Are You Using Technology or is Technology Using You?
[As Featured in the March issue of The Director]

Posted by Ashley Montroy

Technology is often feared in our profession because it is unfamiliar territory. As a result, it is not implemented despite the absolutely incredible things it can for your business. It can provide newfound conveniences and services for your community to drive long-term loyalty. It can streamline your business with a single point of data entry for every call, eliminating hours of tedious work. It can give you the portability to work wherever your families need you to be. And, it can give you new ways to attract more families to your firm.

Unfortunately, it can also cost your company everything if not taken seriously. There are companies out there trying to access your valuable data, obituaries, visitor traffic, and online revenues. Putting your technology and data in the hands of the wrong company or simply
avoiding technology altogether can have serious repercussions.

Education is power! It’s time to connect the dots and wake up to the things that are affecting your firm and our profession tremendously.

So, let’s start with what you need to know before learning how to properly use technology.

Technology: What You Need to Watch Out For & Avoid At All Costs.

Avoid the temptation of free or incentivized websites. They cost you more than you think.

Watch Your MoneyWe, as a profession, have allowed ourselves to lower our standards by falling prey to the allure of free websites and incentives of vendors vying to get control of your valuable data, obituaries, visitor traffic, and online revenues. Many are aligned with your biggest competitors and backed by some of the largest private equity firms. Are funeral homes setting themselves up to end their businesses because they’ve taken their eye off the ball in order to save a few dollars each month?

Someone once told me that if you are not paying for the product, you are the product. This couldn’t be truer in our profession. Many companies offering free websites are doing nothing more than using your firm to sell flowers to your families and communities, redirecting millions of dollars in online revenues to their own pockets. Funeral homes’ lack of understanding makes them particularly vulnerable to these schemes. Aggressively commercialized websites not only damage your firm, but the profession as a whole.

A website today is a responsibility – to your families and your community. It is your portal to them, and them to you. It requires constant nurturing and is not something to be tossed around from company to company for a savings of $10 per month, a free TV, or casket discount if you switch over. Find a technology partner that can truly help you, keep your reputation intact, and genuinely help you grow market share in this new market space.

Avoid writing your firm’s own obituary by regaining control of your online obituaries.

Your obituaries are being taken and used online to benefit other companies. Many funeral homes don’t even realize that this Obituary Piracy is even happening. Most often, newspapers pass your obituaries to 3rd party companies that are backed by equity firms or smaller companies are copying and pasting your obituaries into their own websites. These companies are often after your online revenues and your community’s email addresses and data.

If you don’t take a stand to stop Obituary Piracy, the future of your firm could be in serious jeopardy. These companies could market directly to your families and community through the information you have allowed them to collect. It’s time to take back control of your online obituaries. Your future depends on it.

Let’s walk through a common online scenario: You put an obituary page on your funeral home website. Someone in your community who is unsure which funeral home is handling the arrangements searches the deceased’s name in Google. They click on the number one link, however, that number one spot links to another company’s website that includes the obituary you wrote. The online visitor continues on that website because in all honesty, why wouldn’t they? The visitor leaves a condolence message along with their email address and purchases a flower arrangement for the service.

Now, ask yourself these questions: Did your funeral home generate any revenue from that flower sale? Do you have access to all of the condolences and email addresses that are collected on the other website from your obituary? What will be done with all that data? If you do your homework, you will find that most of these companies are all connected and funded by some very deep pockets. What happens if they use your data against you to sell direct-to-consumer or start a business?

Not in ControlIs your firm affected by Obituary Piracy?

Likely, yes but here is how to check: Open Google and type in the name of a deceased person you’ve recently served (ex. ‘Mary Smith Obituary’). You will likely see the obituary that you wrote with the family plastered on both smaller websites with ‘order flower’ buttons surrounding it and on larger, national websites. That said, there is one company you may see in your search, FrontRunner Professional, who is helping the profession by creating a separate website, owned and controlled by funeral home clients. When obituaries are posted on that site, everything links back to the funeral home. Thankfully, the search engine advantages eclipse anything that even the larger players are trying to do.

Avoid Destroying the Reputation You’ve Worked So Hard to Build

In the latest attempt to target unsuspecting funeral homes’ online profits and visitor traffic, many website providers are pounding the virtues of the online Sympathy Store. Analysts are quick to cite that the advent of highly-commercialized Sympathy Stores is contributing heavily to the further erosion of the public’s perception and trust of funeral homes. The peddling of trinkets on funeral home websites shows just how out of touch these companies are with the real problems plaguing funeral directors and the reality of today’s more Internet-savvy users.

Embarrassed When anyone is being asked to pay $39.95 for a “Porcelain Comfort Rabbit”, they will likely take the extra few seconds to open a new tab, search Google for “Porcelain Comfort Rabbits”, and return 16 matches at $7.95. The immediate public reaction, real or perceived, is that the funeral home is taking advantage of the situation and should not be trusted. The firm not only loses the sale of the comfort rabbit (and the side of curried chicken) but the compounded effects of families never arriving at their door. To make matters worse, one of the newest technology companies recently advocated a Sympathy Store model that allows clients to increase the amount they can charge. That same “Porcelain Comfort Rabbit” is now selling for $179.95.

There is no coincidence between the advent of the Internet and the rapid erosion of the public’s perception of funeral service. The story being told online is rarely being told by funeral professionals. Many don’t have the time and others don’t make the time to take the Internet or their website seriously. For years, we have sat back and hid behind the cloak of mystery and secrecy of the funeral profession. Unfortunately, this has allowed a new breed of entrepreneurs, online initiatives, and companies focused on funeral homes’ profits to emerge.

Technology: Three Ways It Will Help & Change the Way You Do Business

Now that you know what to watch out for, you will be better equipped to use technology properly. It can do so many amazing things for your business when you have the right company helping you. Technology can streamline your operations, give you the portability you need to do your job effectively, and give you the tools and audience needed to grow.

Technology Will Give You One Point of Data Entry for Everything.

Save TimeTake a minute and think about how many times you enter the deceased or family information for each family you serve: Your website platform; every state, local or federal form; a DVD slideshow creator; a funeral home stationery print engine; contract; and accounting software. The list goes on and on. You enter the information way too many times, wasting hours of your staff’s valuable time and increasing the risk of human error, all while paying 8 different software providers separate fees.

You need to move forward and find one partner with one piece of funeral home software that can handle all of your needs. This eliminates multiple points of data entry, multiple software fees, multiple support contracts, and multiple upgrades.

Technology Allows You to Be Exactly Where Your Families Want & Need You to Be.

Today, a family is more inclined to meet in the comfort of their own home. The funeral home needs to be where that family wants them to be, not where the funeral home wants the family to be. The Internet and web-based software allow us to be more portable and create more advantages for funeral directors.

Bottom line – Internet-based servers and software offer the most secure infrastructure. Today, a number of Work on the goantiquated management software programs still require the program to run on PC-based computers. In an effort to sound modern, many of these companies try to confuse funeral homes by saying they operate in the ‘cloud’. The reality is, the data still exists on the PC and by requiring a connection to the Internet the data actually becomes more vulnerable. Picture this: While traveling, your computer crashes. You need to purchase a new computer. With much of the ‘cloud-based software’ that exists in the funeral space today, you would also need to buy and install your funeral home software onto that computer before you could access your data. With web-based software, you would simply login and access your data from anywhere, anytime, on any device.

A Proper Online Strategy Will Grow Your Business

Grow Your BusinessThe other side to technology is the online world. Funeral homes want to sustain and grow their business and tap into the cremation space without hurting their traditional brand. Technology and the Internet can do all of this and more.

The Internet means so much more than just your website. To be successful online, funeral professionals need a comprehensive online strategy to be effective and succeed. Properly using online tools such as your website, social media and blogging platforms will take your business to new levels. Businesses would have killed for this opportunity 20 years ago!

  1. A business website that is optimized for your local target audience

Too many funeral homes don’t consider their website as an integral part of their business. Funeral professionals want to grow their call volume yet they do not take advantage of the online space where their community is searching for their services. A mediocre website does not give your smart, savvy consumers what they need. There are online tools made specifically for funeral homes and the money to be made from a comprehensive online strategy will at the very least offset your technology costs.

Your funeral home’s website is the base or hub for your entire online and offline marketing strategy. It should be one of the most (if not the most) important tool for your business. You can see exactly what your community is searching in Google by using the free Google AdWords Keyword Tool. When you truly understand your online consumer, adjust your web content so you appear first in the search results. And, while you do need a great-looking website, your community is looking for great content and useful tools.

  1. Shared Revenue Programs that work.

For many firms today, profits and revenues are strained. The magic bullet is to choose a company that can help you develop new revenues through respectful and tasteful tools. These will generate seed money to fund a serious and aggressive online technology strategy without needing to tap into day-to-day profits.

  1. A blogging strategy used as both an education and keyword strategy

A blog is essentially an extension of your website. There may be keywords or key phrases that you learned from your research with the Google AdWords Keyword Tool that don’t necessarily ‘fit’ in your website navigation. A blogging strategy is a way to generate great content for your families and community and become their go-to resource for death care.

  1. A social media strategy that drives more people to your virtual door

Social media is all about building relationships with your community and your families. It is the one place where you can bring your staff members to life for your local audience. It is a place to build trust, educate, and show what you do and how you do it. There is so much opportunity with these platforms yet so many funeral homes are not embracing them.

Technology: What You Should Do Right Now.

Start protecting your firm. There are literally hundreds of technology companies preying on the funeral profession. Learn how to avoid the pitfalls by understanding where you can go wrong and how to become more vigilant and prepared when technology sales people call.

Stop associating ‘free’ and ‘rebates’ to your website and technology. This may cost more than you think. Don’t run the risk of losing control of your business and wishing you’d done things differently.

Remember that knowledge is power. It’s time to think smarter and take back control. If you are not prepared to understand the biggest threat to your business, it’s time to align yourself with a company that understands the complexities. The future of your business and the future of our great profession are depending on it.

Start using the technology built for funeral homes. Avoid the adage of the “my funeral home is unique and different” so my technology needs to be “unique and different”. This is a recipe for disaster and will inevitably lead to the failure of effective funeral home technology. There is great funeral home software on the market that works for thousands of funeral homes.

Find one software solution for all your needs. Stop wasting your valuable time and money on 8 different pieces of software. It’s time to align yourself with a single technology partner that has the knowledge, experience, and comprehensive solutions to help you develop, manage, and maintain a true technology strategy. In the end, you will save a lot of time and money, and avoid any further frustration.

Choose a technology provider that has your (and the funeral profession’s) best interest at heart. Ask (and research) every company that has access to your data the percentage they make from your online flower sales and what you earn. And make sure they are not offering or implementing anything on your website without your knowledge that could hurt your reputation. You simply need to make sure that your best interest and your future is the drive behind why they do what they do.

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