Electronic Guest Books: Lead Generator or Business Shredder?

Posted by Kevin Montroy

GuestBookSignThere is a lot of hype these days about electronic guest books and most of the hype, of course, is coming from the technology companies producing them.

As the CEO of a technology company, this latest fad serves to remind me that when it comes to technology, just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. And, as more and more funeral homes seek to be the ‘leading’ funeral home in their communities, being on the front line gives them a greater chance of being shot.

The electronic guest book program shows just how technology can go wrong and how these developers are out of touch with the market they are serving. As the former owner of a funeral home for 22 years, I learned just how long line-ups can be to sign the guest book. Combine that with guests’ ages, vast computer illiteracy, and their often-frail fingers, the presentation of an electronic guestbook can be intimidating, to say the least.

As guests struggle with the crash course in tablet technology, they are also being asked to enter their contact information including an email address, address and zip code. On the surface, this is all done to generate personalized thank you cards for the family while the 20-50 people standing in line behind them are wondering “what the hell is going on??.”

Is this how funeral directors see themselves as leaders? Is this a true service to families? Do funeral homes really think they will gain new business this way? Today, less than 40% of those reaching out to support the family during their time of need are actually present to sign the guest book.

StylusThe advent of the newest stylus pen is even more troublesome. What these companies fail to tell you is that the typical stylus must first learn and study a user’s handwriting characteristics before accuracy is achieved. Most reports suggest that after a week or two, the accuracy will greatly improve. This doesn’t help calm visitors waiting in line to sign the guest book and the last time I checked, funeral businesses don’t do well with inaccuracies.

Setting all of this aside, many desperate funeral homes buy into the biggest feature these companies promote – Lead Generation! While this electronic information gathering is intended to create a database of contact information, the reality is that it can cause substantial damage to your credibility.

When I questioned a number of friends and acquaintances about the prospect of signing an electronic guest book, I got the same response: “If I was asked to electronically sign a guestbook and included my email address only to receive a message on my phone by the time I got back out to my car about prearranging my funeral, not only would that firm never bury my dog, I would never go back!”

So how does a successful funeral home truly leverage technology in a real funeral service world?

My simple suggestion is this: Place a sign near your traditional guest book that encourages all visitors to also take a few moments to sign the online guestbook on the funeral home’s website. Promote that you are doing this to provide the family with a complete, printed book recognizing all who have come together to support the family.

If your website is sophisticated enough to also capture the email address of those who have shared condolences, made a donation or ordered flowers, you would have a very good snapshot to print out a memory book for the family that truly showcases your standards and understanding of service.

As for what you do with those email addresses collected, well that is a topic for another day.

5 thoughts on “Electronic Guest Books: Lead Generator or Business Shredder?

  1. Kim Stacey

    I had been hoping you’d weigh-in on this subject, Kevin, as I just knew you had a strongly-held opinion or two! I agree with you on so many levels; when I’m asked by a Fed Ex delivery person, or a local vendor using online payment software requiring my signature with a stylus, my handwriting is barely legible. I always apologize for the unreadable nature of the signature, and am dismayed by the lack of ease in the use of the technology.

    I love your thinking about using the traditional funeral service guestbook, coupled with generating awareness of the funeral home website option as well. Would you advise that they set up a computer station, thereby providing immediate access to the website guestbook?

    Reply
  2. Mike Kelly

    Kevin, I happen to be a funeral firm who uses electronic registering. At first I found it difficult to consider but after talking with family and friends they suggested I try it. I did and I found that it was accepted far more than I ever thought it would be. I have the electronic registry out along with a traditional register book. This allows the caller to sign one or the other as they wish. I am amazed how many people do sign, by choice, the electronic registry. The nice part of the program, that families have commented on, is the printing of the individual easy to read pages of those who called and used the electronic registry. I must add, that I was a true pessimist with this program, but am now a huge supporter.

    Reply
  3. Ashley Montroy

    Hey Mike! Great chatting with you last night. I I thought I would share our conversation a bit with other readers. What you are doing for an electronic guest book is great – you offer a traditional and digital way for families to let the family know they were there. With some of the electronic guest books out there, they require a stylus pen – like what you use when you sign for a package that comes in the mail – and we all know how legible those signatures are. What you are using is an iPad that lets people use the keyboard with a stylus pen to press the letters to spell their name. I was also happy to hear that you send a nice “thank you” email for signing the electronic guestbook. I have heard stories of funeral homes using the electronic guestbook to gather information for future pre-need business and even use the email that goes out right after as an opportunity to sell pre-need before the family even walks out of the front door. Yikes! Bringing the Book of Memories into the service is something I think we need to blog on next. Love the ideas that come from these kinds of things. Cheers, friend 🙂

    Reply
  4. Stephen Dawson

    We have been using an electronic guestbook for the past 2 years. We do not have an I-Pad tablet style, but rather a full 20″ touchscreen. Our programmer has even set the typing to hold after each letter, so our older guests do not have ‘run-on’ of what they have typed. No, we do not use a stylus pen, because they are too difficult for many folks to use.
    Call me conservative, but we do not copy or use any of the names or addresses or emails that are placed into the guest registry, that is the personal property of the family being served.
    The best part of the registry is the satisfaction of the families knowing all of the acknowledgement card envelopes are printed with all of the address so the family will not have to try and translate handwriting or unknown zip codes.

    Reply
  5. Mark Brunner

    I have been considering an electronic sign in or register book for a while now. Every company that I talk to want it to be used as an address or lead collection point got PreNeed. They just can’t make it simple. 1). Sine your name. 2). Will you be attending the funeral lunch following the funeral services? Yes or No.

    Then, print the register book.

    How simple is that?
    Every company want to use this as a way to make money. What happened to the days of just plain old fashioned service?

    Reply

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