that without their efforts, we would not have gotten this over the finish line…and with such an excellent outcome.

Mark J. DePalma
Forest Lawn Buffalo